Bob Green is dead.
Most people have no idea who he was. You can't blame them. He was just a speed bump on the road toward equality of rights. Behind the scenes, however, he played an important role in creating the "culture war" that still plagues this nation.
Anita Bryant, the anti-gay crusader, was his wife. He didn't play the role of sidekick; he was the power behind the throne.
Bryant was a would-be beauty queen, a Miss America runner-up who tried a singing career. She managed a small number of songs in the top 100 but was never star material. Green met her when he was a radio station DJ and escorted her to a music industry convention. They married in 1960, and he took control of Anita's career.
Her career peaked when the Florida Citrus Commission hired her as a spokeswoman. Her commercials hawking orange juice made her a familiar face in American living rooms, something she used to her advantage in 1977 when she and Bob launched their anti-gay campaign. The couple trotted out all the usual anti-gay stereotypes, right down to naming their organization Save Our Children.
Their campaign resulted in numerous copycats working to repeal anti-discrimination laws around the country -- but only those anti-discrimination laws that protected the LGBT community. Jerry Falwell rushed to Miami to support her but stole the lucrative anti-gay issue from under her by forming his Moral Majority.
In addition to pushing the usual stereotypes, Bryant even claimed that her "ministry" was capable of "curing" gay people through prayer. Save Our Children originated most of the talking points still used by the religious right in regard to gay people.
I made my way to Indianapolis on Oct. 7, 1977 to witness Bryant and Green in action. They were there to promote a "Right to Decency" bill introduced by Rep. Don Boys, a fundamentalist minister. Anita Bryant and Jerry Falwell were the draw for an evening rally. Earlier, her fundamentalist followers held a march in support of the bill. Some carried protest signs demanding that gay people be executed. Others seriously told me that the presence of homosexuals caused droughts. I jokingly asked if it were possible to control flooding by busing homosexuals, and one person seriously told me it would work.
Bryant had a concert/rally scheduled in South Bend on the Oct. 27, so I called the sponsoring minister and persuaded him to allow me to spend the day at the auditorium with Bryant and Green. It was eye-opening. Bryant was practicing, but between numbers she and Green would talk with me. When they weren't talking to me, I was watching them.
Anita was plastered in make-up, though she was only 37 at time. Green, nine years her senior, dominated her completely.
Through the rehearsal he'd chastised her, pointing out every error or flaw. He wasn't kindly, either. He barked at her. She didn't talk back, but her body language was unmistakable. She tensed when he neared; her eyes shot barbs of contemptuous anger in his direction. Theirs was obviously a terminally ill marriage. Having experienced an abusive father at home, I was sensitive to the signs. I wondered how much worse it was behind closed doors, without a stranger watching.
At first, Save Our Children was rolling in money. But Falwell and other hate-mongers jumped into the market. Falwell's television empire easily pushed Save Our Children out of the cash-generating limelight. Bryant's records weren't going to make her rich, and by publicly taking a political position, Bryant was poison as a spokeswoman. In 1979 the Florida Citrus Commission didn't renew her expiring contract.
The final straw was a 1980 divorce. She claimed emotional abuse as the reason. Green insisted that they were still married according to the Bible and opposed her, publicly urging her to return to his side. The messy public divorce angered fundamentalists, her last source of support, guaranteeing her a well-deserved decline into obscurity. And when she was no longer in the public eye, Bob Green became a nobody. It took the media over a month to notice he had died.
Green remained bitter until the end. Bryant had told the world what I already knew, that their marriage "was never much good to begin with." He never took responsibility for the decline and fall of Anita Bryant. He blamed gays, saying, "Blame gay people? I do. Their stated goal was to put her out of business and destroy her career. And that's what they did. It's unfair." But Bob Green was the one who managed her into obscurity. He encouraged the crusade that lost her the spokeswoman career, and they couldn't out-compete Falwell in the anti-gay market.
In The Miami Herald Steve Rothaus wrote, "For more than 30 years, Mr. Green lived quietly, alone and resentful." He didn't take responsibility for the choices he made. He convinced himself that it was all the fault of "the gays" and his ex-wife. Anita told Rothaus, "Bob internalized a lot of his own anger and frustration and disappointments. ... I tried to be his friend, but you can only go so far."
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