The Johns Committee witch hunt, Florida, 1956-1965



Inside Higher Education | 14401

In her new book “Communists and Perverts under the Palms: The Johns Committee in Florida, 1956-1965”, Stacy Braukman examines the effect the crackdown had on Florida’s universities and the wider civil rights movement for blacks and gays.

Using newly released documents from the Florida Legislative Investigation Committee, (the Johns Committee), Braukman follows the hunt to find and remove gay and lesbian professors and students from public colleges. Her book recounts stories of married faculty members accused of being gay testifying before the committee and begging to retain their livelihoods and jobs.

In an era defined by the attainment of equal rights and educational access for racial minorities, Braukman felt that there had little been meaningful analysis of the Johns Committee’s work against gay people.


The Johns Committee at work | Unknown photographer | State of Florida | 14402

The Johns Committee did not set out to uncover gay men and lesbians in the university system, but once they found them (in Gainesville, in 1958-59), they recognized two things: Using intimidation, informants and threats of exposure, investigators could fairly easily identify suspected homosexuals by getting witnesses to name names; and, once they started looking, they knew they were going to find them, at every university. So the committee seized upon this particular target in part because it was easier, as they discovered, than taking on the NAACP. And it also represented what was seen as a legitimate social and even national security problem at that time: predatory homosexuals.

In 1957, a state committee studying TB hospitals inadvertently uncovered the existence of homosexuals on the staff of a Tampa hospital, which led to acquiring the names of some homosexual Tampa schoolteachers and public school administrators, many of whom had attended college in Florida. It is likely that the chair of that committee, a conservative from Jacksonville, shared this information with his friend in the Florida senate, Charley Johns. A year later, Johns’s son told his father that students were talking about certain professors at the University of Florida who seemed effeminate and were rumored to be gay.

Some of the accused lost their jobs and at least one professor committed suicide.

The work of the committee has previously been examined in the film Behind closed doors.



Chicago’s gay archive


Chicago’s Gerber/Hart Library is named after Henry Gerber, who started the Society for Human Rights, believed to be the first gay rights organization in the United States, and Pearl Hart, a civil rights-era attorney who spent much of her career defending gay rights, and was founded in 1981 by historian Greg Sprague, who had earlier launched the Chicago Gay History Project.

It holds more than 14,000 volumes, 800 periodical titles and 100 archival collections, including the founding documents of Chicago LGBT institutions like the Howard Brown Health Center as well as personal diaries, artwork and newspaper clippings from the earliest days of the gay civil rights movement.

The library also has some of the original signs from Carol’s Speakeasy, a legendary Chicago gay bar from the late 1970s to the ’90s, and a pair of sequined red ruby slippers signed in 1992 by members of the Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus.


Albert Cashier



Albert Cashier | 1864 | Unknown photographer | Public domain | 14403

Jennie Irene Hodgers (December 25, 1843 – October 10, 1915), was an Irish-born soldier in the Union Army during the American Civil War. She was female assigned at birth, but lived as a man under the name of Albert D. J. Cashier. Other soldiers thought that Cashier was just small and preferred to be alone, which was not that uncommon. Cashier was once captured in battle but escaped back to Union lines after overpowering a prison guard. Cashier fought with the regiment through the war until August 17, 1865, when all the soldiers were mustered in and out.

After the civil war Cashier had a number of different jobs. In November 1910 Cashier was hit by a vehicle and broke his leg. A physician discovered his secret in the hospital, but agreed to remain quiet. On May 5, 1911, Cashier was moved to the Soldier and Sailors home in Quincy, Illinois where he lived until his mind deteriorated and he was moved to the Watertown State Hospital for the Insane in March 1913 where a couple of attendants discovered that he was female assigned at birth when they tried to give him a bath, and he was forced to wear a dress.


Edward Carpenter



Edward Carpenter | Unknown photographer | Public domain | 14404

A group in Sheffield is campaigning for a permanent public tribute to Edward Carpenter which recognises his historical and social importance as a writer and political campaigner.

Edward Carpenter, 29 August 1844 – 28 June 1929, was a significant cultural and political activist who is remembered now as a pioneer of gay rights campaigning, living openly with his lover George Merrill (1866 – 1928) and writing bravely about it as the same time that Oscar Wilde was imprisoned.


One of the many editions of “Towards Democracy” | 14405

He was a friend and possibly lover of Walt Whitman, and imitated him in his own long poetry cycle Towards Democracy (1883 – 1902), which became a foundation stone of socialism. He encouraged EM Forster to ‘come out’ and write.

Edward Carpenter and George Merrill | Unknown photographer | 14406


Gay centres



The Brixton Faeries | Unknown photographer | 14407

During the 1970s era of gay liberation, gay centres were established usually by squatting in unused or unwanted, dilapidated premises in various cities around the world. One such gay centre was The South London Gay Community Centre at 78 Railton Road, Brixton, London, an empty shop, which was established in the mid 1970s.

Gay centres afforded a safe space where, often for the first time, gay men and lesbians could meet and exchange ideas, and discuss politics. Not only campaigns were formed in them, but also gay groups and organisations, businesses, theatre companies, dance companies and the like. It was such a catalyst for ideas and activity that within months, the immediate area was home to two women’s centres, the Anarchist News Service, Squatters Groups, a Claimants’ Union for those on welfare benefits, the Brixton Advice Centre, Icebreakers, the Race Today Collective and a food cooperative.

The centre at Brixton is important in the UK’s gay history because it was the first one, and formed the template for those following. The squatters were evicted after two years.


The early days of the GLF



Members of the Gay Liberation Front protesting outside Bow Street Magistrates Court | February 1971 | Central Press/Getty Images | 14408

The Guardian reprint an article first published on 12 April 1971 by Jill Tweedie.

“Gay Lib is in the business of rocking the boat. Though they want legislative and attitude changes these young homosexuals, by their very acceptance of the normality of homosexuality, challenge the status quo, the dedicated heterosexuality of the normal man and woman which creates the family unit, foundation stone of the capitalist system. Gay Lib does not plead for the right of homosexuals to marry. Gay Lib questions marriage.

And they are beautiful to see. It is lovely to be with men and women who are not ashamed to express their affection openly, in the normal heterosexual ways, the hand in hand, the arm in arm, the occasional cuddle, the quick kiss. Suddenly, watching them, the whole evil squalid image of homosexuality crumbles – are these bright faces corrupters of children, lavatory solicitors, the something nasty in all our woodsheds?

Let others argue about the oedipus complex, about gender conditioning and aversion therapy and sex-change operations and hormone imbalance. Though they may still have their residual worries – society does not change overnight and conditioning clings like a bad smell – for them on the whole, at last, gay is good.”


Jill Tweedie | Angela Phillips/Guardian | 14409

Jill Tweedie, a feminist journalist and campaigner, died in November 1993.


Jack Baker and Michael McConnell



Michael McConnell and Jack Baker | Kay Tobin Lahusen | Gay Today | 14410

Richard John Baker, born 1942, was a gay activist in the U.S.A. between 1969 and 1980. He and his partner James Michael McConnell, also born 1942 were the first American same-sex couple to demand a license to marry and the first such couple to use adoption as a weapon in the battle for recognition of the inherent right to bond with the adult of one’s choice.

In 1971, Baker won the election for President of the Minnesota Students Association at the University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities campus. He campaigned for – and got – an FM radio station for the students, and the establishment of a housing organisation to provide decent accommodation for the students. He was so effective he was re-elected.

Mr Baker was the first activist to understand the significance of campaigning for gay marriage, and he and his partner Michael applied for a marriage certificate on May 18, 1970. They did not receive it. He also had an understanding of, and campaigned for, intersex and transgender people.

Updated 22 November 2014. Photographer identified. Blog post about gay marriage previously referred to is no longer available.

Jack Baker’s writing about gay marriage