McCarthy Moment The Johns Committee in Florida

“Have you ever been engaged in any homosexual activities here in Gainesville?”

This question forever altered dozens of lives at the University of Florida between 1958 and 1959.

In 1956, State Senator Charley Eugene Johns created the Florida Legislative Investigation Committee. Better known as the Johns Committee, it tried to uncover subversive activity in Florida.

Their first target was the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The Committee used communists as an excuse to prevent integration in public schools. The NAACP's members and lawyers proved too hard for the Committee to beat. Soon an embarrassed Johns looked for easier victims.

At this time, Americans thought being gay was a shameful mental disorder. It was something to hide and keep secret. It was also illegal in Florida. This secrecy made gay people more vulnerable to the persecution of the Johns Committee. Committee members threatened people with exposure and prison if they did not cooperate. This reign of terror led to dozens of professors and students leaving the university. Although we will never know everyone the Committee hurt, this exhibition seeks to tell their stories.

This exhibition contains sensitive content. This includes sexual acts, self-harm, and the persecution of the LGBTQ+ community. Your self-care is important to us. There are resources available to you if you need to reach out for support.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255

The Trevor Project: 866-488-7386

LGBT National Hotline: 888-843-4564

LGBT National Youth Talkline: 800-246-7743

LGBT National Senior Hotline: 888-234-7243

Trans Lifeline: 877-565-8860

Learn more about the history of how the Johns Committee Began

Learn more about the safe spaces or common meeting places for gay people in Gainesville

Learn more about the interrogations and the terror they caused

Learn more about how the public reacted to the johns committee

Learn about some of the things that have changed and some of the challenges that the LGBTQ+ community still faces

This exhibition is dedicated to the people hurt by the Johns Committee. Thank you to those who have bravely shared their stories and helped bring the injustices to light.

Thank you to the State Archives of Florida and the Department of Special & Area Studies Collections at George A. Smathers Libraries at the University of Florida for opening their collections to us. Both institutions hold valuable research materials and this exhibition could not have happened without their help. A special thanks to Flo Turcotte for her enthusiastic help identifying research materials.

We are indebted to Terry Fleming and the Pride Community Center of North Central Florida for their guidance and feedback about this exhibition. This is a challenging topic and we wanted to get it right.

Thank you also to Kathryn Ecsedy for helping to rework some of the exhibition text and make it more approachable.

Research can be a lonely task. Thank you to Anna Weisman and Adrienne DeNoyelles for helping with the heavy lifting. Their work combing through newspapers, city directories, and other primary sources invaluably deepened the information available.

Curator: Kaitlyn Hof-Mahoney

Graphic Designer: Suzanne Gentilhomme

This exhibition has been sponsored in part by funding from Visit Gainesville – Alachua County, FL; The City of Gainesville; and the Department of State, Division of Cultural Affairs, the Florida Council of the Arts and Culture, and the State of Florida.