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In a subtle attempt to remind audiences of the county's most infamous and contemptible act of homophobia, organizers of this year's Miami Gay & Lesbian Film Festival have appropriated the state's official fruit in the sweet and sunny form of an orange slice for the ninth annual fest, which runs April 27 through May 6 in Miami and Fort Lauderdale.
"We're reclaiming the orange," says MGLFF director Carol Coombes, referring to Anita Bryant, who toiled as the spokeswoman for the Florida Citrus Commission in the late Seventies, when she led efforts to slam the closet door shut on Miami-Dade County's gay and lesbian community.
The festival logo commemorates the 30th anniversary of the Bible-thumper's sadly successful "Save Our Children" crusade to repeal the county's 1977 human rights ordinance prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. But the actions of the "Paper Roses" pop singer and TV pitchwoman, who got pied by a gay activist while campaigning in Iowa, led to a national orange juice boycott. She subsequently lost her Florida Citrus Commission gig. Bryant's show biz career quickly spluttered, and her marriage to Miami DJ Bob Green later crumbled. Thirty years on, an unrepentant Bryant who continues to praise the lord and damn homosexuality on her MySpace page still remains an icon of hate and intolerance, having recently been unflatteringly name-checked during an episode of Studio 60 on Sunset Strip.
The MGLFF logo and its Bryant-featuring trailer serve "as a celebration of how far we've come," Coombes explains. The county undid much of the damage caused by Bryant by once again banning discrimination based on sexual orientation in 1998, one year before the MGLFF loudly and proudly came into existence.
Harking back to those darker days in the county's history, San Francisco-based director Jay Rosenblatt's ten-minute refresher course on Bryant, I Just Wanted to Be Somebody, combines news footage of Bryant's anti-gay campaign with home movie clips obtained from the Florida Moving Image Archive. It screens April 28.
"She was such a polarizing figure in the late Seventies," says Rosenblatt, who lived in Seattle at the time. "Gay people I've spoken to describe her campaign as a second Stonewall. It mobilized so many people to come out of the closet. But it also was the beginning of the oppression of gay people by the Christian right."
Rosenblatt's all for the MGLFF co-opting the state fruit for political gain. "It's always empowering when a group appropriates an image that's been used against it," he says.
But the connection between the logo and Bryant is lost upon Andrew Meadows, the spokesman for the Florida Department of Citrus. "Florida and citrus are pretty much inseparable," says Meadows. "There are plenty of instances when groups have used citrus in their logos."
But how many groups employ the orange as a symbol of equal rights? "Any time citrus gets exposure, we're proud of it," says Meadows, refusing to bite. "I'm not sure we as an organization have any thoughts on that. I'm not looking at [the MGLFF logo] in a political context."
Neither is Kirk Arthur, the field director at Save Dade, a nonprofit group dedicated to fighting discrimination against the county's lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. "People see an orange as a symbol of Florida, and I don't think they'll make a connection with Anita Bryant or gay rights," Arthur says.
"If you think about it, many of our state legislators, especially in the Republican Party, cut their teeth with Bryant's campaign. Bashing gays is a great way to stay in power they know that siding with the gay community will not win them votes. From that perspective, Anita Bryant's legacy lives on. But the orange is our state symbol. Everyone drinks orange juice. You can't say anything bad about an orange."
This year's fest marks the British-born Coombes's first as festival director since succeeding Jaie Laplante, who is now whetting appetites as the associate director of the South Beach Wine & Food Festival. Coombes also continues to program the lineup, a job she was hired to do when she joined the MGLFF in 2002 from the London International Film Festival and the London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival.
While she says to expect the "same old, same old" from the MGLFF regional, national and world premieres, big bashes, filmmaker tributes Coombes is conducting a few experiments this year with an eye on future development and boosting attendance beyond last year's 13,000.
For starters, anybody sympathetic to Anita Bryant and her cause should steer clear of Española Way on May 2. Otherwise they might find themselves running screaming from South Beach at the sight of the Wrestling Roosters Girls and other entertainers helping MGLFF attendees live it up after the Centerpiece Gala screening of Anger Me, a documentuary paying homage to the work of experimental filmmaker Kenneth Anger. Expect art installations, avant-garde film screenings even yoga lessons for those inspired to assume the scorpion pose after watching clips from Anger's Scorpio Rising during the MGLFF's first-ever street party, dubbed "WayOUT." Unfortunately the 80-year-old Anger had to decline the MGLFF's invitation to join in the fun he's under doctor's order not to travel.
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