This article is part of a series on Minnesota LGBT history in honor of LGBT History Month. These are excerpts from a forthcoming book for TheColu.mn on the history Minnesota marriage equality debate from 1969-2013.

One of the most iconic images from the gay rights struggle in the late 1970s was that of Anita Bryant wiping pie off her face. And the plan to embarrass the anti-gay icon was hatched in Minneapolis.

Anita Bryant was a singer, a runner up for Miss America in 1959, and a notorious anti-gay activist. When Dade County, Florida, passed an ordinance banning discrimination based on sexual orientation, Bryant teamed up with the Save Our Children coalition to reverse Dade County’s law, and eventually similar laws around the country.

Though Bryant wasn’t a frequent visitor to Minnesota, she visited Minneapolis on May 21st, 1977 to attend the opening of a wholesale fruit company, an event that drew about 750 protesters.

Jean Tretter of the University of Minnesota’s Jean-Nickolaus Tretter Collection in Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Studies told CityPages in a 2004 interview that Bryant was often an object of ridicule. “The Anita Bryant look-alike contests were always a favorite. The drag queens always tried to look as ghastly and yet as much like Anita as they could. They brought humor to a situation that was not very good.”

In the same interview with CityPages, the late-Sen. Allan Spear recounted the creation of the Target City Coalition. “Target City Coalition came in the wake of Dade County in 1977. After the victory there, Anita Bryant said she was going to target all of the cities in the country that had gay rights ordinances of the sort that had been defeated in Miami. So that’s where Jack Baker and Thom Higgins put together this group called Target City Coalition, thinking Minneapolis would become a target. Minneapolis didn’t become a target, but St. Paul did.”

St Paul voters would repeal that city’s ban on anti-gay discrimination in 1978 after a pastor there was inspired by Bryant in 1977 to create a petition to put the repeal on the ballot.

In 1977, Spear had tried to pass a bill in the Legislature to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation statewide (that bill would finally become law in 1993). The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis was blamed for the failure of the bill due to its considerable lobbying in opposition, and at an event honoring the archbishop the next week, an activist threw a chocolate cream pie in his face.

Target City Coalition logo from the Jean-Nickolaus Tretter Collection and OutHistory,org
Target City Coalition logo from the Jean-Nickolaus Tretter Collection and OutHistory,org
In October, Target City Coalition activists from Minneapolis decided to do it again, and Thom Higgins drove to Des Moines where Bryant and her husband were giving a press conference. He threw a strawberry-rhubarb pie in her face.

She sobbed as she wiped the pie from her face and said, “At least it was a fruit pie.”

The incident made it onto Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update with Jane Curtain and Dan Akroyd. Here’s the transcript from that episode:

Jane Curtin: A terrorist group calling themselves the Gay Bakers struck again yesterday, this time in Des Moines, Iowa.

[ cut to footage of Anita Bryant seated at a table during a press conference ]

Jane Curtin V/O: Now, watch this:

Anita Bryant: — all kinds of problems. And, uh, everyth —

[ suddenly, a cream pie is shoved into Bryant’s face ]

Male Voice: No, no! Let him stay.

Anita Bryant: Well, at least it’s a fruit pie!

[ cut back to the news desk ]

Jane Curtin: Fortunately, Ms. Bryant, who was not injured, enjoyed a good laugh, and said it was okay if the assailant dated her husband!

According to rumors, NBC invited Higgins to come to New York to watch the show from the front row.

Higgins passed away in 1994. His pie would made a mark on the decline of Anita Bryant. The moral crusader and her husband divorced several years later. By the late-1990s, she had filed for bankruptcy. Her ministry website still defends her anti-gay activism.

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Andy Birkey
Andy Birkey has written for a number of Minnesota and national publications. He founded Eleventh Avenue South which ran from 2002-2011, wrote for the Minnesota Independent from 2006-2011, the American Independent from 2010-2013. His writing has appeared in The Advocate, The Star Tribune, The Huffington Post, Salon, Cagle News Service, Twin Cities Daily Planet, TheUptake, Vita.mn and much more. His writing on LGBT issues, the religious right and social justice has won awards including Best Beat Reporting by the Online News Association, Best Series by the Minnesota chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, and an honorable mention by the Sex-Positive Journalism awards.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks for sharing this important history. A crucial figure in this story has been left out, bisexual activist Alan Rockway. Alan Rockway authored the ordinance mentioned above, the first of its kind in the country put to public vote. He also organized the boycott of Florida orange juice.

    From http://www.binetusa.org/binetusa/a-brief-history-of-the-bisexual-movement:
    “1977 – Alan Rockway, a psychologist and bisexual activist, co-authors the nation’s first successful gay rights ordinance put to public vote, in Dade County, Florida. When former Miss America and orange juice spokesperson, Anita Bryant, initiates her viciously homophobic “Save Our Children” campaign in response to the ordinance, Dr. Rockway conceives of and initiates a national “gaycott” of Florida orange juice. The Florida Citrus Commission cancels Ms. Bryant’s million dollar contract as a result of the “gaycott.””

    From http://www.alliant.edu/cspp/about-cspp/cspp-research-institutes/rockway-institute/:
    “The Rockway Institute is named in memory of the late Alan Rockway, a pioneering psychologist who helped write and defend the first lesbian and gay employment non-discrimination ordinance to be approved in a major urban area in the U.S.(Dade County, Florida, 1977). Passage of this ordinance became a pivotal event in LGBT history because of the widely televised efforts by Anita Bryant, Jerry Falwell, and their anti-gay followers to repeal it. He also was one of the founders of Bi-Pol in San Francisco, a group advocating for the equal rights of bisexual people. Dr. Rockway started two of the nation’s first LGBT mental health programs—in Miami, Florida, and Berkeley, California.”

    All too often, the historically significant actions of bisexual people are left out of accounts of LGBTQ history or people are incorrectly labeled as gay or lesbian. Especially during LGBTQ history month, it is important that we set the record straight (pun intended).

  2. Thanks Martha for adding to the story. This piece is intended to focus on one specific piece of Minnesota’s role in the pie incident involving Anita Bryant. As such, it did not leave Rockway out as he was not a part of this particular event, although his role in the overall efforts to stop Bryant can’t be denied.

  3. My kind of hero. Most appreciated, timeless courage…on the trail of dreaming the impossible dream….and succeeding. Thank You for your courage.

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