University of Florida faculty, students, and staff who identified themselves as being lesbian and gay were somewhat inconspicuous and silent until the early 1980’s. This invisibility no doubt was due partly to the homophobic attitudes and bias that existed in the general society as well as on the University campus. Another important factor appears to be the legacy of the infamous Johns Committee, a Florida state senate committee that spent time between 1957 and the early 1960’s at the University of Florida attempting to identify persons who were thought to be homosexuals. Homosexual behavior was illegal, and Committee members also believed that such persons were reprehensible and should not be part of the University of Florida.
Members of the Committee and their staff used intimidation, various forms of entrapment, and/or issued summons for individuals to appear before the Committee without providing the reason for the summons. As a result of the Committee’s activities, several University of Florida male faculty members were fired or were forced to resign. Female faculty members do not appear to have been targeted, possibly because there were relatively few women on the faculty at that time. In addition, several female and male students were disciplined and typically were asked to leave the University. An important and unfortunate aspect of the Johns Committee’s activities was the cooperation and complicity of President J. Wayne Reitz. As a result, accused faculty members and students received little or no administrative support. An excellent documentary entitled “Behind Closed Doors” and co-produced by Allyson Beutke provides a more detailed description of the actions and the personal consequences of the Johns Committee.