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social sciences

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In 1956, the Florida legislature established a committee to investigate "subversive activities." Spurred by McCarthy's witch hunts for communists in government and rumors that large numbers of homosexuals had moved to Gainesville after the war and were teaching in its high schools, the Johns Committee (named after the representative who led its work) was charged with pursuing homosexual teachers and pressuring them to name other names or face public exposure.

Although the Johns Committee lacked the legal authority to subpoena individuals, its members nevertheless used that threat to force teachers to give up their homosexual colleagues' names.

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When the local interrogations were over, the Committee presented the information to the State Superintendent of Schools, who then petitioned the State Board of Education to revoke the lifetime teaching credentials of all educators under investigation. Although some teachers hired attorneys, the State Board of Education refused to hear from anyone, including attorneys, and each educator's lifetime teaching credentials were revoked.

Many homosexual teachers resigned immediately to avoid license revocation because being called before the interrogators signaled the end of one's teaching career, but at least three people--William Neal, Mary Frances Bradshaw, and Anne Louise Poston--sued the State Board of Education; their cases were consolidated and heard by the Florida State Supreme Court in 1962.

The Court ordered the reinstatement of the lifetime teaching credentials of the educators because the due process procedures in the Education Code had not been followed by the State Board of Education.

After its dissolution in 1964, the Johns Committee files were sealed for thirty years. Only in 1995 did the details of the Florida legislature's crackdown on gay and lesbian educators become available.

Despite some isolated successes in resisting the purges of homosexuals from American classrooms in the McCarthy era, most individuals lacked the resources to challenge the consensus that homosexuals were unfit as teachers. Many homosexuals left the profession entirely; others retreated into the closet and lived lives clouded by the need to keep secret a vital part of themselves.

The 1960s and 1970s: Landmark Legal Cases

In the 1960s and 1970s, glbtq educators began to fight back against the discrimination they suffered. A grass roots gay liberation movement emerged that highlighted the injustices faced by gay men and lesbians and inspired many to undertake legal battles that gradually began to secure more rights for gay and lesbian educators.

In 1964, Mark Morrison, a California teacher, was fired for engaging in sexual relations with a married male teacher at his school. Within two years he also lost his lifetime teaching credentials on the grounds of immoral behavior. Morrison initiated a lengthy legal battle to regain his teaching credentials, claiming that his private behavior did not affect his ability to teach.

In 1969, the California Supreme Court ruled that Morrison's behavior did not directly affect his ability to teach, and that being a homosexual was insufficient grounds in and of itself for dismissal. However, the ruling also said that a school board might justifiably keep a known homosexual away from "impressionable children." Because Morrison's "immoral behavior" had become public knowledge, the school board's dismissal was justified, but not the loss of his teaching credentials.

The Morrison case inspired many others to resist discriminatory treatment. Rather than meekly resign after being exposed as homosexuals, some gay and lesbian teachers began to challenge school boards' right to terminate them solely on the basis of being homosexuals. They began to appeal to state and federal courts, and they began to receive the support of professional organizations and unions.

Another crucial legal case in the early 1970s was Joseph Acanfora v. Board of Education of Montgomery, Maryland, et al. (1972).

Acanfora was removed from his classroom and assigned to an administrative job after the Montgomery, Maryland school district discovered his membership in a glbtq student organization at Pennsylvania State University while he was a student there. He sued for reinstatement. In the subsequent trial, medical and psychological experts were allowed to testify about the effects a homosexual teacher might have on his students; the witnesses for Acanfora argued that a child's sexual orientation is probably determined by the age of five or six, hence a teacher's orientation would have no effect on his students' orientations.

In the Acanfora decision, the Court recognized that certain homosexual rights are protected under the constitutional right to privacy. The judge noted that homosexuality was no longer regarded as an emotional problem, a genetic defect, or a character disorder, and he dismissed the idea that homosexuality was a threat to society.

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