Charlotte Pride parade photo removed from museum at request of Gaston County manager

GASTON COUNTY, N.C. — A photo from a Charlotte Pride parade was removed from a Gaston County museum at the request of the county manager’s office. Now, the organization is expressing its disappointment in the decision.

The photo, which depicts a marriage proposal the happened during the 2019 Charlotte Pride parade, was part of an exhibit at the Gaston County Museum of Art and History. The exhibit, called “Into the Darkroom,” shows the work of three different photographers. All of the photos were originally supposed to be on display for a year.

Photojournalist Grant Baldwin, who took the picture, said he got a phone call Tuesday from organizers at the museum -- which is run by the county -- saying the county told them to remove the photo.

“What was certainly lost was objective information that anyone that viewed the image can use to form their own opinions,” Baldwin said.

The photo was replaced.

Baldwin said he couldn’t believe the photo was removed.

In a statement, the county manager for Gaston County, Kim Eagle, said it “instructed museum staff to work with the photographer to find an alternative photograph to display that would be more considerate of differing viewpoints in the community.”

“The idea behind the exhibit is to document a historical event, and there are other options from the photographer’s work that more fully capture the context of the parade that was documented,” the statement from Eagle read.

Baldwin said it was not a decision made by museum leaders. He told Channel 9′s Ken Lemon the museum operators loved the picture. Baldwin remembers the proposal fondly.

“That was one of the most powerful moments that I witnessed,” he said.

One of the men in the photo spoke with Channel 9 and said the picture was taken seconds after his husband proposed at the 2019 Charlotte Pride festival.

Bren Hipp said he was disappointed when he heard about the controversy surrounding the photo. He said he wishes he saw something like this when he was a child trying to figure out his identity.

“I look at it from a personal perspective, that had I been a young kid or young gay male struggling with my identity and who I am as a person on the inside. If I were to go into the museum and see something like that or had I seen something like that 15 years ago, it would’ve totally changed my life to see, ‘Hey that could be me,’” Hipp said.

“We find it abhorrent that any democratically-elected government or its employees would seek to censor a photograph of a marriage proposal in an artistic, photographic art display contained in a government-funded museum like the Gaston County Museum,” Charlotte Pride said in a statement. “Charlotte Pride believes Gaston County’s censorship of these photographs are violations of the First Amendment targeted toward LGBTQ and minority residents, including all who call Gaston County home.”

Charlotte Pride Board President Clark Simon spoke with Lemon on Wednesday.

“I think the county is purposefully trying to diminish the progress that has been made for the LGBTQ Community and they are especially, purposefully doing it during Pride month to make a statement indicating that the community is not welcome in Gaston County,” Simon said.

In addition to the proposal photo, Baldwin initially said Gaston County leaders asked the museum to take down another of his photos that captured a moment during a protest about the Confederate statue downtown, but he has since clarified that the museum director decided to take down the photo. That second photo showed law enforcement arresting a protester in front of the Gaston County Courthouse.

Gaston County officials also said it was “originally unaware of the submission of the photo from Mr. Baldwin,” and that the museum director had decided against displaying the photo.

Baldwin said the county wanted that photo removed because there were county employees in the picture. He said they asked him to replace that one as soon as the exhibit began.

County officials said there were several submissions for the exhibit and that the photo was one of many that did not make the final cut for the display.

Gastonia City Councilmember Robert Kellogg is openly gay and was not happy with the county’s decision.

“To me, it’s going back to a day in this county where LGBTQ people were very vocally and visibly told that their rights didn’t matter,” Kellogg said.

The full statement from Charlotte Pride is included below:

“Charlotte Pride believes that all people are worthy of dignity and respect and are due equal treatment under the law. Charlotte Pride affirms the Supreme Court decision in Obergefell that legalized marriage equality in 2015. We find it abhorrent that any democratically-elected government or its employees would seek to censor a photograph of a marriage proposal in an artistic, photographic art display contained in a government-funded museum like the Gaston County Museum. We condemn the decision of Gaston County Manager Kim Eagle to censor a photograph of a marriage proposal occurring during the 2019 Charlotte Pride Parade, for which we hired a widely-acclaimed photojournalist to document the 2019 event.

“‘Here we go again,’ said Clark Simon, President of the Charlotte Pride Board of Directors. ‘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. 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. I find it especially astonishing that Gaston County would also censor an additional photograph documenting protests against a Confederate monument on Gaston County government property.’

“Charlotte Pride believes Gaston County’s censorship of these photographs are violations of the First Amendment targeted toward LGBTQ and minority residents, including all who call Gaston County home. Charlotte Pride represents a large and diverse community that spans the entire Charlotte region. LGBTQ and minority individuals call every county, city, neighborhood, and census tract in our region their home. Charlotte Pride’s board president, Clark Simon, for example, is a resident of Gastonia. Charlotte Pride finds it especially offensive that a local government body would seek to censor photographs of LGBTQ and Black life during June, a month in which LGBTQ people commemorate their rights and when Black people celebrate Juneteenth, the official end of slavery in the United States. Charlotte Pride demands both photographs be immediately displayed again in the Gaston County Museum.”

Full statement from Gaston County, regarding a photo being taken down of an activist arrested in front of the Gaston County Courthouse:

“The Gaston County manager was originally unaware of the submission of the photo from Mr. Baldwin taken during a protest in front of the Gaston County Courthouse. Upon conversation with staff, it was discovered that the museum director had decided against displaying the photo as part of the ‘Into the Darkroom’ exhibit. There were numerous submissions for the exhibit, and this was one of many that did not make the final cut for display.”

The full statement from Gaston County is below:

“After reviewing a photograph in the Gaston County Museum of Art and History’s recent exhibit, “Into the Darkroom,” County Manager Dr. Kim Eagle instructed museum staff to work with the photographer to find an alternative photograph to display that would be more considerate of differing viewpoints in the community. The idea behind the exhibit is to document a historical event, and there are other options from the photographer’s work that more fully capture the context of the parade that was documented.

“This was an internal decision under the manager’s purview, and did not involve the Board of Commissioners. The Museum is government-funded, and as such, it is important for the items it shares to be informational without championing political issues. As a public administrator, there is a delicate balance between the effort to foster an inclusive workplace and community, while avoiding political advocacy.”

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