Jessica Ehrlich Takes on Anti-Gay Rep. C.W. Bill Young for Congress
In the race to represent the U.S. House in Florida’s 10th Congressional District. Democrat Jessica Ehrlich is squaring off against longtime anti-gay incumbent C.W. Bill Young. And she isn’t afraid to dredge up Young’s involvement more than half a century ago in the infamous Johns Committee, responsible for persecuting gay Floridians in the ’50s and ’60s.
"The fact is C.W. Bill Young was an active, vocal and unabashed member of the Johns Committee and their persecution of homosexuals in the 1960’s. Their investigation and purge of Florida’s state universities was a very dark time in Florida history. Unapologetic and abysmal on LGBT issues to this day, Bill Young does not represent the values I was raised on here in Pinellas County," said Democratic candidate Jessica Ehrlich, a young lawyer with experience as an aide to Congressmembers Clay Shaw and Stephen Lynch.
Young, the longest-serving Republican member of Congress, has a documented history of persecuting homosexual citizens, and his record has become an important issue in the 2012 Florida elections. He also has a lengthy history of voting against LGBT rights, having voted to allow job discrimination based on sexual orientation, to define marriage as between a man and woman only, to ban adoptions by gay parents and for a Constitutional Amendment banning same-sex marriage.
The Johns Committee, led by Florida State Senator Charley Eugene Johns, was modeled on the notorious McCarthy Panel. Young’s role as a member of the infamous Committee and the publication of their notorious report entitled, "Homosexuality and Citizenship in Florida," also known as "The Purple Pamphlet," forced the dismissal and resignation of more than 100 allegedly gay professors and deans at the University of Florida, Florida State University and the University of South Florida. One professor even attempted suicide.
"This was a state-sponsored, fear-driven hate group that investigated and persecuted homosexuals," said Ehrlich’s Campaign Manager Kiel Brunner.
The Johns Committee investigated alleged homosexuals and their "infiltration" at state colleges and universities. The committee had the power to subpoena witnesses, take sworn testimony, employ secret informants and was accused of wire-tapping. The committee used uniformed policemen to pull students and professors out of classes for interrogation. Members of the Johns Committee have remained unapologetic about their participation and their treatment of homosexuals.
"Our report tried to show it in its true light. It is a very repulsive subject," said Young in published reports. He claimed that homosexuals were becoming bolder, necessitating that state government take the lead in preventing confirmed homosexuals from preying on Florida’s youth.
Allyson Beutke DeVito, a University of Florida graduate, produced the award-winning documentary "Behind Closed Doors," which was aired on PBS and at the Tampa International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.
"I feel the Johns Committee and its investigation over a period of nine years is an important piece of Florida’s history that many people didn’t know about," she told Edge.
According to DeVito, Sigmund Diettrich, a geography professor and chair of the geography department at the University of Florida, was one of many men who were harassed by Young and the Johns Committee. Diettrich was called to testify before the committee about his alleged homosexual activities and was fired from the University of Florida. As a result, he attempted suicide.
Art Copleston enrolled in the University of Florida after serving four years in the Air Force. The Johns Committee called him in to be interrogated four times in two years. He was marched out of class in front of his instructors and classmates by uniformed policemen. At each interrogation, Copleston maintains he was threatened and harassed into "admitting my gayness and/or to finger fellow gays."
Because of her family’s personal experiences with intolerance, Ehrlich knows the pain of being discriminated against first-hand.
"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 tax-paying citizens trying to live, work and raise their families. They should be afforded the same rights and opportunities and recognition for their contributions to our society as all Americans."
Ehrlich has received endorsements from LGBT civil rights groups including eQuality Giving and the Pinellas County Stonewall Democrats.
"We are very excited about her run for office; we verified it was a close race," said Ken Ahonen-Jover of eQuality Giving, after conducting an interview with the candidate.
"The Purple Pamphlet" was originally sealed until 2038, but Young’s involvement in the Johns Committee, harassment of LGBT citizens and the publication of the pamphlet was revealed due to Florida’s Sunshine Laws, which provides a right of access to governmental proceedings at both the state and local levels, and covers virtually all state and local collegial public bodies.
To this date, not one member of the committee has apologized for their participation.
For more information about Ehrlich’s campaign, visit www.ehrlichforcongress.com.