2 min

The unwanted guest

Vancouver stands up to an anti-queer crusader

Kenn Law died last fall. Some may remember him as a DJ, others as one of the Bovines, a radical drag troupe of the ’80s. In Hindsight remembers him as a key organizer of the stop Anita Bryant campaign of 1978.

And so for the second time in as many columns, Bryant, the Christian warbler and former pitchwoman for the Florida Citrus Commission, makes an appearance, on this occasion as the club with which Renaissance Canada attempted to beat Vancouver gays and lesbians.

Renaissance Canada was founded in 1974 by the Rev Ken Campbell when he learned that members of the Hamilton-McMaster Gay Liberation Movement had addressed his daughter’s Grade 12 health class. Renaissance Canada soon grew to include several branches across Canada. In 1978 the Fort Langley branch proposed to book Anita Bryant, who was then touring North America, for a Vancouver appearance.

The stakes were high. According to Bryant, “we could fill up every auditorium in America. If we had done so after our victory in Dade County, we could have gotten such momentum going that we could have wiped the homosexual out. That was a real possibility.”

And so, in an age before cell phones, e-mail and Blackberries, Vancouver gays and lesbians began to mobilize. An ad hoc umbrella group with the sole purpose of stopping her visit was formed: the Coalition Against Discrimination. Coalition member Frances Wasserlein remembers: “You organized by telephone. You put leaflets out in bars and places where people went. You told your friends, people you knew. You set a date and hoped that people showed.”

And they did. Wasserlein remembers a meeting at the Kitsilano Neighborhood House where the room was packed, “everyone was outraged and they didn’t want her tour to go unchallenged.”

The Coalition began its campaign in the spring of 1978. ‘Stop Anita and Renaissance’ pamphlets were handed out. Maurice Flood of the Gay Alliance Towards Equality (GATE) addressed 150 people outside Holy Rosary Cathedral as they protested the Archdiocese’s support of the Bryant crusade. Coincidentally or not, Bryant skipped Vancouver, publicly citing exhaustion in June. But on Jul 1, she did perform at an evangelical Canada Day rally in Moose Jaw.

In February 1979, Kinesis magazine reported that the mere rumor that Bryant was to co-host an evangelical rally at the Orpheum Theatre was enough to prompt 400 protestors to gather outside the venerable queen of Granville St, while inside, local evangelist Bernice Girard was calling for the police. The BC Federation of Women and the Coalition issued the following statement: ” The demo was called to draw attention to the fact that some organizations, under the guise of born-again Christianity, are advocating the denial of basic human rights to large segments of the community.”

In Victoria that same year, in what is thought to have been the city’s first gay and lesbian demonstration, 30 people picketed a 100 Huntley Street-sponsored evangelical rally. Canada’s first daily Christian television program had been a financial supporter of Bryant’s campaign. The Feminist Lesbian Action Group organized the protest. Its spokeswoman Patricia Reese commented: “The gay men are quite apathetic here.”

Anita Bryant’s heyday was brief. An orange juice boycott led to the Florida Citrus Commission allowing her contract to lapse. She divorced amid rumours of spousal abuse, remarried and twice filed for bankruptcy.

Her legacy is, by contrast, in robust good health. In 2004, the Florida State Supreme Court used reasoning not unlike her own-As a mother, I know that homosexuals cannot biologically reproduce children; therefore, they must recruit our children-to ban gay adoptions in that state. Efforts to amend the law to allow adoptions under special circumstances have come to nothing.

Campbell now lives and ministers in Tumbler Ridge. His views have not changed. In May of 2004, he wrote to then Governor General Adrienne Clarkson concerning same-sex marriage. “I am compelled to an act of Christian civil disobedience,” he wrote. “And am herewith serving notice that I will no longer pay further income tax to this treasonous, covenant-breaking, Godless government.”