In the Miami newspapers, the debate has raged long and furious.
From J.P. Dumas, Miami: "Do all these naive old grandmothers who are bleeding for the homosexuals really know what the relationship is between homosexuals? Do they realize that they are not just 'buddy-buddies,' and that they engage in a very real act of sexual intercourse?'"
From Marshall Carlisle, Miami Beach: "Anita Bryant should be awarded a gold medal."
From Charles P. Masting, North Miami: "A person does not have to be a church member or Bible leader or have to read or listen to Anita Bryant to realize that homosexuality is an immoral act, and that if all that it costs is $400,000 to save Dade County from sanctioning homosexuality, then the price is dirt cheap."
The issue is a new Dade County Fla., civil rights law banning employment or housing discrimination against homosexuals. It is a law that singer Anita Bryant considers an affront against God. On June 7, in a special election made possible by the signature-gathering efforts of Byrant and her supporters, Dade County will decide whether to repeal its new law.
It is an unprecedented election, the first major referendum on a civil rights concept that much of the nation still finds new enough to be bewildering. Are homosexuals a minority group, like blacks? May they emerge into American society, speaking openly of their sexual preferences? May they live where they like, work where they are qualified, teach children in the schools?
Another letter has run in the Miami papers, this one from Washington, D.C. "In a nation which prides itself in encouraging its citizens to work to their full potential," the letter reads, "gay men and women should be encouraged to participate in this constructive way."
District of Columbia City Council member Marion Barry sent that letter, and he sent it to explain that for the last four years Washington has offered its homosexual residents the same protection now angrily debated in Dade County. Washington's ordinance is the Human Rights Law - Title 34.
Believed to be the nation's most sweeping antidiscrimination ordinance, Washington's law protects so many different groups that the list takes up four solid lines on a printed page. Race, sex, marital status, personal appearance, physical handicap, and family responsibilities are included. So is sexual orientation. Activists in Washington's gay community lobbied long and hard for Title 34's adoption, and now the ordinance bears some re-examination in the weeks before Dade County votes.
Has it resulted in the recruitment of young people to homosexuality, as Bryant and her supporters maintain the Florida law will?
Not in the schools: city officials list no problems since 1972, when, even before Title 34 the public school system banned discrimination against homosexuals in hiring.
And not in the streets: "No increase," said a Metropolitan Police sex squad officer, asked whether the law had stepped up homosexual child-molesting cases. "I've been here since 1970 and we haven't had any increase." (Those cases are far outnumbered by heterosexual child-molesting incidents, the officer added.)
"I know of no case," Barry concluded in his letter, also sent to the mayor of Miami, "in which our regulations have encouraged 'child recruitment" into homosexuality, 'child molestation, or proselytizing by our gay citizens toward young people that the homosexual lifestyle is a superior one."
What Title 34 has done instead is to offer up one city's answer to Dade County's urgent questions. Yes, homosexuals in Washington are a legitimate minority group. Yes, they are entitled to equal housing and employment. A gay activist thought about the law not long ago, and said: "Many gay people, every day of their lives, in little instances of sel-doubt, remind themselvess that their rights and dignity have official government sanction here."
Privately and publicly, the new tolerance of Title 34 has its detractors. The Rev. Smallwood Williams, like a number of other Washington ministers, still finds homosexuality "an abomination, and contrary to the law of God. I think it's a sickness," said Williams, who heads the Bibleway Church, "and they ought to try to be cured."
Georgetown residents also hear seamy pickup exchanges outside their living room windows at night sometimes and complain, as former Georgetown Citizens Association president Grosvenor Chapman put it, that "whatever they (homosexuals) do, it's very obvious. They are creating a public nuisance."
A 14-year police veteran in the morals division said the new atmosphere has sent more and more gays into the city's parks and bathrooms where "they do it in droves."
Despite all that, and despite the private nastiness that homosexuals still suffer in straight society, no one in Washington has ever seriously challenged the validity of Title 34. In fact, the law is being reintroduced to the City Council this week by Council member David Clarke not to question its purpose, Clarke says, but rather to strengthen its power by passing it through the new elected Council, since the law was adopted before home rule, when council members were appointed by the President.
Title 34 has not exactly escorted homosexuals into a new era, either. Ask the lesbian private school teacher who is sure she'd be fired if they knew. Or the lesbian legal worker who dismisses the Office of Human Rights, charged with enforcing Title 34, as "a ridiculous agency," Or the young homosexual who speaks freely of the Washington life he loves - and then says no name, please: "I have a cushy job now. I'm really not willing to give it up by being publicly gay."
They cite the backlog at the Office of Human Rights: 467 cases, some dating back to 1974. They say the office cares only about conciliation, not about setting precedents that will shake up employers. They say they cannot afford to sit around for three years waiting for reinstatement of a job.
"They say there's no use trying," said Eva Freund, an activist who helped research the original drafts of Title 34. "I've had a lot of calls from people I've never heard of" - people seeking advice on the law, said Freund. "I tell them, 'Don't expect to get anything. Fully expect to get canned.' And when you get canned, it's very hard to find another job."
The human rights' office's answer to all this is a threefold complaint: that it is understaffed, underbudgeted, and overcriticized. "We have one of the best records in the country," said director James Baldwin. Backlogs in the upper 400's are normal, he said. "That's what most agencies shoot for."
Investigations are slow, he acknowledged - from Oct. 1, 1976, April 30, 1977, private employment cases took a median of 263 days from filing to closing, despite the fact that Title 34 itself requires all complaints to be investigated within 120 days. "There's one area we'd like to see improved," Baldwin said.
The complaints vary. A restaurant owner asked two homosexuals to leave when they got affectionate at the table; the men said they were only following heterosexual codes of conduct, and charged discrimination. A furniture store employee was transferred and then fired after gay friends visited him on the job; he charged discrimination, and investigators found probably cause to support this charge.
Both these cases are now awaiting hearings by three-member panels of human rights commissioners, who serve three-year unpaid terms to prepare Title 34 enforcement guidelines, set Office of Human Rights Policy, and adjudicate cases. OHR has received about 15 discrimination complaints from homosexuals since the passage of Title 34, but none has yet received a hearing - instead, the complaints with merit ended in conciliation: the restaurant policy changed, the job restored.
Lawyers slow things up too, observed deputy director A. Franklin Anderson. "It is a legal process," he said, "and in nine out of 10 cases there's lawyer for the respondent who insists taking his time. We can't do anything about that."
"The commission can assess punitive damages, but our major weapon is the right to suspend or revoke any municipal licenses," explained Franklin Kameny, the only homosexual now serving on the Human Rights Commission.
It is a weapon rarely used, Kameny said. "In due course, it becomes generally accepted that in Washington you don't discriminate against gays," he said. "The net effect, somewhat simplistically, is what you expect a well-functioning law to do . . . it preventsviolations before they occur."
What the law cannot do, of course - what no antidiscrimination law can do - is to reach people's private hatreds. Even gays who believe firmly in Title 34 and the Office of Human Rights know that. They know that an employer at all familiar with the law will use as his weapons "job qualifications," customer appeal," "performance standards." He will not say, "I don't hire faggots."
So many gays still carry themselves carefully, wary of the signals that might betray the secret. A lesbian leans back with her feet on the desk, and then quickly pulls them away: a masculine sort of gesture; will people see, and know? A homoesexual listens to his colleagues making "faggot jokes" and winches, afraid to object.
"You have to be very careful about how much information you give people," reflected a homosexual who worries about his job. "You catch yourself unconsciously with your wrists flapping." he smiled. "You have to keep a stiff wrist."
In a sense, Anita Bryant's antihomosexual campaign has done the gay community a great service, they say. It has carried public debate about homosexuality into the newspapers and onto television, airing the questions that have haunted both gays and straights for years. When Bryant speaks of homosexuals recruiting - which she insists they must, since they cannot procreate - gays can respond, as did Deacon Maccubbin, who owns the gay Washington bookstore Lambda Rising: "That's absolutely ridiculous. You can't recruit a black person to be white or a white person to be black or a gay person to be straight."
The campaign has illustrated also the fury with which some people still object to homosexuality. "She's the kind of person that we're constantly running up against in our private lives," said Bruce Voeller, co-executive director of the National Gay Task Force in New York. "She's documenting discrimination for use superbly."
There is also an undercurrent of fear in the gay community during the pre-election weeks, and bitterness. One could hear it very clearly at a small party a few weeks ago, as two homosexuals argued about the fairness of a protest boycott against Florida orange juice, the company that pays Bryant for commercials.
"She has a right to work," mused one of the men. "Just because she's saying we don't doesn't mean she doesn't. I don't want to stoop to her level. But if this woman started going around the country saying, 'I want the niggers our of our schools,' she'd be fired. If this woman started saying, 'I don't want Jews teaching my good Christian children,' she'd be fired, just like that."
He snapped his fingers to show how fast, and his voice hardened, "but we're only faggots. It's only those queers, so who cares?"