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."
It's crystal clear that this blatant and wholly unnecessary censorship was driven by the superintendents' personal prejudices. Instituting a rule or regulation about appropriate photographs is is fine, but this demonstrates an obvious anti-homosexual bias.
It's been noted that the bias seen today against homosexuals has parallels to discriminatory policies of the past. Consider if the administrators had blacked out a photo of an interracial kiss, and read the comments again. It's the same attitudes, by the same sorts of people, just in a new era. We've made a lot of progress on the civil rights and tolerance frontier (this couple is probably not in danger of being lynched) but to continue making progress it's necessary to be aware of and condemn behavior like this.