Monday, June 25, 2007

Same-sex Kiss Blacked out of Yearbook

We here at AS IF! were admittedly floored (and outraged) by this story out of New Jersey where a student purchased a "tribute" page in a yearbook (to the tune of $150)--only to have his page blacked out with markers by the administration because one of his photos (pictured) was of him kissing his boyfriend.

At first, the superintendent tried to argue it wasn't a "gay" issue at all, that the photo was too "illicit." But then it was pointed out that (a) uh, the photo isn't particularly illicit, and (b) a number of heterosexual students had included photos of themselves kissing, and those photos hadn't been blacked out.

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

But here's the real rule, which is never stated outright: gay kids, and gay content, are treated as something outrageous, something "controversial," with a completely different set of rules than those applied to heterosexual kids, and heterosexual content. "There's no rule against same-sex kissing in yearbooks? Well, there should be!" The administrators were clearly worried about the reaction to the same-sex kiss, so they preemptively censored--yes, censored--the school yearbook. Really, can there be a better example of censorship than this?

For the record, we here at AS IF! have never argued that libraries and schools can't have standards and policies--that they can't keep certain books out of the library, for instance. We simply argue that a library or school's standards and policies have to be "reasonable" and based on reason (not prejudice), they have to be open and clearly stated, and they have to be fairly applied.

In the case of this censored yearbook, I can't imagine a more inconsistent, unfair policy.

I've long argued on this blog that this kind of inconsistency and unfairness, this pandering to potential outrage, also applies to gay teen books and gay content in teen books. As a gay author, I experience it all the time when I'm informally invited to speak at a school--only to be told that, after confering with administrators, they've decided that, no, maybe it wouldn't be such a good idea if I came after all. Likewise, I hear, "Oh, we'd love to have your book in our library, but I'm afraid it just wouldn't go over well with parents."

I hope I don't sound like I'm playing the victim card (and no, I don't need the speaking gigs--I'm plenty busy as it is!). But it bothers me because I see this as a "censorship" of a sort--an unreasonable, systematic, and preemptive elimination of a certain topic from the curriculum. And it bothers me more that more people don't see it as such. That's why I think stories like the above one out of New Jersey are so important. They clarify things, what's really going on.

Incidentally, we here are AS IF! have discussed this, and most of us seem to think that kid should sue the pants off em!

We also think that superintendent inadvertantly taught that school and those kids a lesson about free speech and freedom of expresion that those kids will never forget.

6 Comments:

Anonymous cantabridgianpoet said...

Not only is that photo same-sex, it's interracial. Double whammy! This sort of thing is just unforgivable.

7:48 AM  
Blogger C.K. said...

This is incredibly frustrating and unfair.

What did the superintendent have to say after the argument about it not being a gay issue was disproven?

I agree on the suing. This message can't be allowed to stand unchallenged. It's outrageous.

8:00 AM  
Anonymous wemblee said...

Not only is this a wonderful essay, but this is my first visit to AS IF! and I totally squealed when I saw your name at the bottom of this post. I love Geography Club. A college professor assigned it to our class in gender and sexuality in the media, and it's been one of my favorite books ever since.

2:56 AM  
Anonymous Brent Hartinger said...

Thanks, Wemblee! You made my day. :-)

5:05 PM  
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