ASBURY PARK PRESS
Acanfora Fights his Battle in the Open
By GARY DECKELNICK
Press Staff Writer
BRICK TOWNSHIP — When Joseph Acanfora III attended high school here four years ago, he dated girls and fought his battles internally.
Now, a senior in college, he admits he’s a homosexual, and fights his battles for the world to see.
“I never admitted to myself until I was in college,” recalled Mr. Acanfora, 21. “You fight it at first because you don’t know what it is. You don’t understand it. You have been taught to be gay is to be wrong, inferior, filthy”
At home, 102 Sprucewood Drive, for spring vacation, he fidgeted nervously with a cigarette as he explained what motivated him to risk his future by speaking out as a homosexual.
Mr. Acanfora, a student-teacher, was secure in his 10-week assignment at a junior high school in State College, Pa., when he and associates filed a suit against Pennsylvania State University.
THE SUIT asked the courts to force the university to charter Homophiles of Penn State (HOPS) a group seeking to educate other collegians about homosexuals, HOPS has homosexual and heterosexual members. Mr. Acanfora is the group’s treasurer.
He was discharged as a student teacher. Although another court suit forced the school Board to rehire him, it left a public record which can follow him everywhere.
A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision prohibited discrimination in government jobs against homosexuals. But Mr. Acanfora is realistic enough to realize boards of education won’t give that as a reason if they fail to hire him.
“I won’t tell anyone about it unless I’m asked because I don’t think it has any bearing,” Mr. Acanfora said. “If I’m asked, I won’t hide it.”
Mr. Acanfora was the valediction of his class of 1968. His trip home has been the first since newspapers reported his participation in the Homophile suit and ouster and reinstatement as a teacher. He has experienced no adverse reaction from his friends here, he said.
“THERE was no difference. It was just as if they didn’t know anything about it, although I’m sure they did. Some relatives mentioned it. They said they were proud of what I did, but that’s all.”
To his surprise, he said, he received similar treatment from townsfolk in State College. His case was .a major story in local newspapers there for a week, and most letter writers, including parents of some of his students, supported him.
(The school, in fact, admitted he was a good teacher and had never given any indications of his homosexuality while working. If it were not for the suit, school authorities never would have known about him, a school spokesman said.).
“My teacher, the one I was with and who was marking me was cool to me after it all came out and “I went back to school,” said Mr. Acanfora. “But I think he objected to the publicity more than anything else. And he did his job and marked me as a professional. I got a B plus.”
The first person to learn about Mr. Acanfora’s problem was the friend with whom he had roomed during his first two years in college. In his junior year, Mr. Acanfora decided he had to talk with someone. The friend sent him to a college guidance counselor, who suggested he read everything he could about homosexuality.
THEN came the hard job, telling his parents, He told them 18 months ago.
“The most important thing is family,” says Mr. Acanfora. “Once they accept you, you can face the rest of the world. At first they were a little disbelieving and confused and upset. But we talked it out. I’m still their son.”
“I wasn’t really shocked,” recalls Mrs. Acanfora. “Maybe I had to stop and think about it. Maybe it’s something sensed. A mother does that, you know.
“But the big thing wrong with people today is that they don’t be themselves. He’s being himself As long as he doesn’t hurt anyone or himself -- and he would never do that -- I have no complaints. He’s my son.”
NOT everyone supports him, however. He has received some letters from persons he calls Bible freaks, writers who cite biblical passages condemning homosexuality.
But when those were published in the Pennsylvania newspapers, Mr. Acanfora took heart from other letters pointing out the Bible also condemned unclean teeth and ripped clothing.
“I guess I got about 30 letters mailed to me at the house that week and all but two supported me. I think the thing is you don’t give people enough credit. I expect most of my problems to come from bureaucrats and older administrators, not from just plain people.”