Even though national stories tend to steal the historical spotlight, most people’s struggles happen on smaller, though still important, scales. In The Sin Warriors, Julian E. Farris tackles the mid-20th century struggle for homosexuals in Florida’s university system to escape fear and entrapment from a system out to get them.
Based on true events, this book portrays state Sen. Charlie Johns’s efforts to remove all homosexual teachers and students from every college in the state through coercion, blackmail, and fear-mongering tactics reminiscent of Joe McCarthy and the Red Scare during the 1950s. Caught in the middle of all this are David Ashton and John Smith, who must not only overcome the dysfunctions in their own histories but also face down a state bureaucracy that hates them for who they are.
Farris does a good job of bringing verisimilitude to this era of history. He honors the victims of the Johns Committee (1956-1961), and brings to light a dark period during Florida’s evolution on gay rights. The mood and feeling of this time in Florida’s history are sumptuously evoked, transporting the reader to the exact place and time of these events.
The book is not without its rough spots, starting with the slow pacing of the first part of the book. Although the writing picks up, it may be a barrier to some readers.
A tale of illegal power and intimidation, this book is recommended for library collections of gay rights struggles on the state level, especially the South and Florida.
Reviewer: John Mack Freeman