The front cover of an anti-gay booklet compiled by the Johns Committee

State Rep. Evan Jenne remembers growing up hearing about Florida’s infamous ‘John’s Committee’ from his father then a state senator.

“My father would point to me and say, ‘this is exactly how you do not treat people if you are a member of the government – elected or unelected,’” Jenne recalls. 

The Florida Legislative Investigation Committee lasted from 1956 to 1965. Initially it was launched to slow down segregation, but over the years it refocused its efforts on outing LGBT educators and students in state funded universities. Later it even moved to investigate high schools. The committee was informally named the Johns Committee, after State Senator Charley Eugene Johns, who was its first chairman.  

RelatedThe Johns Committee – State Sanctioned Homophobia in Florida

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(Via: University of Florida in 1958)

The actions of the Johns Committee has haunted Jenne for all of these years. Now he believes it's time to officially apologize. 

 “I am at the tail end of my legislative career, and I just decided if I was ever going to do it, it needed to be right now,” he said.  

So he filed a resolution (HCR 893) that “offers formal & heartfelt apology to those whose lives, well-being, & livelihoods were damaged or destroyed by activities & public pronouncements of those who served on committee.” 

Jenne, (D-Dania Beach), has spent most of the last year researching the committee in order to make case for an apology. He enlisted Senator Lauren Book (D-Plantation) to file a companion resolution in the Senate. 

“We're never going to be able to give back the lives that were destroyed, people  committed suicide over the actions of this committee,” Jenne said.

Because the committee fell under the purview of the State Legislature Jenne feels a personal responsibility to apologize for the committee’s actions.

 “I’m a member of the legislature and this falls squarely on the legislature shoulders. This is  one of, if not the darkest moments in our history. In this case the outcome for the legislature was a disgrace and a track record that is one of pure demonization,” he said. So for him the first step of reconciliation is an apology. “I think it's good for society.” 

When Jenne approached Sen. Book about this resolution she didn’t hesitate to jump on board.

“I was shocked and appalled,” she said. “These people had to endure some truly horrific experiences. This was a true and total witch-hunt. This was absolutely an overreach of power. Our government allowed this to occur at the tax payer’s expense for 9 years.” 

This wouldn’t be the first time the state of Florida has apologized for past wrongs. Two years ago the legislature issued a “heartfelt apology” to the four black men, known as the Groveland Four, who were wrongly accused of raping a Lake County woman in 1949. In 2008 they passed a resolution expressing regret for the involuntary servitude of Africans.    

“I am proud to shine a light on this and seek an apology,” Book said.  

 

Related SFGN Story:

A Look Back: Florida’s Johns Committee