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.
The 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.
New 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.