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Saturday, June 23, 2007

Gay pair's photo blacked out of yearbook---Gay Students Picture Defaced by Administrative Order

By Kasi Addison, Star-Ledger

This photograph of an East Side High School student Andre Jackson kissing his boyfriend David Escobales was blacked out of every copy of the school's yearbook by Newark school officials who decided it was inappropriate.

A photograph of an East Side High School student kissing his boyfriend was blacked out of every copy of the school's yearbook by Newark school officials who decided it was inappropriate.

Andre Jackson said he never thought he would offend anyone when he bought a page in the yearbook and filled it with several photographs, including one of him kissing his boyfriend.

But Newark Superintendent of Schools Marion Bolden called the photograph "illicit" and ordered it blacked out of the $85 yearbook before it was distributed to students at a banquet for graduating seniors Thursday.

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

Russell Garris, the assistant superintendent who oversees the city's high schools, brought the photograph to Bolden's attention Thursday afternoon. He was concerned the picture would be controversial and upsetting to parents, Bolden said.

There are several photos of heterosexual couples kissing in the yearbook, but the superintendent said she didn't review the entire yearbook and was presented only with Jackson's page.

Ripping the page out entirely was considered but, Bolden said, it was decided blacking it out with a marker would lessen the damage to the yearbooks.

Jackson said he showed up at the banquet, excited to collect his yearbook. He'd paid an additional $150 for the special tribute page filled with shots of boyfriend David Escobales, 19, of Allentown, Pa., and others. Jackson learned what happened to his page moments before the books were distributed.

While the students waited, staff members in another room blacked out the 4½-by-5-inch picture from approximately 230 books.

"I don't understand," said Jackson, 18. "There is no rule about no gay pictures, no guys kissing. Guys and girls kissing made it in."

East Side's is like most high school yearbooks. About 80 pages in the roughly 100-page tome is dedicated to class photos, formal shots of seniors, candids and spreads dedicated to a variety of sports teams and academic clubs.

The back of the book is a collection of tributes where students designed pages filled with pictures depicting them with their families, girlfriends and boyfriends, and friends.

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.

Students were surprised when they opened their books and found Jackson's picture had been covered with marker, Barroqueiro said.

"He purchased the page and fell under the rules," she said. "If they want to kiss, that's their page. If you don't like it, don't look at it."

Read more in Saturday's Star-Ledger

by CEO, MW Savant

I'm sad today. This story reminds me of just how far we have to go, as members of the GLBTI community, to be treated as equal citizens in the great state of New Jersey. Equal. Period.
I am baffled that some of our fellow citizens don't seem to grasp the concept.

Now I know that there are folks that will immediately say "it's inappropriate to depict a kiss in a yearbook". Which immediately begs the question, in my mind: "Is ANY couple shown kissing in the book?" If it was not deemed "inappropriate" to show other student-couples kissing and ALL those images were not removed, something isn't right here. You should know--- kissing opposite sex couples were allowed, without incident. Unacceptable.

What has, for decades, been considered "cute" when seen as heterosexual public displays of affection (PDA) has now challenged the cute factor in this new century. So much so that an administrator felt the need to order the homosexual version to be defaced? I guess it wasn't simply cute PDA for their purposes. It seems, though, the school happily accepted the $150.00 special page fee in order to manage publication costs. Hmmmm. Once the bill was paid, then the image was blacked out?

Where was the dutiful administrator when the yearbook advisor was collecting the images for 'dedication pages'? Why was this image not removed then and there? Why was the student's money accepted if the image was established as unwelcome and inappropriate by standing yearbook protocol?

This echoes, sadly, the biases against so many other GLBTI couples in this state. It is particularly resonant with the same disregard and humiliation that has befallen our couples who have entered civil unions in the state. Where is the compassionate compliance with the law. The civil union ruling in New Jersey was intended to level the playing field for all couples in love. As we have seen, it is failing markedly in too many situations.

The yearbook incident magnifies that lack of equality and makes me want to see the book myself to see what other 'types' of PDA were permissible therein. Were the Prom King and Queen, the Captain of the team and the Head Cheerleader allowed to be 'cute' within the pages?

There is no gray area in equality! I have said it time and time again. Yet I struggle to see that this insanely simple concept fails to grow in the minds and hearts of my fellow New Jerseyans.

Is this case discrimination or admirable administrative policing? Did a school administrator panic with the thought of the "imminent backlash" resulting from the printing and distribution of the photograph? Was the administrator's choice based on protecting the welfare of her students (the normal ones) or was her own personal position the key to her actions?

I received an alert from Garden State Equality this morning and, as a member of this organization, added my voice to the others of GSE in demanding an apology to the student, his boyfriend and all the other GLBTI students at East Side who have been humiliated and publicly reminded of just how reviled they are. I think an apology is due to every student there for being taught this lesson of fear, bigotry, paranoia and ignorance. GSE is also demanding the reprinting and redistribution of the yearbook: unedited and immediate.

You can support the effort to modify the standing of this situation by signing the petition and adding your voice to this call for fairness and equality.

We're making progress for equality in New Jersey and should be proud of that fact. With the efforts of the members of Garden State Equality and Steven Goldstein, in conjunction with the Civil Unions evaluation committee, we'll get there.

It is my opinion that this action amplifies, clearly, how much more work there is to be done.

Editor's Note: The preceding opinion is a statement by CEO MW Savant. It is his opinion and does not necessarily reflect the position of, its principals, staff or affiliates.

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