Originally Published: March 13, 2013
I was perusing the Internet a couple of days ago when I came across a small article that was already over a year old…Bob Green of Miami Florida had died of kidney failure, he was 80 years old. Who was Bob Green? He was the former husband of Anita Bryant and the powerhouse behind her anti-gay crusades of the late 1970’s. A major turning point in LGBT history in North America because it was the first major North America-wide public battle for LGBT equality.
For those of you who don’t know about Anita or this time in North American gay history, she was a former beauty queen who had a few hit songs in the early 1960’s, (Paper Roses being her biggest); she became a spokesperson for the Florida Citrus Commission doing orange juice commercials on television, she was also a strong Christian fundamentalist and formed the organization Save Our Children in an effort to subvert any plans for legal rights for gays and lesbians in Dade County Florida.
The news of Bob Green’s passing has brought back many memories for me during those heady and turbulent days. I was a twenty-year old out, gay man living in the Toronto area and I remember the confluence of several cataclysmic events, which, dare I say, have shaped the Canadian LGBT community into the vibrant and creative community we have become.
In 1977, while Ms. Bryant was crisscrossing the U.S. urging the general public to Save Our Children from the “perverse and dangerous homosexual lifestyle,” The Body Politic, the forerunner of X-TRA, published an article by Gerald Hannon called Men Loving Boys Loving Men, a look at the lives of three men who have sex with boys. This article sparked years of legal wrangling, court appearances and public outrage on a national and international scale. Until June 15, 1982 when Pink Triangle Press, the publisher of Body politic, was acquitted on all charges.
But as the issue of this particular article was heating up in the summer of 1977, four men shocked the city of Toronto when they sexually assaulted and murdered 12-year-old shoeshine boy Emanuel Jacques in August of that year. The ensuing backlash spearheaded by Christian fundamentalists and the mainstream media against the gay community confirmed in the minds of many in the public there was no difference between gays and pedophiles. Toronto became a pressure cooker in danger of boiling over with journalists, religious zealots, and pseudo-experts all lining up for their daily pontifications on the subject.
Then to add to the mix, in January 1978, Anita Bryant was invited to Toronto in what was to be the first stop of her Anti-gay cross-Canada tour, which was sponsored by Renaissance International, a Christian Fundamentalist organization headed by Pastor Ken Campbell. Again, she drove home the point that homosexuals prey upon children thereby further stirring anti-gay sentiment.
Her initial concerts/revival meetings were well attended. But I remember as the tour went on, she had to cancel the few remaining stops. The official reason was she had voice trouble, but I remember hearing on the news at that time the venues where her appearances were scheduled, were not even a quarter full as of show time. It was not too long afterward, 1980 to be precise, that she filed for divorce from her husband Bob Green. According to Bryant their marriage “was never much good to begin with.”
This is confirmed by their oldest son Robert Green Jr. in an article by Kate Sosin of The Windy City Times, “… I think from pretty early on as her manager, he saw all of the praise she was getting from everybody, and so he made a deliberate effort to play devil’s advocate, play her toughest critic. She would finish a show, and everyone would tell her how great she had been. Then, when the two of them would be alone, he would point out every single mistake she had made. I have to doubt that was purely something he did to make her a better performer. I think he maybe subconsciously resented her success.”
Bob Green never recovered from his divorce from Anita. According to blogger Will Kohler in an article he wrote for the site, The Bilerico Project, “In 2007, Mr. Green told the Miami Herald that he blamed gay people for the turmoil in his life because ‘their stated goal was to put [Bryant] out of business and destroy her career. And that’s what they did. It’s unfair.’“
Once again, Robert Green Jr., “He blamed gay and lesbian people for the disappointments that followed the aftermath of that for wrecking my mom’s career, which of course my dad at the time had been very much a part of as her manager as well as her husband. I think he blamed gay and lesbian people in some parts for my parent’s divorce and the difficulty that my dad had in finding other work.”
Meanwhile in the gay community things were getting darker, by 1983 AIDS reared its ugly head in Canada and took a huge portion of an entire generation of gay men. But fast-forward a couple of decades, and AIDS is no longer considered a death sentence. As of July 2005, same-sex marriage is legal in Canada, one of the first nations in the world to do so. And as for gay life in Toronto…well, the Church Street Village is alive and well and for many years now the Toronto Gay Pride Celebration have been one of the most colourful and well attended in the world.
So, Bob Green’s death marks an important time in gay history in North America, because at the end of the day, rather than keeping the gay and lesbian community down, he and Anita Bryant galvanized us in a way not seen since Stonewall. And since then, in spite of everything, we’ve built ourselves from being a gay ghetto to what we now know as the LGBT community. We may have been down, but we haven’t gone away.
Addendum: November 21, 2020
I recently came across some interview footage with Bob Greene just before he died. In it, Greene, says that back in 1977 it was Anita who insisted on going through with her anti-gay crusade. And, it was he who did everything he could to discourage her from doing so.