John Paul De Cecco, pioneer of sexuality studies, dies at 92

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

John Paul De Cecco, a professor emeritus at San Francisco State University and longtime scholar in the field of human sexuality, died at his home on November 2 at age 92.

John Paul De Cecco

A prodigious academic, De Cecco served as the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Homosexuality, a landmark international peer-reviewed scholarly journal, from 1975 until 2009. De Cecco published scores of books, scholarly articles and edited volumes throughout his 50-year career as a professor. He was widely respected as a pioneer and trailblazer in LGBTQ studies and he paved the way for many scholars to do important academic work. He served as mentor to many and had a lasting and profound influence both on individuals and the field.

De Cecco was the primary founder of SF State’s sexuality studies program in the late 1970s and remained its director until 1997. He led an effort to add a human sexuality studies minor to the curriculum in the early 1980s and an LGBT studies minor in the early 1990s. De Cecco founded the extremely popular “Variations in Human Sexuality” course, which enrolled 700 to 800 students per semester. He taught the course until his retirement in 2003.

Also at SF State, De Cecco founded the Center for Homosexual Education, Evaluation & Research (CHEER) to serve as a research center for his U.S. government-funded research projects on discrimination of sexual minorities in addition to providing an editorial home for the Journal of Homosexuality. In order to broaden the scope of research activities and to be more inclusive in general, CHEER was transformed into the Center for Research and Education in Sexuality, which remained an active research center until De Cecco’s retirement.

Longtime friend, former student and colleague John Elia, associate dean of SF State’s College of Health & Social Sciences and current editor of the Journal of Homosexuality, said, “John was a first-rate academic and he had a huge impact on the field. He cared deeply about helping to promote the work of researchers doing work in LGBTQ studies. My own career has been profoundly influenced by his work and mentorship.”

De Cecco was born April 18, 1925, and was raised in Erie, Pennsylvania, in an Italian immigrant family. The first in his family to attend college, he earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Allegheny College and master’s and doctoral degrees in European history from the University of Pennsylvania. He pursued advanced study in psychology at Wayne State University. Before moving to San Francisco, De Cecco taught at the University of Detroit and Michigan State University. After brief stints at those universities, he accepted a position as assistant professor of education and psychology at San Francisco State University in 1960. He was promoted to the rank of professor, and eventually his appointment was solely in the Psychology Department, where he remained until his retirement.

De Cecco received various awards throughout his career from the American Psychological Association, Gay Academic Union and other academic associations and organizations. In 2006, he was honored by the GLBT Historical Society, to whom he had donated his extensive collection of historical artifacts chronicling decades of LGBT-related research. In 2016, SF State's Department of Sociology & Sexuality Studies awarded him the first-ever Founders Award, presented at the Dr. John P. De Cecco Endowed Lecture named in his honor.  

He was widely known as a staunch (even strident) advocate of sexual and social justice and spent the majority of his career righting the wrongs done to sexual minorities. He believed strongly in academic freedom and took unpopular stances both in the classroom and in his own academic work to advance the rights of those who were outside of societal sexual norms. He never backed away from controversy and was unflinching in his convictions.

De Cecco is survived by his brother, Robert (Bob), and sister-in-law, Mary Grace, and his nephew, Larry, all of Erie, Pennsylvania.

A memorial service to celebrate his long and rich life is being planned for the spring of 2018.


Related stories:

S.F. State professor of sexuality class lived the life — and still does at 82, San Francisco Chronicle (5/10/07)

Queer Pioneer / S.F. State Professor John De Cecco, 77, leads the gay-studies charge, San Francisco Chronicle (6/28/02)