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Why Florida's 'Parental Rights in Education' bill brings back memories of 1977 for some

Anita Bryant helped overturn an ordinance barring discrimination in housing and in the workplace against gay people in Miami-Dade County.
Credit: AP
Singer and anti-gay activist Anita Bryant is seen at a press conference in Miami Beach, Fla., after her "Save Our Children" group won the election held Tuesday to repeal a gay rights law, June 8, 1977. (AP Photo/Bill Hudson)

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — When Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the "Parental Rights in Education" bill into law, supporters said it was a win for parents.

"Protect our children," DeSantis argued, from "indoctrination" in the classroom. But critics said the language used sounded all too familiar to the year 1977.

At the time, the "Save Our Children" campaign was happening in an effort to target gay rights. It was led by Anita Bryant, a singer, former beauty queen and the face of Florida Citrus.

"People hated me because I spoke the truth," Bryant said an interview with The Associated Press. "I said back then that it was a death style, not a lifestyle."

Credit: AP
Singer and anti-gay activist Anita Bryant is heading up a crusade to nullify a local gay rights ordinance, Feb. 15, 1977. Bryant calls the group "Save Our Children" and vows it will represent the rights of the majority of citizens. (AP Photo)

Bryant's campaign, which started in Miami-Dade County, overturned the local ordinance barring discrimination against gay people at work and in housing. It had been in place for fewer than six months before it got repealed and, more cities nationwide would attempt to follow suit with similar laws. 

The AP reported Bryant’s campaign got the support of religious organizations and conservative officials who feared the county could force schools to hire LGBTQ+ teachers. 

"Anita was silly, but she achieved what she set out to do," St. Pete Pride treasurer Stanley Solomons said.

Watch 10 Tampa Bay's Pride Month special, "Proud to be in the Bay":

Solomons moved to Gainesville in 1976 in his 20s. While he said he never took Bryant’s statements seriously, he understood her aura had the power to influence legislation or actions that could harm the LGBTQ+ community.

“You have no rights as a gay person. You're just a sick individual and you should be treated as such,” Solomons.

The "Parental Rights" bill and the rhetoric surrounding it also brought author Joe Gantz back to the past, he said. Gantz documented families with openly gay and lesbian parents during the 1970s and again more than 40 years later through his book "A Secret I Can't Tell: The First Generation of Children from Openly Gay and Lesbian Homes."

“It's a spirited, hurtful bill,” Gantz said. “There's no place for that in our society as far as I'm concerned.”

Fast-forward to 2022, Solomons said what he sees as discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community didn’t seem as pervasive then as it does now.

Supporters of the "Parental Rights in Education" law are adamant there is no language in it mentioning "Don’t Say Gay." It bars educators from teaching about sexual orientation or gender identity to students in kindergarten through third grade. School districts may opt to ban topics of sexual orientation or gender identity beyond third grade if leaders deem them not to be age or developmentally appropriate.

However, according to DeSantis, the "Don't Say Gay" designation is a result of "sloganeering" by critics, activists, corporate media and "leftist politicians" to further incorrect narratives.

"Parents have a fundamental role in the education, healthcare, and wellbeing of their children," DeSantis said during the signing of the bill.

But critics argue they’re already seeing chilling effects of the new law.

A Lee County teacher recently claimed she was fired for discussing her sexuality. Another teacher in Sarasota County reported being asked to remove the "coexist" flag.

A graduation speech in Sarasota went viral: A class president said he was told he couldn't discuss being gay so instead, he used his curly hair as a euphemism.

Students nationwide also walked out in protest over the new law, like Gibbs High School’s Abbie Garretson.

Credit: Abbie Garretson

"To say that me or my parents or the love that I grew up with was wrong in some way, is hurtful,” Garretson said of the bill's impact.

Garretson, who was president of her school’s Gay-Straight Alliance, said she organized the walkout in an effort to speak up for her classmates. Growing up with two mothers, she said she feels lucky to get the support but understands not everyone has that opportunity.

She said her family was worried about the bill’s impact on her generation.

“I came home and I had to give my mom a hug because she was crying. Sobbing, really, because it really felt like going back in time,” Garretson said.

The law, which will take effect in July, may bring haunting memories of the past for some. However, Solomons believes it also gives more reason to be proud, especially during the 20th anniversary of St. Pete Pride.

"We're here. We're queer. Get used to it,” Solomons said.

10 Tampa Bay reached out to Anita Bryant Ministries International for comment but did not hear back.

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