A student at the Bergen Arts and Science Charter School in Hackensack, New Jersey painted a pro-LGBTQ mural in the form of a rainbow heart to promote gay rights. Unfortunately, the Catholic church that owns the school was upset about having pro-LGBTQ artwork and demanded that it be covered up, according to NorthJersey.com
As a resident of North Jersey myself, I was sort of surprised by this as it is in a metropolitan area, which generally means that there is a mixture of different people and, in turn, a great deal of acceptance of other groups. The student, who didn’t want to be named, said on Twitter that “…my school’s owned by a Catholic Church and they want me to take down my Keith Haring mural that supports the LGBT community… they think it’s inappropriate and wrong for a school setting. I’m heartbroken and I really never thought this could actually happen.” She also mentioned that the school is infringing on her right to freedom of expression as much as the church is and that the school is “complicit in discrimination.” I went to a Catholic college (they gave me a good scholarship) and if I recall correctly, there were gay students on the campus, but the school’s administration refused to allow them to create a GSA, so I can’t say that I’m surprised that this church got offended by the mural but it’s still not right that they asked the student to cover it up. As far as the school being complicit in discrimination goes, I definitely agree with that – they’re not saying that gay students can’t attend the school, but they are saying that they’re not allowed to express themselves and have pride in who they are.
Reverend Paul Prevosto, the pastor at Holy Trinity Church which owns the school building, said that the figures depicted in the mural are “obscene” as they are obscure figures that feature the male symbol of interlocking circles and arrows. Because of his perception of the mural, he asked the school to “take care of it.” Because of the stipulations included in the building’s lease, it is perfectly legal for the church to demand that the mural gets covered, as it is antithetical to Catholic teachings, according to Prevosto, but just because it’s legal doesn’t mean that it’s right.
New Jersey recently passed legislation that made it mandatory to teach LGBTQ history in schools so positive attitudes towards LGBTQ people are increasing in the state, but something like this is definitely a setback for equality and acceptance. The student describes herself as a “queer student” and, as such, wanted to pay homage to Keith Haring, an openly gay artist who used his art to promote safe sex and awareness of LGBTQ issues in the 1980s.
Before the mural was covered, the student shared pictures of it on Twitter and the tweets were widely shared by various groups and people. One such group is the Keith Haring Foundation, a grant-making group that promotes the ideal of Keith Haring who died in 1990 from complications from AIDS. In response to the censure, the organization wrote “Many people are appallingly narrow-minded and fearful,” the organization wrote. “We are deeply sorry that you cannot express yourself, as is your right.” One of the fundamental rights we have as Americans is freedom of speech and expression. Should we have to yield that right because a church says we have to? I don’t think so.