Behind Closed Doors
The Dark Legacy of the Johns Committee
A documentary produced by Allyson A. Beutke
On January 19, 1959, investigators summoned geography professor Sigmund Diettrich (photo at right) to the Manor Motel in Gainesville, Florida. Soon after, he was fired from his job and lost the life he loved at the University of Florida. He attempted suicide the same day he was let go from U.F. Hundreds of other professors and students across the state were also terminated or expelled because of their sexual preferences.
Why is this important?
- Many people are familiar with the McCarthy hearings but do not realize that Florida had its own committee designed to weed out communism and homosexual activity. State Senator Charley Johns (photo at left) started the investigations to "protect Florida's children."
- The Johns Committee pursued people in academic institutions, courthouse bathrooms and bus stations. The committee's investigators went so far as
tapping phones in motels, interrogating children as young as 10, and breaking up a teenage girl's slumber party looking for evidence of moral misconduct.
- In 1993 more than 30,000 pages of secret documents became public including a University of Florida administrator's statement that there was no way to prevent gay men from lingering in university bathrooms "unless you pour sulfuric acid on the floor to make people go fast."
- Florida State University and the University of South Florida attempted to make things difficult for investigators. But the University of Florida and its president, J. Wayne Reitz, have been criticized for cooperating fully with the Johns Committee.
- Some well-known homosexuals on the University of Florida campus remained untouched by the Johns Committee, while others watched their careers end and their families torn apart.
Behind Closed Doors is a documentary produced by Allyson A. Beutke, a graduate of the University of Florida's College of Journalism and Communications. It has aired on PBS stations in Florida and is available for purchase. Email email@example.com for ordering information.
The documentary has received a Louis Wolfson Media History Center Film and Video Award. Behind Closed Doorsreceived an honorable mention in the Archival Productions category, and the film was honored an the annual awards ceremony in Miami Beach in May 2001.
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Copyright © 1999 by Allyson Beutke. All rights reserved. No original portion of this document shall be reproduced without the written consent of the author.