THE DAILY COLLEGIAN
Acanfora: “I’M JUST SEEKING my constitutional rights. I’m gay but I don’t flaunt it and I don’t try to hide it either.”
Acanfora: the struggle continues
By JEFF DeBRAY
and RICK NELSON
of the Collegian staff
WASHINGTON, D.C. — “Society will have to change. It’s already come a long way toward openness, but it’s got a long way to go.
“Not discouraged by repeated legal delays, Joseph Acanfora told The Daily Collegian he hopes his fight to end homosexual discrimination had brought “a new awareness to people.”
In an interview with The Collegian, Acanfora said that despite his removal from his teaching positions in State College last year and Rockville, Md. This year, “I’ve never regretted the legal action I’ve taken.”
“It’s something I believe had to be done, so it’s been worth it,” he added.
Acanfora said despite his transfer from a classroom job as an earth science teacher to an administrative post he would like to continue teaching at Parkland Jr. High School if he wins his suit.
“I wouid like to establish myself somewhere and this would be a nice place to do it,” he said.
A petition circulated in the school in support of Acanfora’s right to teach was signed by 51 of the 83 teachers. The students also seemed to like him as a teacher, Acanfora said.
After finishing his student teaching job at Park Forest Jr. High last year Acanfora had students rate his teaching ability from poor to excellent. He received more than 100 responses, 13 fair, 80 good and 39 excellent.
He said some students also wrote encouraging remarks such as “We’re with you all the way,” and “Good Luck Joe.”
Acanfora said he received some negative comments but not nearly as many as the favorable remarks.
“The fact students knew of my homosexuality had absolutely no negative impact upon my effectiveness as a classroom teacher.”
The teacher he was working under acted much cooler to him after the disclosure of his homosexuality, Acanfora said after he became a plaintiff in the Homophiles of Penn State lawsuit against the University asking to be registered as a student organization.
But, he said the teacher was “very fair when it came to evaluating my teaching performance.”
One of the more “incredible” things Acanfora said he had to go through was his appearance last: July before a six-man council of University deans.
Despite his completion of all the necessary qualifications, Acanfora was denied his Pa. teaching certification pending an investigation of whether his homosexuality precluded his satisfying the “good moral character” clause.
At the hearing, chaired by A. W. VanderMeer, Dean of the College of Education, Acanfora was asked questions such as “What homosexual acts do you prefer to engage in or are you willing to engage in?” and “Do you look for other males with which to have sex?”
Commenting on the council, Acanfora said, “I don’t believe they were serious. It was so insane.”
Before entering the hearing, Acanfora and attorneys considered several course of action.
“There were two approaches we could take. One was a very legalistic one, and we could have objected to every irrelevant question because they were certainly objectionable.
“Or we could take the nice guy approach and get everything out in the open. The point was did I want to hit this head on with another legal case or did I want to try to be rational and make it look good, so we decided to try to be rationale,” he said.
He added, “I answered just about anything with a totally rationale approach to try to awaken their minds. And I guess it helped because three of them did vote for me.”
Three also voted against Acanfora causing the case to be sent to State Education Seç., John C Pittenger.
Pittenger okayed the certification, saying “There is no legal barrier to granting a certificate to Mr. Acanfora. since he has not been convicted of any criminal violation.”
Acanfora’s certification fight set no legally binding precedent since it was not tested in court. He said, however, “I’m hoping a member of HOPS who is in education will come forward and test how solid a path I’ve really led.”
Asked what he thought of homosexual marriage Acanfora said he thinks it is fine, citing tax breaks married individuals receive as one reason why.
In his present suit against the Montgomery County School District in Maryland Acanfora denies the school board’s allegations that he is “a litigation-oriented; militantly-activistic homosexual seeking a forum from which to loudly proclaim his homosexuality.”
He said his interviews on television and with the press and his legal suits were “just an attempt to seek my constitutional rights. I’m gay, but I don’t flaunt it and I don’t try to hide it either.”
Acanfora also denied the school board’s position that he falsified his employment application by not stating his affiliation with HOPS and by saying he was eligible for military service.
“I didn’t list my participation in HOPS because I only stated the things I thought were relevant to my teaching ability,” he said.
“As far as I knew I was eligible for the draft since I was classified 1-A,” he added concerning his military status.
Acanfora expressed confidence that he would win his suit in next month’s hearing but said the school board probably would appeal the decision.
He was not discouraged that he had not been granted an injunction to return-him to the classroom in a hearing last Friday.
He said, “I was doubtful I would be granted the injunction, To put me back in the classroom he (the judge) had to deal with the issues, the merits of the case, and we didn’t have time for that. I’m sort of glad he just postponed it (tentatively until Marsh 26) and didn’t dismiss it.”
The judge is expected to rule then on Acanfora’s constitutional rights as a homosexual.
Acanfora defended his rights as a homosexual saying, “You just can’t put a box and label it homosexual. Homosexual is a type of behavior in one aspect of a person’s life. Homosexua1s are people, and you have to remember that.”