Out of the Closet, Into the Classroom


Joseph Acanfora 3d was graduated from Pennsylvania State University last June and went to work teaching earth sciences to eighth graders in Rockville, Md. But he had not been long on the job before he was transferred out of the classroom to the school district’s curriculum department.

Last February, Mr. Acanfora had brought suit against Penn. State seeking equal rights for homosexuals. It was when publicity surrounding that suit came to the attention of the Mary1andautjhorities that Acanfora was transferred. Recently, he went back to court, demanding he be returned to the classroom.

The case is one more demonstration of the rowing visibility and militancy of homosexuals, posing another challenge to the long-standing tradition whereby schools boards quickly fire acknowledged homosexuals. Most state laws permit the removal of teachers – even those with tenure – if they engage in ‘immoral or unprofessional conduct.”

But a series of recent developments had afforded important protections to homosexual teachers:

·                    Recent court decisions held that homosexuality in and by itself is not cause for disqualifying a teacher. In 1969 the California Supreme Court held that the State Board of Education “cannot abstractly characterize [homosexual] conduct as ‘immoral’ … unless that conduct indicates that the petitioner is unfit to teach … The power of the state to regulate professions and conditions of government employment must not arbitrarily impair the right of the individual to live his private life, apart from his job, as he deems  fit.”

·                    Other court cases have declared that a teacher’s private life is his or her own. In August, 1972, a Federal court in Nebraska held that a school board could. not fire a female teacher who entertained various men in her apartment over night during the school year.

·                    Teachers unions and educational and legal groups have come to the assistance of accused homosexuals. The United Federation of Teachers in New. York generally, defends the right of homosexual teachers to continue their profession while the National Educational Association is financing the Acanfora litigation. The American Civil Liberties Union is supporting the right of a lesbian teacher in Oregon to hold her job.

·                    Some school boards are themselves changing their attitude toward such teachers. The official position of the New York City Board of Education is that homosexuals as such are not forbidden to be teachers and determination of eligibility must be made on an individual basis.

However, if a homosexual is ever convicted or even arrested on a morals charge, his right to teach cou1d be’ terminated. A California court wrote earlier this year: “Evidence of homosexual behavior in a public place constituted sufficient proof of unfitness for service in the public school system.”

Furthermore, teachers without tenure or infividuals applying for a teaching job do have difficulty obtaining permanent teaching status. Some school boards have required homosexual applicants to undergo periodic psychiatric tests as a condition of employment, a practice now under challenge in New Jersey courts.

In New York City about 100 known homosexuals apply for a teaching position each year. A large percentage are rejected for psychiatric reasons by the board of Examiners which must pass on the “character and health” of all applicants.

Of course, much of this concern over the hiring of homosexuals is a reflection of the continuing aversion of a large segment of our society towards homosexuals. As one New York Official said last week “We’ have to protect the children.”

But there is concern too that homosexual teachers are not appropriate models for children. And the ridicule with which such teachers are liable to be confronted, particularly from older boys, often makes for disciplinary problems. It is this difficulty that is the basis for the dismissals of homosexuals for “unprofessional conduct.”



Mr. Friedman is an attorney on the staff of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York.