Thursday, May 7, 2009

Carrie Prejean: Junior Miss Bryant

Beauty queen revives memories of Florida’s past with orange juice boycott


MAY. 7, 2009

For those of us living in Florida, the story is particularly familiar: a failed beauty pageant contestant spews anti-gay sentiment in front of any camera that crosses her path.

We are subjected to nightly news stories featuring a pretty bigot espousing hate speech. Extremist evangelicals come out of the woodwork to promote their interpretation of the Bible, and bask in the shared glow of 15-minutes of fame.

Our community thought we heard the last of Anita Bryant after her gay bashing came to an abrupt halt thanks to the wildly successful orange juice boycott. Fast forward 30 years and enter Carrie Prejean -- Junior Miss Bryant.

The similarity of the two women is almost comical. Anita Bryant was Miss Oklahoma and a second-runner in the 1959 Miss America pageant. One of Bryant’s evangelical mentors was the notorious Jerry Falwell, the bigoted televangelist who was most known for hate speech. Falwell had a very profitable career heading the Thomas Road Baptist Church -- a megachurch based in Lynchburg, Va., where he used his pulpit to frequently criticize gays, feminists, and non-evangelicals.

Falwell and Bryant partnered up in Dade County on the so-called “Save Our Children” campaign. They used silly lies in an attempt to scare the American public with statements like, "If gays are granted rights, next we'll have to give rights to prostitutes and to people who sleep with St. Bernards and to nail biters."

Like Anita Bryant, Carrie Prejean also had an unsuccessful attempt at winning a crown -- her bid was for the Miss USA pageant. Prejean has her own evangelical mentor -- Miles McPherson of the Rock Church, a former football player turned megachurch pastor, who is well-known for his hate speech towards gays. Miles has been quoted as saying, “The attack is not from the gay lobby. Here’s who the enemy is: it’s the devil!”

Unfortunately, the Miss USA competition does not require a “talent” to participate in the pageant, so we’ll never know if Prejean can hold a tune quite as well as Bryant. Bryant was at least an accomplished singer long before her failed Miss America run. What talent does Prejean have? It is safe to say that public speaking is not her forte when her best attempt at explaining herself is prefaced with a very juvenile-sounding “no offense.” The qualifier “no offense” generally drops from one’s repertoire sometime around junior high, but apparently, the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) thinks this is a true gem. In fact, they have launched an official “No Offense” campaign in honor of Miss California and her views against gay marriage.

Although we don’t know yet what lies in store for Miss Prejean, we do know how the Anita Bryant story played out. Bryant was signed on as spokesperson for the Florida Citrus Commission, but a national boycott was called in response to her anti-gay stance; the boycott was successful, delivering a blow to Florida orange juice products, and as a result the Florida Citrus Commission failed to renew her contract. She subsequently lost all of her other major sponsorships. She got divorced, and then remarried; she and her new husband attempted to revitalize her singing career and failed. They filed for bankruptcy (twice). Then Miss Bryant did what any self-respecting, twice-married, twice-bankrupt evangelical should do -- started her own church. She now heads Anita Bryant Ministries International.

Although NOM isn’t exactly an official sponsor of Carrie Prejean, they are certainly are capitalizing on her image. In an effort to comply with Miss California regulations, NOM and Prejean are attempting to portray her as a “private-citizen” who is not officially aligned with the group.

But Keith Lewis, who runs the Miss California pageant, issued the following statement: "Given the fact that Carrie Prejean's first act upon returning to California was to headline five services at a church that promotes homosexuality as both unnatural and abnormal, we stand by our concern for her individual image and look forward to a time in the near future when she can put down her personal agenda.”

Her personal agenda seems to be moving forward at full force—considering the “semi-nude” photographs of Prejean that have “mysteriously” appeared on the internet, which could cause her to be stripped of her 2nd Place win. Is it possible then she is purposefully attempting to lose her title in a move for more publicity?

We can only
hope that the “Junior Miss Bryant” media circus is coming to a close. This whole phenomena has only served to detract from the real issue at hand: millions of tax-paying Americans are denied basic civil rights each and every day and are denied fair and equal access to healthcare. In most states it is illegal for us to marry the one that we love and the only option we have to protect our families is to create expensive legal contracts that can be contested in a court of law. Although it is disappointing that a failed beauty queen is using this important issue to gain a few minutes of fame and promote her own personal agenda -- it is certainly not surprising, especially to those of us in Florida.