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Sean Penn's Milk Has Blast From the Antigay Past

Posted: 11/12/08 05:18 PM ET

Sean Penn has some high-profile costars in the upcoming movie Milk: James Franco, Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin and Diego Luna.

But his most adversarial costar in the film doesn't even get billing.

Who is it? Read on...

Anita Bryant, that's who.

Bryant led a now infamous antigay crusade in 1977 that successfully overturned Dade County, Fla.'s ordinance that prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation. Archival news footage of Ms. Bryant is used throughout the Gus Van Sant-directed movie, which follows the rise of Harvey Milk (Penn) from camera-store owner to the day in 1978 he and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone were murdered by city supervisor Dan White.

Most famous for being the celebrity face of the orange-juice industry, Bryant was also a former Miss America runner-up and pop vocalist. But she became the gay community's public enemy No. 1 for leading a nationwide movement to overturn antidiscrimination laws. In 1978, Milk went head-to-head with Bryant's handiwork when she championed California's Prop 6 (also known as the Briggs Initiative), which sought to ban gays and lesbian from teaching in public schools. Unlike Prop 8, the measure was voted down by a two-to-one margin.

Now 68, Bryant runs her own ministry in her native Oklahoma.

I called Bryant's office the other day after seeing the movie for E! Online to find out what she thinks about the upcoming movie. A man who identified himself as Bryant's second husband, Charlie Dry, said she wasn't interested in talking.

"There are not going to be any interviews with her or us, because it's not a subject we care to cover," Dry said. "I don't care if they make a movie about anybody. We're not going to get back into that battle."

I asked about conflicting reports that suggested Bryant once expressed remorse for her antigay work. Dry replied, "She never apologized, because it's wrong."

In the wake of Bryant's 1970s crusade, however, she lost her orange-juice gig, unsuccessfully tried to revive her singing career and reportedly filed for bankruptcy twice. After divorcing her first husband, she was reportedly shunned by the churches that once idolized her.

"It's in the past, man," Dry said. "That's not in our life anymore. She's not out there doing that crap anymore--hasn't done it in 25 years."

That may be true, but Bryant's infamous legacy lives on. Just ask any gay couple looking to get married in California.