ACANFORAS ON TV
‘I loved you then,
I love you now’
NEW YORK CITY -- Joe Acanfora, Sr., in an interview taped for national public service television, said that after learning his son, Joe, Jr., was homosexual, he a shook hands with him and told a him “I loved you then, I love you now, and I’ll love you afterwards; so, whatever choice you make, we’re with you.”
Joe Jr.’s, mother, Lee, said she found on meeting her son’s gay friends that “to my surprise -- because I was ignorant about the fact that these boys are human -- they were kind, clean, helpful, and it was just unbelievable.
“As a matter of fact, you might say they would be more normal than what is supposed to be normal as they say today.”
The Acanforas and their son, who is still fighting for the right to pursue his chosen career as a teacher, were interviewed by parent educator Eda LeShan for a segment of a WNET show called “How Do Your Children Grow?” The segment is to be aired at various times from mid-November into January by other public service television stations around the nation which subscribe to the Educational Broadcasting Corp. network.
Not all such stations in major cities will be picking up the series, however. One notable example is KCFT in Los Angeles. Officials there gave no reason for not using the show.
Among major cities where the show has been or will be aired are New York, San Francisco, and San Diego. Information about the Acanfora segment, called “Our Son, the Homosexual,” was released by WNET too late for most ADVOCATE readers in New York where it was to be shown Nov 9 and again Nov. 11. The San Diego air date is Dec. 4. In San Francisco it was to be shown the first week in January, but KQED there was unable to pin down the exact date. Broadcast times in other cities can be obtained from the local public service or educational TV station.
Joe told Ms. LeShan that he had “realized for a very long time that I felt that I may be homosexual.” His decision to tell his parents came during his second year at Pennsylvania State University, after he had gradually “built up my self-confidence and saw that I was a normal, able human being who had a lot of qualities that were good.
“And I loved my parents, who were very close. And I made the decision that there were two choices: I could either not tell them and continue lying to them, making up stories, and we’d gradually drift apart. Because I saw this happening already early in my college years. Or my other choice was to tell them, risk a negative reaction. But I knew that we were very close, and through talking it out, we would overcome it.”
He wrote to his parents a few days before they were to visit him one weekend at Penn State.
Mrs. Acanfora said she was alone in the family home in Brick-Town, N.J. when the letter came, “and, well I was quite onfused and a little upset. And I was just wishing someone was there that could talk to.
“I more or less read the letter a few times just to make sure I had it straight, and . . . I . . . I cried.”
She said she didn’t feel like calling a neighbor. Finally she called her doctor, a woman. “And she had put my mind at ease … She said it would he more or less talked out, and … and that evening my husband had read the letter, and his reactions, I guess, were like mine.”
The elder Acanfora, a trucker with Penn Central, said he “got upset and a little bit excited, a little bit nervous. But then, after a while, I guess we sat down and talked about it. “We figured Joe was always a smart boy from the time he was born. So whatever decision he made, we abided by it.’’
Mrs. Acanfora added that “Joe’s always been a wonderful person, and I guess this is why we didn’t get terriby upset …”
Ms. LeShan commented on what Mrs. Acanfora had said about meeting Joe’s friends and discovering “they were not sick. And I couldn’t agree with you more.’’
Turning to the younger Acanfora, she added, “I think one of the things that certainly entered into your parents’ reaction and your own first attitudes towards it, is that there’s been a process of brainwashing that has gone on in this country and many other countries in recent years.”
At other periods in history, she said, homosexuality has not been considered an illness, “and some of them have been the very best times in the history of art and religion and culture....
“And I think I must say, somewhat shamefacedly, that it is the people of my ilk, in the field of mental health, “who have tended to make very broad general kinds of attitudes toward homosexuality and have viewed it clinically for the past 50 or 60 years as representing deep neurotic disturbances of early childhood. I don’t happen to share that feeling at all.”
Mrs. Acanfora said there “wasn’t too much talking” on that first visit after Joe’s letter. “We were sort of feeling each other out,” said Joe.
When he came home for the Summer, “it was all put on the table and explained. And I think that’s when Dad shook hands with him, and it was okay,” the mother added.
The Acanforas have a 21-year-old married daughter and an 8-year-old daughter. The older daughter and Joe remain “very close,” Mrs. Acanfora said. “And she has accepted it as we have, for the simple reason Joe’s a wonderful person.”
To the younger daughter, Joe was the “big superstar of the family,: Mrs. Acanfora said. “I was undecided what age to tell her. And I spoke to different people, and they felt that the younger you tell a child something the more easily she would accept it.”
“So I explained to her, first making sure she knew what a heterosexual was, that she understood about love and marriage and the beauty of having a child. And then I explained to her that there is also people that feel differently, that a woman can fall in love with a woman and a man with a man, and this is something that is an inward feeling, that’s just there, that they cannot help. And it doesn’t make them any different; they’re good people.
“Well, to my surprise, like I said, for a moment she had a tear in her eye when I told her, but I read her a letter that I had received about how wonderful parents they thought we were for accepting Joe as he was, and … she says to me, ‘Mom, I think you’re a wonderful mother.’”
Next morning, said Joe, “I just opened my eyes, and she came running in and said. ‘I know about you, and I still love you.’ And it was a shock: it was really beautiful.”
In answer to a question from Ms. LeShan, the elder Acanfora, said he blamed neither himself nor his wife for his son’s turning out to be gay.
“No, I’m not that stiff-minded. I never was. I mean, I may be a little thick on some things or a little hard to get along with, or -- supposed to keep my mouth shut in a lot of cases, but -- no, I knew he had all his marbles about him and knew what he was doing, knew what he was saying.”
Mrs. Acanfora admitted that she had thought about being to blame.
“But, uh, I’ve been open-minded on a lot of things. I mean, after all, there’s a lot of things going on in the world that … that’s why I wasn’t exactly shocked. I mean, I wasn’t completely stupid, from what’s going on in the world today, so …”
Ms. LeShan commented that “one of the saddest things is something you told us before we went on the air, and that was about some of the mail you got from homosexuals who feel so envious of the fact that you are still a family, and they have not been able to tell their families and feel very cut off from people they care about.’’
Mrs. Acanfora said she had had some gay people “come to my home and [they] were shocked because I invited them in and sat and spoke to them. And I could only help them to a certain point -- I’m not a psychiatrist. But they went home feeling a lot better, and -- I felt kind of good about that.”
Later in the show, she commented, “I wish more people weren’t afraid of the truth. Because truth can make a more fulfilling and content life, a more happy home. And I think too many parents fear truth, and I think the gay person should tell his parents.”