Dr. Jillian T. Weiss

Comment of the Week: DennisNYC

Filed By Dr. Jillian T. Weiss | April 17, 2011 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Site News
Tags: Anita Bryant, Get Equal, GetEqual, Maggie Gallagher, pie-throwing

On Bil's post Maggie Gallagher Gets GetEqual Anita Bryant Award, in which he tells of the direct action group bestowing its first "Anita Bryant Unparalleled Bigotry Award", including a certificate (presented in person during a Congressional hearing), awarding her a cream pie. This references an incident from 1977 in which four gay rights activists threw a cream pie into Ms. Bryant's face during a news conference. The video of the Bryant incident is on Bil's original post; the GetEqual award statement and ceremony can be found here. (You should probably read it yourself, as the statement is rather nuanced -- it's not clear whether the intent is merely to poke some fun at Ms. Gallagher's anti-gay bigotry, or to in fact promise a Bryant-like pie throwing.)

Some commenters expressed disapproval of the Bryant action, and the implication that GetEqual might do something similar (although GetEqual said they would "deliver" the pie, not actually throw it). These commenters thought such an action would make a statement counterproductive to the LGBT community.

In response, Projector DennisNYC said

This is not meant to make a statement. Just like back in the days of vaudeville, it's meant to be funny. I, for one, think it's hilarious!

What say you, Projectors? Is this award hilarious, or is it counter-productive? Should the pie remain in the box when delivered?

Note: Jillian Weiss is on the Board of Directors of GetEqual. She takes no position on the pie question.

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Jay Kallio | April 17, 2011 7:22 PM

We have alternatives to throwing pies today that only exist because of the imperfect, desperate efforts we made back then in the days when the Anita Bryants of the world incited hate with the protection and support of society.

Besides the pie in the face, the LGBT Anita Bryant campaign was accompanied at the time by the orange juice civil disobedience. It was a national campaign of LGBT activists expressing our objection to the climate of hate Bryant was fomenting by going into supermarkets and grocery stores and cutting open cartons of orange juice, so that carrying a product that was funding anti gay bigotry became messy and costly to store owners and OJ marketers. I still recall the satisfaction I felt going into my local chain supermarket and seeing the flood of orange juice all over the refrigerator case every day, and knowing another LGBT person had already been there to express our horror at the wretched bigotry being spewed by Anita Bryant.

Back then we had no rights, no equal protection under the law, no hate crimes legislation. We could be fired from jobs, ripped out of housing, blackmailed with impunity, and were stalked by the KKK (I was followed and harrassed by the KKK for years as a teenager in the 1960s; assaulted, and deliberately almost blinded by gangs of them in white sheets pounding my eyes, throwing bricks through the windows of my family home and burning a cross on the lawn, and nothing could be done about it - nothing).

Hate speech by Bryant fueled the vicious, palpable, and very real violence against LGBT people. It was spreading, and escalating, because of her. It was becoming more and more acceptable to target us. People today cannot comprehend the all pervasive and terrifying hate we were subjected to. You weren't there to feel it's corrosive, life destroying stress and oppressiveness. The humiliation was all encompassing, and did destroy people's lives on a regular, grisly, grinding daily basis. LGBT people then were forced to hide, voiceless, and without love, because our love could destroy the ones we loved. Most of us were trapped by the hate, and alone.

A pie in the face of a heinous, hateful bigot was a tiny act of refusal to accept her vitriolic rallying of anti gay fervor. Hate speech, unaddressed, can and does lead to violent assault, in this case against a persecuted LGBT minority who could not even explain why we were attacked, unless we wanted to lose everything - jobs, family connection, education, homes. Our community faced hate, and was legally defenseless against it. The entire social context was very different from today, and a tiny act of rebellion was the best we could muster.

You can be sympathetic to a public figure's feelings, but know that such a rallying cry of opposition to hate was extremely important back then. No one else was countering the hate by Bryant, while the hate she spewed was "normal" and in most circles considered good. There was no way to get the word out otherwise as there is today, only our wordless act of civil disobedience. No effective alternatives existed, there was nothing recognizable as an LGBT "movement", no "profo homos", no social media, only isolated individuals volunteering nationwide, taking our puny wages, insignificant lives, and screwing up our courage to oppose the ruin of our lives, perpetrated in silence and secrecy.

The Anita Bryants of the world had all the power and their hate filled the arena. We were but a tiny, defiant, self sacrificing band pitted against them, and they held every card. I still must thank those activists, willing to put their lives on the line to stand up to a burgeoning hate monger. They were the few, and far between. Most LGBT people then were oppressed, closeted, self hating, and silent. Overwhelmed by the insidious stigma, and buried in a sense of futility and shame. We have come a long way because a few people decided to stand up and fight, however desperately and with whatever tiny, imperfect tools were at hand.

Alternatives? There were none.

Jay, I must agree with you that times have changed a great deal since the Anita Bryant days. We have other channels today to address anti-LGBT hatred. But I'm wondering whether those channels are losing, or have lost, some of their effectiveness. If so, would the pie method of registering dissent be an option?

I'm usually in favor of using both inside and outside strategies and tools. Each style of persuasion addresses a different audience, and each audience can be mutually exclusive. We need to cover all our bases, and thankfully we have both pie throwers and lobbyists now. You don't have to risk your life or livelihood to do either. I imagine neither tactic, alone, will get the job done.

I respect the dynamic tension between the opposing sides, debating whether "outrageous" vs conventional means will get the job done. Sometimes the street theater needs to be reined in, sometimes being conciliatory and conventional risks too much complacent compromise. I believe we need to have both impatience, and patience, because this is a long struggle. I also believe only a constant dialogue about such tactics keeps us honest and on track, as long as we do not destroy each other, or sidetrack too much of our activist energy in doing so.

What's that canard, "It takes all kinds to make the world"? I think it apropos.

One note about how things have changed:

Today, if we throw pies, someone better be there with a camera, and posting it on Youtube within minutes. Otherwise that tree never fell in the forest [grin].

Brad Bailey | April 17, 2011 8:18 PM

Well-said, Jay.

I was a young gay guy just coming into social awareness when Anita Bryant started her campaign. The Arkansas state legislature passed an act formally commending her actions. Right afterwards, the state sodomy laws were passed.

Since no gay people were protesting, I took it upon myself to write a letter to the editor of the Arkansas Gazette. It was published.

I've been a craw in the throats of Arkansas religious conservatives ever since then. Both they and I both have Anita Bryant to thank for that.

A pie in Miss Maggie's face would be counterproductive in this day and age, But there was a time when I rejoiced at hearing someone had crapped in a box and mailed it to Jerry Falwell.

Brad, I agree that a pie in the face, if handled wrongly, could be counterproductive. Nonetheless, I also share some of the schadenfreude about the Falwell incident. I wonder if others would rejoice similarly at a pie in the face? Is the glee of the thing worth the negative repercussions?

Jay Kallio | April 17, 2011 8:35 PM

Thanks so much for your experience from Arkansas, Brad. Happy to meet another thorn in the side of bigotry, making it a bit uncomfortable for them to persist.

I'm sorry, Jillian, but I really have to take issue with what you wrote. First, Bil's article stated that the pieing was in fact going to take place. This notion that this is a veiled threat and may not actually happen is a new one that you're first introducing here. If that information was included in the original post, perhaps the reactions to it would be different.

Next, the comments made opposing the pieing were not dissapproving of the Bryant action as you characterized. They were specifically commenting about the effect on Gallagher and the current political situation. I suppose you can infer that if you disapprove of pieing in 2011 you would also do so in 1977. But since the climate is significantly different now, there's no reason to even discuss if was appropriate to pie Bryant. That, and it's in the history books, and cannot be undone. But if we can avoid a mistake by persuading that the Gallagher pieing never happens, that is worthwhile.

Finally, I was under the impression that the Comment of the Week was reserved for a particularly thoughtful and perhaps insightful comment. Saying, 'hey - I think it's funny!' is neither. Even if you support the proposed action, surely you can come up with a more cogent or pithy argument for it. I could suggest some if I cared to.

There were several thoughtful comments on that post, even leaving aside my own. So to chose such a particulary unworthy comment is especially disappointing. The only obvious explanation for its selection is to endorse its point of view. Since it was stated that you do not, I'm at a loss.

Good points, Rory. However, my impression was that Bil was noncommittal on the potential pieing, as the press release was silent as to the method of "delivery." Bil said "If I were Gallagher, I'd keep my eyes open for flying pastries," but that's no guarantee. Perhaps my characterization of comments as "disapproving" was a bit harsh, but I do seem to recall adjectives such as "childish" and "humiliating." As far as the comment being insightful, I have a lot of discretion as Comment of the Week editor. I went back and forth about which comment to pick, but ultimately settled on DennisNYC's comment because of his relating the pieing issue to vaudeville, which I thought was an interesting and fun touch. Also, it presented a minority viewpoint among the comments, which seemed to uniformly condemn the idea of pieing, although Alex's comment actually added an interesting twist - both condemning the pieing idea and daring GetEqual to do it. Ultimately, some Comment of the Weeks may turn out to be prize-winners, and others merely pedestrian, but I will always endeavor to give satisfaction as your humble Comment of the Week editor.

For the record... my comment was meant to say "lighten up folks". I'm 66 years old and I refuse to feel like a victim. If I've learned one thing in life, it's to not take myself so damned seriously.

I remember seeing that pie land on Anita's face. I laughed my ass off at how silly she looked and how it instantly deflated her haughty ballon of superiority, right in the middle of her rant about how dangerous we queers were to society.

On the other hand, Maggie would look perfectly at home with pie dripping from her big fat kisser. One can surmise that many a pie has passed through those over-worked lips. So, in her case I'd say withhold the pie, because she'd probably enjoy it! LOL!

Oops! Make that balloon!

Dennis - I agree with your point about lightening up. Frankly, while I would never condone an assault against anyone, even with a cream pie, the Bryant incident did not do any damage to our movement, as far as I can tell.

Wolfgang E. B. Wolfgang E. B. | April 17, 2011 10:06 PM

My 2 cents: The pie should definitely stay in the box. Have the baker paint a picture of Anita Bryant in the icing--That would get the point across.

I think Wolfgang makes an important point; rather than condemning either tactic, we can widen our strategic leverage and the scope of the discussion on many of our issues because we have impassioned radical activists who are ready to employ pie throwing, as ACT UP did so famously.

It's very helpful to gain a place at the negotiating table by pointing out that if the other side is unwilling to talk to the polite LGBT folks in business attire with the press release and letter of demands, there are always "those crazies" outside there with the signs, pies, and chants of "shame" ready to sit in their executive suites. They can take their pick, LOL.

I really don't think it has to be either/or. Just work together.

Cheryl Cristello | April 17, 2011 11:45 PM

I feel strongly that the pie should absolutely remain in the box. We will make greater inroads toward acceptance and equality by taking the high road while allowing others to get to know us as we are, good, strong, intelligent people. Such an education will provide knowledge which will eventually overcome individual fears and expose the hateful bigots fully.

I wish I had your faith in people, Cheryl. As HL Mencken said, "No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public."

Brad Bailey | April 18, 2011 1:18 AM

I have to confess I'd completely forgotten that Anita Bryant was the original motivator for my activism. It was so long ago.

Jay, you've given me the first real thanks I've ever received for all these years of activism. I teared up when I read it.

Thank you. And a big hug to Dr. Weiss too. Bil, I'll shake your hand, but that's as far as it goes. :)

And I too want to thank you for your years of activism, Brad. Without that work, we would be far, far behind even where we are today. Who would have thought gay marriage would even be on the agenda?

I suppose delivering it with a cruise missile is out of the question...

My first reaction is "Cue the pie!" A pie in the face is what happens to circus clowns, and there's a valid statement there -- Gallagher and her organization are shams. A circus slapstick gag is perfectly appropriate.

And having been warned that she is going to be publicly humiliated has got to have an effect.

That said, since one of Gallagher's ongoing mantras is that she and her follower(s) are being harassed and threatened, she'll be sure to capitalize on it as an example of the hate coming from the gays. It's hard to know what kind of reaction that will get, but I bet it's not going to be all that sympathetic. When that mantra comes into play, it should be subjected to loud and ongoing ridicule.

And, in GetEqual's defense, one thing that's been missing from our movement for a couple of decades is in-your-face street actions. To all those worried about what people will think of something like that, I have two things to say: they work; and if you want to be accepted, whose terms is it going to be on? How much of yourself are you prepared to give away for "tolerance"?

Nuts -- wrong button.

I just want to add to my last remark that we are not dealing with people who are willing to grant us any shred of dignity or self-respect. It would be nice to be able to meet them halfway, but there is no halfway.

I agree, Hunter, there is no halfway with these people. We need to call them out, which as Allport's research showed, is the best way to defeat prejudice. (Allport, 1954, The Nature of Prejudice, Chapter 31, page 510 "Imperative of Intercultural Education") He cites the role of the "militant reformer" as crucial to prejudice reduction.

I think we need to remember one important part of the context, as well: GLBT issues are not on most people's radar. They don't register unless we do something to get them noticed -- and it seems that when most people do notice what's going on with GLBT rights, they're sympathetic. We need to do something to get the MSM's attention, which is why organizations like GetEqual, and before them ACT-Up, have been so valuable.

And in addition to confrontation, we should remember that ridicule is a powerful weapon.

I have to say that I agree with Dennis. Lighten up!

Like Brad, Anita Bryant is responsible not only for my activism but also for my coming out. While I was in graduate school back in 1977 I was visiting in my parents' home when another of Anita's tirades hit the newspapers. I looked upon that as an opportunity to share my sexuality with my family. I, too, wrote a letter to the editor comparing her and orange growers to Adolf Hitler and Nazi party.

When it appeared in the newspaper, my family and I discussed it while sitting at the dining room table after Christmas dinner. During that time I came out. (I was 5 weeks short of my 47th birthday -- I am now 80.) For the first time in my life I was free. I have Anita Bryant to thank for that. In the year 2000 I wrote to ole Anita to thank her for what her lying had done for my life. Not surprisingly, she never responded.

While I rejoiced at seeing her receive that pie, to sugarcoat her hypocrisy, I have no reason to be grateful to Maggie. And her hypocrisy needs to be sugarcoated as well.

Don't keep the pie in the box, but make her worry for a long time about when it's gonna smack her. Obviously, sugar DOES melt in her mouth, considering her heft.

Ted, thank you for your long ago work (well, not that long ago, but you know what I mean) that set a foundation for what we do and where we are as a community today, and especially for the young people who take it for granted today.

Maybe Darren can get Maggie to star and then the pie can legitimately be thrown in her face. [smile] Maybe they can even require multiple "takes." I can dream, can't I?

Jay Kallio | April 18, 2011 9:07 AM


While I agree with you that there are some people who operate in good faith and honorable intention in the world, who may be persuaded by reason, there are far too many people out there who's livelihood depends on spewing the hate that riles people up, and/or scares them into opening up their pocketbooks to pay their salaries. Most of the hate mongering is insincere, and consists of simply what focus groups report has the most compelling emotional impact on them. In other words, it is marketing a product for profit, only it is at the expense of bludgeoning minorities, exploiting the hate they generate for their fundraising.

It's really very coldblooded. They don't necessarily believe what they are saying, they simply love it when the checks start pouring in. That kind of ulterior motive is not going to respond to a reasonable approach, they will continue to sow hate and lies for profit, no matter how nice we are to them.

The circus clown bit was in my thoughts also! But the Pie should have one of those Air pillows used for packing covered with a bit of cream! The pie should be left in the box! The Msg "Anita Bryant deserved the full pie, but you deserve this empty pie! for your spreading of lies and hate! Your statements have nothing but air in them! Congratulations on being selected for the Anita Bryant award! BICH!"

She needs to get the Pie !!!!!!!!