Discrimination | Education | Gay Youth | New Jersey | News

Student's Gay Kiss Photo Struck from NJ School Yearbook


When Newark Superintendent of Schools Marion Bolden saw the photo of openly gay student Andre Jackson kissing his boyfriend on a page of the school yearbook which Jackson had purchased, she ordered the 4 1/2 x 5 1/2" photo blacked out with a marker in each of the 230 copies that were to be distributed.

Bolden_2The photo was on a page in a "tribute" section of the book, in which students purchase pages for $150 (in addition to the $85 cost of the yearbook) and are able to post photos of themselves and friends. According to the New Jersey Star-Ledger, "Rules for publication of the pages prohibited shots of gang signs, rude gestures and graphic photos, said Benilde Barroqueiro, an East Side senior graduating with Jackson. 'You know, it couldn't be too provocative. No making out, no tongue,' she said."

Said Bolden: "It looked provocative. If it was either heterosexual or gay, it should have been blacked out. It's how they posed for the picture."

Other photos of heterosexual students kissing were allowed to remain. So the reason for Bolden to black out this specific photo is clear — the students are gay and she did not like it.

In fact, according to the New York Times, "On the page immediately opposite Mr. Jackson’s, a young man and a young woman kiss on a couch, his hand on her leg as she sits on his lap."

As students waited for the books to be distributed, the photo was shamefully blackened out in each and every one of them.

JacksonNew Jersey gay rights group Garden State Equality has demanded that new, uncensored yearbooks be distributed at the school's expense. They are also demanding a public apology from Bolden.

Said Chairman Steven Goldstein: "This action by the school district will have an unspeakably vile chilling effect on other gay and lesbian students coming out. Her (Bolden) trying to erase a student and his boyfriend is a metaphor for her trying to erase the gay and lesbian community out of Newark and its school system. It's wrong and it's ridiculous. The second it hit the Web I started getting calls. This is not only homophobic, not only an egregious lack of judgment, but this is a violation of the law and we're looking at one of biggest firestorms of year if the superintendent doesn't change her mind."

Jackson told the New York Times: "I didn’t intend to say, 'Oh hey, look at me, I’m gay.' It was just a picture showing my emotion, saying that I’m happy, you know, whatever. It was to look back on as a memory. I was upset. I was hurt. I felt embarrassed and abused." He said he has thrown his yearbook away: "I didn’t feel right. What I wanted to see wasn’t there."

To reach the superintendent's office, the number is 1-973-733-7333.

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  1. I just called and said, "I'm calling to ask Superintendent Bolden to apologize for vandalizing the students' yearbook and to ask when they will be re-printed" which the receptionist seemed to actually take down. I could hear other phones ringing in the background.

    Posted by: K.P. | Jun 25, 2007 8:35:20 AM

  2. I also left a message that was taken down by hand. Told them I was calling from Australia and that them the superintendent's actions were being viewed internationally.

    Posted by: Mike | Jun 25, 2007 8:44:59 AM

  3. So freedom of expression means nothing, even after you pay $$ to have it in the school yearbook? That doesn't make any sense.

    Posted by: Steven. | Jun 25, 2007 8:55:54 AM

  4. Times have changed...and they haven't. When I was in HS in 1981 a group of students took out an ad containing all their 1-liner private jokes, among them one aimed at the only openly gay student in school. It read, "Here comes David, cover you a**!" I was happy the school administration demanded that the half of the page containing that quote be cut out before the books were distributed. It was a personal attack against one student, but it had a chilling effect on me as a closeted student. This story brings back all the feelings...

    Posted by: dcguy | Jun 25, 2007 9:26:35 AM

  5. This is completely awful. I agree with a comment on the actual news article, that the controversy cited seemed far more likely for parents (seeing as he was openly gay to the student community), and it is Bolden's job to stand up FOR the student should any parents complain about it, particularly since he *purchased* the page and didn't violate any of the rules. The yearbook should hold a focus on the students, and how they want to remember their time at the school. This is an overt act of prejudice, and I certainly hope to see proper reparations be laid down.

    Posted by: Phil | Jun 25, 2007 9:31:56 AM

  6. I don't see why anyone would want to censor that picture. They are adorable.

    Posted by: gwyneth cornrow | Jun 25, 2007 9:35:34 AM

  7. I hope they get their asses sued for discrimination and are forced to reprint all those yearbooks with an apology included in them.

    Do these idiots not consult their lawyers when pulling stupid stunts like this?

    Posted by: beergoggles | Jun 25, 2007 9:54:14 AM

  8. Bigoted bitch! I hope Gay Rights Groups and the ACLU sue the Superintendent and the School District for millions. Apologize? I doubt it would be sincere. She should be fired. Not for her mistake in judgment, but for lying and saying "if it was either heterosexual or gay, it should have been blocked out" when in fact it appears more provocative heterosexual displays of affection were permitted. So she's a bigot and a liar, what a shocker. I hope she gets canned.

    Posted by: Tom | Jun 25, 2007 9:55:03 AM

  9. I have a problem with the amount of litigation that goes on in this country, but even I have to say...


    Posted by: mark m | Jun 25, 2007 10:01:55 AM

  10. Poor Ms. Bolden is showing her prejudice. The least she needs to do is give Mr. Jackson back the cost of his photo. OMG boys kissing boys, what is this world coming to! Don't you just love how straight people continue to censor us. Fuck them.

    Posted by: Bill | Jun 25, 2007 10:03:45 AM

  11. Beergoggles and Mark M.

    The crazy thing is that they could have covered their asses if they had just blacked out all heterosexual kissing pictures as well. If they had just talked to the secretary of a lawyer let alone a lawyer.

    Homophobia sure does equal stupid.

    They set themselves up to be sued and hopefuly will be.

    Posted by: anon | Jun 25, 2007 10:06:26 AM

  12. All the students should demand their money back. The book is damaged. Would anyone buy a book with "graffiti" in it.

    Posted by: Justin | Jun 25, 2007 10:19:47 AM

  13. **Homophobia sure does equal stupid.**

    The genuine homophobes usually are stupid and make silly mistakes like this. The people we have to be careful of are the ones who aren't necessarily homophobes who are just willing to use us for expediency - they aren't stupid.

    This of course, was a case of the former.

    Posted by: beergoggles | Jun 25, 2007 10:34:49 AM

  14. The first crime was the $85 charge for the yearbook, and charging $150 to have tribute photos entered. In this day of myspace and facebook, the senior class could have set up a website with all the photos they want for nearly free. The Sup. simply thought she could get away with it. I guess they could take the original, make copies, and paste them back in manually.

    Posted by: anon (gmail.com) | Jun 25, 2007 11:09:48 AM

  15. Over at Huffingtonpost.com, one of the diarys there deals with this and states that Mrs Bolden has offered to pay back the $150 to Andre. Andre staying true to what is right has refused the 30 pieces of silver to quite him down. :-) You go Andre! Hold their feet to the fire. :-) .

    Posted by: anon | Jun 25, 2007 12:17:31 PM

  16. quiet not guite :-)

    Posted by: anon | Jun 25, 2007 12:19:10 PM

  17. "guite" I like that word, Anon. I'm always guite when I'm sober. But I'm becoming less and less guite with age.

    Posted by: Derrick from Philly | Jun 25, 2007 1:03:34 PM

  18. Before we burn, lynch, draw and quarter Ms Bolden, let's add the rest of the NYT article (and shame on Towleroad for omitting this)...

    "...But she said it was a decision that was made too quickly and without taking into consideration other couples’ pictures. She said she was told on Thursday that neither of the men were students, adding that she would have been more hesitant to black out a picture of a student. 'It looked like two men kissing,' she said. 'To me, it looked fairly illicit. It was pointed out as problematic, so maybe I read more into it.' Ms. Bolden said she wanted to meet with Mr. Jackson and apologize if necessary. 'He was personally hurt,' she said. 'That bothers me very much.'

    Yes, she made an incredibly stupid, narrow-minded decision--apparently based, in part, on wrong information on the guys in the photos--but she apparently was quick to recognize her error, so let's give her some credit for being merely ignorant, not hateful. If I were her, I might consider offering up the cost to reprint some yearbooks with the photo intact to serve as at least a partial apology, in addition to refunding Andre's $150.

    Posted by: Adam | Jun 25, 2007 1:52:38 PM

  19. 365Gay.com is reporting that the school board has apologized for the unwarranted censorship and offering to distribute unredacted copies of the yearbook to any student who wants one.

    Posted by: Advier | Jun 25, 2007 3:26:06 PM

  20. BTW-Andre said in the same article that he was not happy to have learned of the apology indirectly--through the media, not from the board. Can't say I blame him a bit.

    Posted by: Advier | Jun 25, 2007 3:30:51 PM

  21. the first problem is that some one should have been going over the year book before it was printed. The thing is thought that there are many more students who don't want to look at their year book and see homosexual's kissing. If you want to look back at something like that take your own pictures thats but don't expect every one else to want it in their year book.

    Posted by: Garrett | Jun 25, 2007 4:50:01 PM

  22. Garrett, get a clue. Maybe I don't want to see a picture of a math teacher in the yearbook. Or of the basketball team. Does this mean a single individual or a group can censor a book because they don't "want it." Bullshit, I'm not the least bit sorry that heteros have to see a picture of two guys kissing. I've certainly seen enough pictures of straight people tongue wrestling.

    Posted by: homer | Jun 25, 2007 8:03:54 PM

  23. In my 1997 high school yearbook, the only "salacious" picture in the "tribute" section was of this girl in a long-sleeved shirt tied above her waist, hot pants, and high-heeled platforms (anyone from L.A. remember how girls used to wear platform heels with jeans?), leaning over a so-called "rice rocket" in what was clearly a "puhlease put it in me" pose. Totally inappropriate. Was there a bit of gossipy scandal amongst the students? Yes. Did anyone (including the yearbook staff, which I was part of, or the administration, which was Draconian in nature) censor it before OR after publication? NO. So WTF is wrong with New Jersey? Seriously, I'm asking.

    **As a side note, she's a bit player in Hollywood now. Remember that episode of Reno 911! where everyone falls for that hot Asian Homeland Security agent chick that turns out to be a dude? Yeah, that's the salacious girl.**

    Posted by: artstar | Jun 26, 2007 4:28:17 AM

  24. Bolden did what was right, not popular. Before you get on your freedom of speech and expression soapboxes, remember that this is not an adult publication, but a high school year book for (mostly) minors who are not emancipated. Full Constitutional rights are guaranteed to adults, not children. Check the school system regulations. If they have a student rights and responsibilities which highlights PDA then this would violate it and the school has full rights to black it out. I do agree that all PDA should have been blacked out, not just this picture.

    Posted by: J.H. | Jun 27, 2007 9:51:08 PM

  25. Bravo to the pics being restored to the yearbooks and re-distributed. Censorship is censorship. I fail to see what is so reprehensible about two teenagers sharing a tender kiss in a yearbook photo. What IS reprehensible is insisting there is something wrong with it and then censoring it. Fear of S-E-X is pathological and not healthy. Bravo again I say to sense prevailing.

    Posted by: dave | Feb 18, 2008 2:58:59 PM

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