“Behind Closed Doors”: the dark legacy of the Johns Committee

By Jessica Newman

While many are familiar with the Red Scare days of the McCarthy Era, few know about the infamous Johns Committee, named after State Senator Charley Johns, Florida’s very own anti-communist, anti-homosexual regime.

“Behind Closed Doors,” a documentary produced by UF graduates Allyson A. Beutke and Scott Litvack, tells this haunting story of a committee that targeted people in academic institutions, public restrooms and bus stations. And while Florida State University and the University of South Florida attempted to prevent the Johns Committee from harassing its professors, the University of Florida and its president at the time, J. Wayne Reitz, actually cooperated outright with the committee, feeding it with tips and ratting out its own personnel.

The documentary tells the story of one professor, Sigmund Diettrich, who was summoned by investigators to a hotel to be interrogated on his sexual orientation. Not long after this, he was fired from his job and attempted suicide the same day, according to the documentary. “Hundreds of other professors and students across the state were also terminated or expelled because of their sexual preferences,” according to the film’s website.

During Pride Week this year, the Civic Media Center will be showing “Behind Closed Doors” and opening up the space afterward for Gainesville residents who remember the days of the Johns Committee to speak about their experiences and answer questions from the audience. The film will be shown on Tuesday, Oct. 25, at 8pm.

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