ASBURY PARK PRESS
Court’s homosexuality Rule May End Teaching Career
BRICK TOWNSHIP — A decision by Joseph Acanfora III to lead his life as a homosexual publicly and truthfully may have led to the loss of his career as a teacher.
Last Friday, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the former Brick Township high school valedictorian in his second attempt to gain reinstatement as a teacher in the Montgomery County~ (Md) school system. He was transferred from his teaching post, and subsequently not rehired after school officials there learned he was an avowed homosexual.
The three-judge circuit panel, which included: retired Supreme Court Justice Tom Clark, ruled that Mr. Acanfora’s failure to include his I membership in a homosexual education group at Penn State Unversity was grounds for refusal to reinstate him.
The decision came after Mr. Acanfora, supported by the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Civil Liberties Union, (ACLU) filed suit in U.S. district Court in Baltimore, seeking a return to his position as an earth science teacher.
District Court Judge Joseph Young ruled that Mr. Acanfora’s homosexuality by itself was not grounds for his dismissa1, but his public acknowledgement of it, including television appearances was an abuse of his “duty of privacy.”
Mr. Acanfora, whose parents live at 102 Sprucewood Drive, here, appealed the District Court’s decision 1ast November.
Last :week’s ruling was “just tota1ly unexpected,” he said yesterday. “My lawyers were sure we would win on the question of my constitutional rights to speak out, and we did win that point, but we never anticipated this about the application.”
“It seems to me the courts are skirting the real issue here: Can a gay.(homosexual) teach in the public schools?”
The Circuit Court decision is only the latest in a series of actions Mr. Acanfora has waged for his right to fu1l membership in society despite his homosexuality.
In fact, it was the first such fight that resulted in all the rest.
In February l972, while a senior at Penn State he was a plaintiff in a suit against the university seeking to gain a school charter for Homophiles of Penn State (HOPS), a group of homosexual and heterosexual persons seeking to educate the public about homosexuals.
At the time of the suit, Mr. Acanfora was a student teacher at a junior high school near the university and had only three weeks to go in his assignment. When his association with HOPS became known, he was fired, but went to court and gained immediate reinstatement He finished the course with a grade of B plus.
However, as a result of this action and the attendant publicity, a university committee failed to recommend him for teacher certification, forwarding his case to Pennsylvania Secretary of. Education, John Pittinger, without recommendation.
At the time a member of the committee admitted the group failed to act because it “could not “attest to Acanfora’s moral character.
In the meantime, he had obtained his position with the Montgomery County school system.
When Mr. Pittinger finally awarded him teaching certification, he did so at a well publicized news conference. When word of the announcement reached Maryland officials they first transferred him to a desk job, and then failed to rehire him.
“There are thousands of gay teachers teaching every day, with no problems,” he said. “But, they have to lie, live double lives. It’s really ironic that my decision to tell the truth resulted in all of this.”
The Circuit Court decision rejected the lower court ruling that Mr. Acanfora had duty to hide his private life from his students, but seized on •a point given little weight in the original case, that his omission of HOPS as an extracurricular activity on his employment application was grounds to uphold the District Court ruling.
“HOPS wasn’t even an approved activity on campus when I. was there,” he pointed out.
He feels the decision has far-reaching consequences for teachers, since “every one uses discretion when they list activities. You can’t list them all.”
As he sees the ruling, failure by any teacher to omit any extracurricular activity from a job application would be grounds for dismissal.
Partly for this reason, Mr. Acanfora is confident the NEA will help him fund an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.