Rep. C.W. Bill Young's District 10 may only be in Pinellas County, but for more than five decades, the congressman's anti-LGBT influence has impacted entire the State of Florida and the country.
Young is seeking his 22nd term in Congress this Nov. 6 and has served 41 years in that post. Prior to that, the Republican was a Florida State Senator for 10 years.
It's during his terms as a senator that Young first declared his anti-LGBT stance—in a very public and horrifying way. Young was a member of the state-sanctioned group called "The John's Committee" in the 1950s and 1960s. That committee was based on the notorious McCarthy Panel and functioned as a state-sponsored hate group that investigated and persecuted homosexuals in those two decades.
The so-called committee was led by Florida State Senator Charley Eugene Johns and Young served on the committee in Tallahassee from 1962-1965, the year its funding was cut.
Today, Young is the only surviving member of the group.
Young has never denied his involvement in the committee and has yet to apologize for the group's purge of FSU, USF, UF and other state organizations of "dangerous homosexuals."
While calls and emails to his campaign headquarters seeking a response to this story went unreturned, his opponent in the 2012 election, Jessica Ehrlich, has seized on his involvement in the anti-LGBT committee and is hopeful that she can replace the incumbent.
“The fact is, Young was an active, vocal and unabashed member of the John’s Committee and their persecution of homosexuals in the 1960s,” said Ehrlich. “Their investigation and purge of Florida’s state universities was a very dark time in Florida’s history. Unapologetic and abysmal on LGBT issues to this day, Bill Young does not represent the St Petersburg values I grew up with.”
In 1964, the Committee published and distributed the notorious report titled, Homosexuality and Citizenship in Florida, which was widely known as the “Purple Pamphlet.” Even though the Committee’s records were to remain sealed until 2038, they were opened in 1993.
Watermark has obtained a copy of the “Purple Pamphlet” which is full of homophobic language and graphic photos of young men and boys in scantily clad clothing. It was actually declared pornographic by the Miami Police Department shortly after its release. Photographic evidence of the report is still in circulation and available online. To this date, not one member of the Committee has publicly apologized or been held responsible for the hundreds of teachers, administrators and students who were fired, expelled or intimidated as a result of the Committee’s purges.
The committee's mission
The Johns Committee was formed in 1956 with the intent to investigate and eliminate communists in state agencies. By 1957, the committee reported that it believed the Communist Party had infiltrated the NAACP and requested the organization's member lists, which led to a two-year legal battle.
When the US Supreme Court denied the committee’s request, it turned its focus to the “subversive” homosexual community. This began a seven-year purge of Florida State University, the University of South Florida and the University of Florida and other state-funded organizations. In 1959 the John’s Committee claimed its first victims when it forced 16 members of the University of Florida's faculty and staff out of their positions because of their suspected sexual orientation.
One way the committee searched out gay men and lesbians was by hiring former FBI agent William Tanner to act as a security guard at FSU. Tanner would throw large parties and informants would secretly tape the gatherings.
"It was,' I've got a party I'd like you to attend,' or 'I'd like you to go out and do a little trolling,'" Chief William Tanner said in a 1991 interview with The Miami Herald. After the party, the participants would be interrogated and either expelled or fired.
Similarly, other informants were employed to compile lists of names to be available to other statewide organizations. John’s Committee informants were often gays and lesbians who were coerced into cooperation by threat of public exposure or reduced criminal sentences on other charges. These informants were used to lure others to locations where, once exposed, they were photographed.
These methods were so successful that a climate of fear grew over the campuses of the state universities. The fear was so strong that one professor with a 27-year tenure attempted suicide with an aspirin overdose. He lived to tell of his experience in 1991.
“It was a dreadful time in Florida for LGBT people," James Schnur, an assistant librarian at USF St. Petersburg shared. "These guys would even go around to suspected gatherings of gay people and write down the license plate numbers of all the cars within a two block radius.
“It didn’t matter if you were just going to the convenience store next door and happened to be parked there, they took your name and you were suspected of being gay unless you could prove otherwise. They then called these people into often rented hotel rooms and interrogated them about their sex lives recorded on reel-to-reel tape."
Young is photographed at several gatherings of the John's Committee in the early 1960s and he often spoke publicly about his involvement.
"This indicates how bold the homosexual is becoming and further proves the necessity of state government taking the lead in responsibility for preventing these confirmed homosexuals from preying on the youth of the state," Young said when asked about the distribution of the Purple Pamphlet as pornography in 1964.
Yet, when questioned 30 years after the dissolution of the committee, Young attempted to downplay his involvement.
"I was not a major part of that committee," Young said in 1993, after the records had been unsealed. "I came on the committee in its closing days."
Records indicate otherwise, however. Young served at the height of the John’s Committee during its most active assault on gay men and lesbians. In the three years prior to Young joining the Committee, 16 educators were removed. However, during his tenure that number rose to 110 with at least 200-250 educators and students questioned, shamed and blackmailed.
No change of heart
Even though Young's office did not respond to repeated attempts for an interview regarding this story, his voting record relating to LGBT issues seems to be in line with his beliefs of the past.
He voted for the Defense of Marriage Act and he voted first to delay the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. He then voted against repealing it.
He has openly opposed expanding the Federal Hate Crime Law, which would have extended constitutional protections to cover offenses based upon sexual orientation or gender identify, and he has publicly stated he is in support of a federal amendment to ban marriage equality.
Ehrlich wants to stop Young's homophobic ways by defeating the incumbent this November. She's hopeful that the LGBT community can help her do that.
“My father, a local attorney and holocaust survivor, taught me at a young age that discrimination in any form is wrong,” said Ehrlich. “Members of the LGBT community are taxpaying citizens trying to live, work and raise their families. As members of our community, they should be afforded the same rights and opportunities, recognition for their contributions to our society as all Americans."
Ehrlich has been endorsed by eQuality Giving and the Pinellas Stonewall Democrats and received a perfect score on Equality Florida's questionnaire about LGBT issues.
"St. Petersburg has a proud LGBT community and I am humbled to have their support," she said. "St Pete Pride, one of the biggest celebrations in the south, is a true testament to how far the LGBT community in Florida has come since the time of Bill Young’s tenure on the John’s Committee.”
From our media partners at Watermark