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Monday, June 25, 2007

NEWARK SCHOOLS APOLOGIZE TO GAY STUDENT AND WILL REISSUE YEARBOOK AT OWN EXPENSE





MONDAY, JUNE 25, 2007 at 2:00 PM, press contact Steven Goldstein, chair, Garden State Equality--

In response to an intense 72-hour campaign by Garden State Equality that generated more than 2,500 outraged letters from across New Jersey and the entire nation, Newark Schools Superintendent Marion Bolden has formally apologized to graduating senior Andre Jackson for manually crossing out a photo of Mr. Jackson and his boyfriend in hundreds of East Side High School yearbooks.

In addition, Superintendent Bolden, in her statement, agreed to additional Garden State Equality requests: The school district will be reissuing yearbooks with the photo not redacted; the district will be paying for the reissuance at its own expense; and the district will be distributing the yearbooks free to students who want the new copies.

However, Mr. Jackson learned of Superintendent Bolden's apology today only through a press statement issued moments before Garden State Equality's 1:00 pm news conference today with Mr. Jackson.

At no point before issuing the press statement did Superintendent Bolden or other school district officials speak to Mr. Jackson, who described himself as "deeply hurt" by having had to learn of the apology through the press.

At the news conference, Mr. Jackson said Ms. Bolden's not calling him beforehand was "ridiculous" and that he would not accept her apology. He described himself as continuing to feel humiliated by the school district's redaction of the photo.

"The way Superintendent Bolden handled her apology today was grotesque," said Steven Goldstein, chairman of Garden State Equality. "Neither Marion Bolden nor the school district had the human decency to call Andre Jackson to apologize. He had to learn of the apology through the press. It's absolutely disgusting how Superintendent Bolden found a way to deliver yet another slap in the face at Andre and other lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students across Newark. Shame on Marion Bolden, and shame on the school district, for humilating Andre Jackson and other LGBTI students and not having the courage to call Andre directly."

Garden State Equality promised that the story would continue. Working with Mr. Jackson, Garden State Equality is now demanding that the Newark school district meet with a committee on LGBT diversity in Newark schools that Garden State Equality and leaders of Newark's LGBTI community are forming, with Mr. Jackson serving on the committee.

The victory for Mr. Jackson is the latest in a long series of Garden State Equality victories for LGBTI New Jerseyans facing anti-LGBTI discrimination, including the late Lt. Laurel Hester, whom Ocean County had at first denied domestic partner benefits, and teacher Lily McBeth, whom some parents tried to keep out of the classroom because she is transgender.

Since Garden State Equality's founding in 2004, New Jersey has enacted 153 LGBTI civil rights laws at the state, county and municipal levels -- more LGBTI civil rights laws in less time than in any other state in American history, ever.
The Associated Press story is below.

Newark apologizes for blackout of gay kiss in yearbook

AP Photo planned

By Jeffrey Gold

Associated Press Writer

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) _ The Newark school district on Monday said it regretted a decision to have high school staffers use markers to black out a picture of a male student kissing his boyfriend from all copies of a school yearbook. The superintendent issued an apology to the student, Andre Jackson.

"The decision was based, in part, on misinformation that Mr. Jackson was not one of our students and our review simply focused on the suggestive nature of the photograph," the district said in a statement.

"Superintendent Marion A. Bolden personally apologizes to Mr. Jackson and regrets and embarrassment and unwanted attention the matter has brought to him," according to the statement.

The district said it would reissue an "un-redacted version" of the 2007 yearbook to any student of East Side High School who wants one.

Bolden, through a spokeswoman, declined a request for an interview.

Jackson planned an afternoon news conference with Garden State Equality, a gay rights group, which has condemned actions taken by the district last week.

Last week, Bolden had described the picture, which showed Andre Jackson, 18, kissing David Escobales, as "illicit."

"If it was either heterosexual or gay, it should have been blacked out. It's how they posed for the picture," Bolden told The Star-Ledger of Newark for Saturday's editions.

In the 4 1/2-by-5-inch photo, Jackson is seen turning his head back over his right shoulder and kissing Escobales, 19, of Allentown, Pa. It was blacked out after Russell Garris, the district's assistant superintendent who oversees the city's high schools, told Bolden he was concerned that the photo could upset parents.

The photo was among several others showing Jackson, friends and others _ including heterosexual couples _ that appeared on a special tribute page in the yearbook. Jackson, who paid $150 for the page, questioned the decision to black out the photo, noting that the yearbook is filled with pictures of heterosexual couples kissing.

"There is no rule about no gay pictures (or) no guys kissing," Jackson has said.

Newark public schools have about 42,000 students.

The district is one of three in New Jersey that are under state control, and is among 31 districts in the state's neediest areas that get special financial aid.

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