Milestones

To mark our 35th anniversary, The Advocate remembers the events that have defined our history and culture for the past 35 years.

BY

October 23 2002 11:00 PM ET

Anita Bryant
JANUARY 1977

The enactment of a gay rights law in Miami–Dade
County mobilizes the ex–beauty queen’s
antigay campaign—as well as gays
nationwide, including San Franciscan Armistead Maupin

From The
Advocate, November 12, 2002

I actually read
about Anita Bryant’s Save Our Children campaign to
overturn Miami’s gay rights law directly from the
news wires. It was quite clear to me that this
campaign was going to have a galvanizing effect on the
gay movement. There’s really nothing like a good
villain to start a revolution, and Anita filled the
bill perfectly.

I know what the
battle did for me: It forced me to confront my own
residual self-loathing and stare it down once and for all by
coming out.

I was writing
Tales of the City as a serial in-house at
the San Francisco Chronicle, and I was able to respond to
news of Bryant’s campaign in a matter of 24 hours,
concocting a letter from [gay character]
Michael’s mother about their efforts to save Florida
from the homosexuals. By the strangest serendipity, I had
already established Michael as the son of Florida
orange growers. Within a matter of weeks, Michael was
writing a reply to his mother in which he comes out.

My parents were
subscribing to the Chronicle in order to follow
the series, and when they got to Michael’s coming-out
letter, they realized I was writing to them. And within a
week they saw me described as a gay journalist in
Newsweek when that magazine covered Anita
Bryant.

About 10 years
ago I was at an American Booksellers Association
convention where Bryant was appearing, and she was still
pissing and moaning about how the homosexuals had
destroyed her career as spokesperson for Florida
orange juice. The irony is, it wasn’t the orange
juice boycott that caused her to lose her job; it was the
fact that she made herself forever associated with
homosexuality. So in one way she was a victim of
homophobia herself: Folks on the orange board didn’t
want people to think about queers when they bought
orange juice. —As told to Bruce C. Steele


Bill Clinton
NOVEMBER 1997

Clinton adviser Richard Socarides marks the first
time a sitting president addresses a gay rights group

From The
Advocate,
November 12, 2002

For me, the
moment came at 8:52 p.m. on November 8, 1997, when President
Bill Clinton took to the podium at the Grand Hyatt hotel in
Washington, D.C., at the Human Rights
Campaign’s annual gala dinner. By doing so, he
became the first president in history to address a gay and
lesbian audience—to a thunderous standing
ovation, no less.

From my seat in
the front row, I could tell this was a truly historic
moment, but it had not been easy to get there. At the time I
was on the White House staff, serving as the
president’s principal adviser on gay and
lesbian civil rights issues. The combined debacles during
the president’s first term over gays in the
military and the Defense of Marriage Act had left many
advisers with no appetite to take on gay issues in the
second term.

I argued that the
huge support the president had received from us in both
elections, combined with his strong personal commitment to
our civil rights, meant that he once again had to take
action and speak out on our behalf, and he readily
agreed. Among other things, the president would go on
to appoint hundreds of highly qualified gays and lesbians to
his administration and to issue an executive order
banning discrimination based upon sexual orientation
in the federal civilian workforce, making the U.S.
government the largest employer in the world to do so.

But I think, more
important, he made it OK to be gay in America, or at
least made it a lot easier. He was the first president to
consider us full citizens worthy of full inclusion in
the political process. For me, his speech that
November evening—much of which he wrote himself in
the presidential limousine as we rode to the
dinner—was the most symbolic embodiment of
that.

That night he
said that one of the most important things he wanted to do
was to show all Americans “that gays and lesbians are
their fellow Americans in every sense of the
word.… We have to broaden the imagination of
America. We are redefining, in practical terms, the
immutable ideals that have guided us from the
beginning.”

Socarides served as special assistant to the
president in 1997–1999. He is now vice president
for corporate relations at AOL Time Warner.

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