Local officials in North Carolina have ordered a museum to remove from its walls a photograph showing a same-sex couple kissing to celebrate their marriage proposal, a move that has outraged LGBTQ rights advocates.
The photo shows Justin Colasacco popping the question to his now-husband Bren Hipp in front of a cheering crowd at the 2019 Charlotte Pride Festival & Parade. The two tied the knot about a year later, on Oct. 4, 2020.
On Tuesday, the Gaston Gazette reported that Gaston County Manager Kim Eagle told staff at the Gaston County Museum to remove the photo from an exhibit and replace it with another image “that would be more considerate of differing viewpoints in the community.”
The exhibit — “Into the Darkroom: Photography as History and Artform” — is described as “a complete exploration into the technological and creative medium of photography” through the work of four local photographers.
“The idea behind the exhibit is to document a historical event,” Gaston County officials said in a statement, “and there are other options from the photographer’s work that more fully capture the context of the parade that was documented.”
On Wednesday, the LGBTQ nonprofit Charlotte Pride strongly condemned Eagle’s directive saying that the idea that any democratically-elected government would remove the photo of a marriage proposal, done in an artistic way, is “abhorrent” and “offensive.”
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“Gaston County’s decision to censor this photograph and others seeks to silence and erase the existence of LGBTQ and minority people in Gaston County and the wider region,” Clark Simon, board president of Charlotte Pride,” said in a statement.
“LGBTQ and minority people are an essential and integral part of our community, and Gaston County’s decision this week is reminiscent of recent national efforts to paint the simple existence of LGBTQ people as dangerous to society,” he added.
Grant Baldwin, the Charlotte-based freelance photojournalist who took the photo, took to social media to express his disappointment — while noting that the move could also help to highlight issues of ongoing bias and censorship.
“While I am not happy this is happening to the LGBTQ+ community, I am happy that images I have captured are creating dialogue,” he tweeted Wednesday afternoon.
Eagle defended her decision saying that “the museum is government-funded, and as such, it is important for the items it shares to be informational without championing political issues.”
In an interview with The Charlotte Observer on Wednesday, Baldwin said that he was hired by Charlotte Pride to document the 2019 festival, adding that “there was no advocacy on my part and no request that I present any advocacy images.”
On Wednesday, the Gaston Gazette reported that Starting on July 1, the photo will be displayed at the Monroe Gallery of Photography in Santa Fe, N.M. in an exhibit titled “Imagine a World Without Photojournalism.”