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When Florida had a committee to terrorize gay people

The hidden history of a state-sponsored witch hunt.

Ranjani Chakraborty is a lead video producer on the Vox video team and the creator behind Vox’s history series, Missing Chapter.

In the 1950s, a Florida state committee spent years stalking, intimidating, and outing hundreds of LGBTQ students, professors, and staff at state universities and grade schools. It’s a story with roots in homophobia, racism, and the anti-communist politics of an era.

It was commonly called the “Johns Committee,” after the influential state Sen. Charley Johns who spearheaded it. Johns and his team first went after civil rights activists by arguing they were backed by communists. But with little success in their anti-civil rights investigations, they soon turned to a new group to target — Florida’s LGBTQ students and teachers.

More than 50 years later, the state of Florida has yet to officially acknowledge the actions of the Johns Committee and its lasting effects. Watch the video above to learn more about the committee’s history and to hear from one of the last living survivors of their tactics.

For more on this reporting, you can explore all our scans of the Johns Committee documents we got at the Florida State Archives. Or check out the short documentary The Committee.

This is the third installment in Missing Chapter, where we revisit underreported and often overlooked moments of the past to give context to the present. Our first season covers stories of racial injustice, political conflicts, even the hidden history of US medical experimentation. If you have an idea for a topic we should investigate in the series, send it to me via this form!

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