“LETTER TO ANITA”
A New Documentary
New on the festival circuit is the documentary by Andrea Meyerson, “Letter to Anita”. It is a look at the painful and horrible legacy left by hate-monger Anita Bryant. Some of you who were around will remember it all too well. In the 1970’s she led virulent anti-gay campaign. Now Meredith Baxter narrates the story of Ronni Sanlo, a married mother of two who came out as a lesbian and divorced her husband, losing custody of her children as a result. This injustice propelled Ronni into a life of LGBT activism.
Anita Bryant is a former Miss America pageant contestant and the spokesperson for the Florida Citrus Commission at the end of the 70s and it was then that she began her campaign of hate. It was named “Save Our Children” and was a highly visible anti-gay campaign. Bryant was instrumental in getting Dade County to overturn an ordinance that outlawed discrimination against gays and then she went on to set off a broader wave of anti-gay sentiment nationwide. Because of her and her efforts, gay and lesbian parents across the country faced new legal difficulties and saw their families torn apart.
Ronni Sanlo was caught in the middle. She had lived her life with a secret that she hid from everyone and thereby making her parents happy by getting married and having children. But then she began to accept herself, asked her husband for a divorce and he countered using the new anti-gay laws and denied Ronni the custody of her son and daughter.
There was a time when she was allowed short visits with her children, but eventually those visits were stopped altogether and Ronni was devastated. This is the story of how Ronni turned her lowest moment into a way to become an activist for the LGBT and her community. She began to fight for and lesbian rights and for people with HIV/AIDS at a time when this was just not done in America. She became head of the Florida Gay Civil Rights Task Force and she fought unjust legislation. Later, she was an AIDS surveillance officer for the state of Florida and was on the front lines of helping AIDS sufferers. As if that is not enough, she went to school and earned a doctorate and then took up a new goal in becoming a pioneer of gay and lesbian outreach on college campuses, starting with the University of Michigan.
She was still unable to see her children and while she was doing so much good for others, she was filled with anger, resentment and depression. She did not even know where her children were. Anita Bryant had done so much damage yet she professed to be a Christian woman as she destroyed the lives of others.
In the film we see Ronni’s story and the quest for equal rights for gay people. I remember this period in our history all to well and it sickens me to think about it but by thinking about it we can make sure that it will never happen again. We do learn what happened to Ronni’s children and to Anita Bryant’s own family as well as what happened to Ronni. Meyerson makes use of archival footage and interviews with Ronni, her son and an on-camera interview with Robert Green, Anita Bryant’s son.
“’Letter to Anita’ paints a riveting portrait of what anti-gay discrimination can do to families—and how its destructive power can ultimately backfire on itself”.
The clip is not from the film but it shows who Anita Bryant was: