Officials from the Newark City School District have issued an apology after a male student’s year book picture was ordered to be blacked out with marker pen because it contained a gay kiss.
The 4.5-by-5-inch photo showed pupil Andre Jackson, 18, turning round to kiss boyfriend, David Escobales, 19, over his right shoulder.
“Superintendent Marion A. Bolden personally apologises to Mr. Jackson and regrets any embarrassment and unwanted attention the matter has brought to him,” district officials said in a statement to the media.
“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.”
Bolden had previously described the photo as ‘illicit’ and claimed, “if it was either heterosexual or gay, it should have been blacked out. It’s how they posed for the picture.”
Russell Garris, the district’s assistant superintendent, had also expressed concern to Bolden that the photo might upset parents.
Jackson defended these claims, saying his classmates, teachers and parents knew he was gay, and nobody had ever expressed it as an issue.
“I’ve never had to deal with this before,” he said. “It’s shocking. It’s crazy.”
The picture, which he had paid $150 to include on a special tribute page, was accompanied by similar poses from heterosexual couples.
At a press conference organised by gays rights organisation Garden State Equality, Jackson, who found out about Bolden’s statement through the media, said he would only accept “a public apology” and was disappointed Bolden had not contacted him personally.
A district spokesman claimed a meeting between Bolden and Jackson had been arranged but when questioned, Garden State Equality denied any such arrangement had been made.
Deborah Jacobs, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, also attacked the school’s actions.
“With so many challenges the Newark Public Schools face in educating their students, what a waste that they took the time to teach a lesson in discrimination and censorship instead of equality and free speech.”
The district has said it will reissue an unedited copy of the 2007 year book to any pupil who asks for one.