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Hey, Nancy Grace, Anita Bryant Was No 'Sweet Lady,' and Here's Why

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NANCY GRACE
Michael Tran via Getty Images

Oh, Nancy, Nancy, Nancy. In a recent piece aired on HLN about an attack on Brad Pitt at a movie premiere, you recalled an incident from 1977 when singer Anita Bryant got a pie in the face during a press conference.

Although Pitt's attacker has mental problems and seeks the limelight (as pointed out by your guest, Dr. Bethany Marshall), Anita Bryant's attacker was a gay activist making a political statement. Are the two incidents parallel? No. Did you make your audience believe they were linked? Yes. Did you minimize the effect of Anita Bryant's hateful crusade against homosexuality? Yes. Did you characterize Anita Bryant as a loving, gracious, innocent person unfairly attacked through no fault of her own? Yes. Was she a "sweet lady" shockingly humiliated for no reason? No way.

Nancy, let me break it down for you.

Here is what you said:

Do you remember Anita Bryant? Anita Bryant was a religious singer. I think she represented the orange industry. She had a lot of conservative views, but she had this beautiful voice, and she was everywhere, singing all the time. A lot of times it was Christian inspirational music. I still remember when I was a little girl and somebody came up and did this to her in public. I mean, she was speaking on some issue dear to her heart.

You are correct, Nancy: She was speaking about an issue that was "dear to her heart" when she got that pie to the face. But that issue was not quilting or gardening. The issue was homosexuality, and Anita Bryant was vehemently, venomously against the gays. She made hateful statements such as, "As a mother, I know that homosexuals cannot biologically reproduce children; therefore, they must recruit our children," and, "If gays are granted rights, next we'll have to give rights to prostitutes and to people who sleep with St. Bernards and to nail biters." She launched a campaign, Save Our Children, and stopped early gay-rights advances in Florida, California, and other states.

I remember Anita Bryant, but not as fondly as you do, Nancy. When I was growing up in the '70s, homosexuality was never mentioned in the public sphere, not on television, in the newspapers or in magazines. I did not know that gay people existed. As I reached puberty and started to experience my first conscious gay thoughts, the only messages about being gay came from Anita Bryant. She was the first person I can recall mentioning homosexuality in the media. Her "beautiful voice" was spewing harmful, bitter stuff, filling gay kids with self-loathing, fear, and heartache.

You went on to say, "I mean, she is a lady. I don't understand that. ... I mean, why did that guy do that?"

Nancy, you are not a stupid person. Why did "that guy" disgrace Anita Bryant? Do you really not know the answer to that? C'mon.

But you did not stop there. You added, "She makes me think of my own mother. Why would you do this to a sweet lady, whether you agree with her politics or not? Why would you do that?"

"That guy" was Thom Higgins, a gay activist. Now, looking back on the incident, I realize that Thom Higgins was probably the first gay person I ever saw. He represented hope, hope that there was opposition to the "sweet" lady's hate. Anita Bryant shamed and humiliated an entire generation of gay people. She made Americans believe that homosexuality was linked with child molestation and abuse. She launched a religious crusade against homosexuality that has continued to today. She was given a small dose of her own medicine by being embarrassed with a pie in the face. That is mild compared with the negative impact she had on millions. Tellingly, she responded with a homophobic quip: "At least it was a fruit pie."

Nancy, your guest, Dr. Bethany Marshall, likened Thom Higgins' actions to the actions of Brad Pitt's attacker, Vitalii Sediuk. Sediuk is known for throwing himself on celebrities at red-carpet events. He got underneath America Ferrara's gown at Cannes. He forced a kiss on Will Smith in Moscow. He wrapped himself around the legs of Leonardo DiCaprio and Bradley Cooper at separate events. He wants attention. He wants celebrity. His actions are selfish.

Sediuk is not Thom Higgins. Higgins represented a movement that wanted to halt the harm being done to millions of people. But Dr. Marshall misdiagnosed Higgins, saying:

Nancy, it speaks to the enormous envy that I'm talking about. The fact is, what do we do when we are envious? We try to destroy the object of our envy. Anita Bryant was beautiful, as you pointed out. She had a voice. She could sing. And what did he do? He attacked the most beautiful part of her: He defaced her.

Thom Higgins was not envious of Anita Bryant. Most likely he hated what she stood for. He hated what she was doing to him and his community.

Nancy, when I first heard your statements, I assumed that you were equating Anita Bryant with kindly, elderly women like your mom. I hope you weren't saying that your mother was a spiteful, hate-mongering bigot like Bryant, because if that is the type of person who raised you, I'm sad for you.