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Arts & Culture

First Coast Connect: Documentary Examines LGBT 'Witch Hunt' At Florida Universities

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http://www.floridamemory.com/PhotographicCollection/ Florida Photographic Collection
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Lisa Mills, co-director of the documentary “The Committee," discussed her award-winning film, which will air 10 p.m. Thursday on WJCT channel 7.1.

The film is being distributed nationally by the American Public Television Exchange this June for PRIDE month.

"The Committee" is a documentary film about the Florida Legislative Investigative Committee of the State Legislature from 1956-1965, led by Senator Charley Johns and better known as Johns Committee.

 

Its aim was to remove gays from Florida's public universities and as a result more than 200 teachers and students who were suspected to be gay were either fired or expelled.

 

In the documentary, two victims from Jacksonville — Rev. Ruth Jensen-Forbell and Chuck Woods — share their story for the first time without anonymity. John Tileston, one of the interrogators that questioned the victims, is also featured in the film.

 

Mills, who is a professor at the University of Central Florida, and her colleague Robert Cassanello from the history department, taught an Advanced Documentary Workshop class for students with background skills in journalism, production, computer engineering, history and accounting.

 

“I had no idea about the Johns Committee until my colleague, Robert Cassanello, told me,” she said. “We told our students about it and they were intrigued, so we worked very hard to find the survivors of this committee and also an interrogators to interview for this film.”

 

In 1964, the Johns Committee published a purple pamphlet called "Homosexuality and Citizenship in Florida” and it was supposed to shock Florida residents into acting against gay and lesbians, but instead provoked backlash.

 

“It was a great embarrassment to the state of Florida,” Mills said, “and it really brought the downfall of the Johns Committee.”

 

Check out the full interview, courtesy of our partner TVJax.

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