MIAMI (CBSMiami) – In 1977, Jimmy Carter was president and the first Star Wars movie debuted. And in 1977 the then Dade County Commission passed an ordinance banning discrimination based on sexual preference.READ MORE: MDFR Identifies "Voice In The Rubble" Victim
The local law, among other things, prohibited discrimination against gays in employment and housing.
Then County Commissioner Ruth Shack sponsored the ordinance.
“I can’t imagine living in a county that would say to a segment of its population,’I’m sorry, we will not allow you to have a decent place to live,'” Shack said at the time.
The ordinance drew the opposition of conservative religious groups and had a star power leader, entertainer and Miami Beach housewife Anita Bryant.
Bryant was adamant that “homosexuals” had no legitimately recognizable place in a decent society.
“As long as they do their job and do not come out of the closet and force their sexuality on us,” Bryant said gays, who she considered to be “sick and pathetic,” should not be “given special treatment.”
Bryant lead a campaign called “Save Our Children” to repeal the gay rights ordinance. She and her supporters argued that gays would recruit children to their lifestyle.
In one campaign ad calling for repeal of the ordinance, an announcer in a deep, ominous voice said, “Please join us in voting for the human rights of children.” The Bryant effort portrayed gays as perverts and pedophiles.
During a news conference in June of 1977, Bryant was slapped with a pie in the face by gay rights activists as she held a news conference. But she had already had the last laugh. The day before, Miami-Dade voters overturned the gay rights law.
On the CBS Evening News that night, Walter Cronkite reported on the fallout after “the overwhelming defeat of the homosexual rights ordinance in Dade County, Florida.”READ MORE: Gov. Ron DeSantis Signs Bill That Bans 'Picketing And Protesting' Outside A Person's Home
Watching the news was then 13 year-old Damien Pardo, who is gay.
“That’s when I came out to my mom,” Pardo recalled Monday. “Those could really be described as very dark days.”
Pardo said his mother cried for two weeks after learning that her son was gay, but then became his largest supporter. He would go on to help found the group Save Dade, which in 1993 organized the gay community, their parents, brothers and sisters to lobby for restoration of the gay rights measure.
In December, 1998, Miami-Dade commissioners re-instated the law.
“This sends a message to the world that we are inclusive, we welcome everyone,” said the bill’s sponsor, then Commissioner Katy Sorenson. “It says great things about our county and I feel very proud.”
There would be more victories. Miami-Dade’s Martin Gill challenged and defeated Florida’s ban on gay people adopting. He is now the lawful, adoptive father of two boys.
“It’s nice to know what we’re now considered among the rest of humanity, and we have the same rights,” Martin said at a news conference after an appeals court refused to overturn a lower court ruling that called the gay adoption ban unconstitutional.
And Monday, gay rights in Florida crossed the threshold into marriage.
“Marriage actually allows over 1,000 protections and benefits to individuals and families, so it’s a huge step forward for equality,” said Pardo, whose organization Save Dade is now called simply Save.
“We still have a long way to go,” Pardo added. Gay marriage is still illegal in 14 states, and, unlike in Miami-Dade County, discrimination against gays is not prohibited by law in many jurisdictions.
“There are places,” Pardo said, “where you can be fired for being gay.”
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