A gay-rights group is demanding an apology from Newark School Superintendent Marion Bolden for ordering her staff to black out a picture of a gay couple kissing be fore distributing copies of the yearbook to students at East Side High School.
Calling the directive homophobic and unlawful, Steven Goldstein, chairman of Garden State Equality, said yesterday the school also should redistribute a new batch of uncensored yearbooks at the district's expense.
"This action by the school district will have an unspeakably vile chilling effect on other gay and lesbian students coming out," Goldstein said. "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 photograph shows East Side High graduating senior Andre Jackson, 18, kissing David Esco bales, 19, of Allentown, Pa., on the lips. It was among several photos printed on a special page paid for by Jackson to commemorate his high school experience, at a cost of $150.
Yesterday, Bolden said the photo was not targeted because it was two men kissing, but because it was "suggestive" in nature and that she should have also censored other suggestive photos in the yearbook.
She said she promotes an atmosphere of tolerance for gay stu dents at Newark schools and in tends to apologize to Jackson if he believes the district did something to hurt him because of his orientation.
"I will call the student to let him know nothing was intended to hurt him or slight him," she said.
Until this happened, Bolden said, she was unaware high school yearbook pages were for sale to students and they could submit their own photos. She said in tended to discuss with her staff guidelines for future yearbook photo publications.
School staff covered over the photo in every copy of the yearbook, using black marker, before the $85 books were distributed at Thursday's banquet for graduating seniors. Officials had considered tearing out the entire page but decided blacking out the photo would minimize damage to the yearbook, the superintendent said Friday.
Prior to publication, officials at the school, in the city's Iron bound section, set parameters for yearbook pictures, banning gang signs, rude gestures and graphic photos. However, several photos of heterosexual students kissing were included in the final product. In fact, Jackson said that on the very next page of the yearbook is a picture of a female stu dent kissing her boyfriend.
"That picture was not even thought of or brought up," Jackson said.
When asked to explain the discrepancy, Bolden said Friday she didn't look at the entire yearbook and was presented only with Jackson's page for review. She said yesterday that an assistant superintendent brought the yearbook to her at a luncheon the day the books were to be distributed and she had to make a quick decision.
"If there were other suggestive photos, I should have blacked those out too. This is a first for me," she said.
Goldstein said he has received more than 300 phone calls from outraged members of the state's gay community since the story first appeared on nj.com Friday night.
"The second it hit the Web I started getting calls," he said. "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 said yesterday he appreciated Garden State Equality's efforts and agreed with their position.
"That's all I want, for them to redistribute the yearbook," he said. "It's messed up. What she said about the yearbook being provocative is just wrong."