Evangelical pop singer and Florida orange juice spokesperson Anita Bryant came to Indianapolis on October 7, 1977, for the “Rally for Decency.” Bryant was a leading figure in a national campaign to deny equal legal protection for gay Americans.

Flyer for the Rally for Decency. It features a headshot of Anita Bryant prominently in the center as well as smaller headshots of four men.
Coalition for Human Rights Picket Line, October 7, 1977 Credit: Bohr/Indy Pride/Gonzalez Collection, Indiana Historical Society View Source

Fearing her children would be exposed to the “perversion” of gay teachers, Bryant successfully led a movement to repeal a Dade County, Florida, ordinance that would prohibit teachers from being fired due to their sexual orientation. She then brought her crusade to other U.S. cities, opposing gay and lesbian supportive legislation across the nation. In this role, she became a national figure and public speaker for the Christian Right. Bryant said that she undertook her “Save Our Children Campaign,” of which her Indianapolis rally was a part, to safeguard “traditional” American family values.

At the time, gays were increasingly visible in Indianapolis. Hoosier allies of the LGBTQ community mounted resistance to her October 7 Indianapolis visit. The day before her “Rally for Decency,” the Indiana Coalition for Human Rights held a news conference, attended by representatives of the Metropolitan Community Church Of Indianapolis, Gay People’s Union, and the Sex Information and Education Council of Indiana. Coalition spokesperson Mary Byrne told the press that allies would picket Bryant’s performance “because she represents a force for evil and persecution. She has inflamed irrational prejudices and fostered fear and hatred.” Also attending the protest would be Baptist minister Rev. Jeanine C. Rae, who believed that fundamentalists’ attempts to legislate sexuality threatened the separation of church and state.

Anita Bryant stands on a stage and speaks into a microphone. A crowd sits in the background.
Anita Bryant speaks at her “right to decency” rally opposing civil rights for the LGBTQ community, 1977 Credit: Jeff Atteberry, IndyStar View Source

When she arrived in Indianapolis, Bryant participated in a press conference. She and her husband fielded questions about her work to repeal the Dade County ordinance, which she felt afforded gay individuals “special privileges” and would allow them to flaunt homosexuality in the classroom.

That night, the Indiana State Fairgrounds Coliseum resembled a revival, as approximately 7,000 attendees cheered Bryant’s plans to “restore decency” in America. Local pastors emphasized the need to elect officials who supported causes like “Save Our Children,” and at least one Indiana lawmaker called for the legislature to rescind its ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, which the state had ratified in January 1977.

A cartoon drawing that features the nurse safe sexx character and Anita Bryant at a lemonade stand. The caption reads, "Safe sex. The lord helps those who helps themselves."
The caption spins Bryant’s words to make a new safe sex message. Nurse Safe Sexx was a Drag Persona created by Indianapolis resident Kenn King. Credit: Bohr/Indy Pride/Gonzalez Collection, Indiana Historical Society View Source

Outside of the coliseum, 500 protesters withstood the dampened signs that read “Straights for gay rights” and other messages of opposition. The momentum generated at the rally carried over to the next day, when a parade of 500, led by U.S. Marine Cleve McClary, marched to Monument Circle, where the marchers joined 2,000 Hoosiers for an “encore” rally to “restore decency.”

Opponents responded to the continued rallies. An advertisement from 63 clergy protested “the crusade against persons with homosexual orientation.” Similar protests and nationwide boycotts of orange juice occurred in response to Bryant and her “Save Our Children” campaign. The backlash contributed to the end of her entertainment career and endorsement deals.

Revised September 2022

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