It’s most likely Anita Bryant’s worst nightmare: Her granddaughter is gay and marrying a woman.
Granddaughter Sarah Green talked about her relationship with the notorious antigay crusader on a recent episode of Slate’s podcast One Year, hosted by Josh Levin and focusing on 1977, a year when the nation seemed on the verge of great change.
Bryant, a beauty queen and pop singer, was a spokeswoman for Florida orange growers in the 1970s when she gained new fame with her opposition to gay rights. Miami-Dade County’s government adopted an ordinance in 1977 banning employment and housing discrimination based on sexual orientation, making it one of the first municipalities to do so. Bryant, who had testified against the ordinance, was outraged at its passage and led a campaign dubbed “Save Our Children” to persuade voters to repeal it.
Along the way, Bryant became a darling of her fellow conservative Christians and an enemy of gay people and their allies; at one point, an activist threw a pie in her face. Miami-Dade citizens did repeal the ordinance, with over 70 percent voting to do so. The city-county government restored the ordinance in 1998 and added gender identity to it in 2014.
The episode deals with the fight over gay rights in Miami-Dade generally and Bryant’s crusade against the ordinance. Toward the end, Green talks about her relationship with Bryant, who was a doting grandmother; Green says she once thought Bryant didn't really hate LGBTQ+ people, but she started to look at her grandmother differently when Green realized as a teen that she herself was gay.
She had no intention of coming out to Bryant, but she was spurred to do so on her 21st birthday. Bryant sang “Happy Birthday” to her granddaughter on the phone and told her that if she had faith, the right man would come along. “And I just snapped and was like, ‘I hope that he doesn’t come along, because I’m gay, and I don’t want a man to come along,’” Green recalls.
Bryant responded by telling Green that homosexuality is a delusion invented by the devil and that her granddaughter should focus on loving God, because that would make her realize she’s straight.
“It’s very hard to argue with someone who thinks that an integral part of your identity is just an evil delusion,” Green says.
Now, years later, Green is planning her wedding and is debating whether to invite Bryant; she and her fiancée have discussed it extensively. “I think I probably will eventually just call her and ask if she even wants an invitation, because I genuinely do not know how she would respond,” Green says. “I don’t know if she would be offended if I didn’t invite her.”
Bryant knows Sarah is engaged to a woman, said Robert Green Jr., Sarah Green’s father and Bryant’s son, says on the podcast. When he told his mother, he notes, “All at once, her eyes widened, her smile opened, and out came the oddest sound: ‘Oh.’ Instead of taking Sarah as she is, my mom has chosen to pray that Sarah will eventually conform to my mom’s idea of what God wants Sarah to be.”
Sarah Green says she doesn’t hate Bryant but feels sorry for her. “I just kind of feel bad for her,” she says. “And I think as much as she hopes that I will figure things out and come back to God, I kind of hope that she’ll figure things out.”
Slate sought an interview with Bryant, but she declined. A variety of people involved in the fight over the ordinance are interviewed in the episode, including Bob Kunst, a Miami gay activist who thinks the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement is ungrateful to him and who became a supporter of Donald Trump.
The podcast can be accessed here, and a transcript will be posted soon.