Protecting students from reality
An article by Agata Mala, EEB3
Censorship is generally defined as the suppression or prohibition of any parts of books, films, news, etc. that are considered obscene, politically unacceptable, or a threat to security. However, the cover image of our school magazine’s pride themed issue was none of the above. And yet, students weren’t allowed to publish it, as it was deemed “inappropriate” by the school administration.
Last June, in order to celebrate Pride Month, our schools‘ magazine (The BEE3) decided to collaborate with the LGBT+SA(Straight Alliance) club, and announced the main topic of the issue to be LGBT pride. To go with this, the cover imagine depicted two girls with their arms around each other, one wearing a rainbow shirt and giving the other a kiss on the cheek. The Editor-in-Chief then received an e-mail from the administration, stating that such imagery would be “too much” for some students and that something “more neutral” would be more suitable. In addition, the magazine would only be distributed to older grades (ages 11+) due to its content.
Feeling that this type of censorship was unacceptable, nay, hypocritical coming from a school that preaches European values, tolerance and being “united in diversity”, the students felt obliged to stand up to it. The Editor-in-Chief and I responded to said email, saying that we, as journalists and members of the LGBTQ+ community, felt deeply saddened by their wish to change the cover of the magazine, and urged them to reconsider. Many talented people worked very hard on the issue, and the decision to not share their work with younger students was disappointing.
We assumed that this demand was based on the notion that the cover may offend the moral or religious sensibilities of some students and/or their parents. In their response, the administration insisted that the reason behind their decision was the fact that the image was “age inappropriate”. Genuinely confused about what could be age inappropriate about the image – we’ve seen Disney characters kiss many times on the silver screen when we were in primary – we demanded an explanation. However, the administration failed to provide us with any clarification as to how the image was age inappropriate.
After a long back and forth with the administration, it became clear that they were not willing to reconsider their decision. But giving in at this point seemed despairing. Catering to homophobia sends the message that the comfort of homophobic people matters more than the expression of LGBTQ+ students. Moreover, as the Editor-in-Chief pointed out, it sends a rather extraordinary message concerning the school’s respect – or rather lack thereof – for the fundamental principle of freedom of speech, which is the lifeblood of any democracy and of the wider European project.
Unwilling to stand down, members of the school magazine and LGBT+SA came up with the idea of a petition. Its purpose was to make the school realise the negative effects this decision would have on its LGBTQ+ students. We encouraged people to show that they were in support of LGBTQ+ expression going uncensored by signing it. You can sign it by clicking here if you want.
The petition was quickly met with an incredible amount of support, coming not only from students, but also a number of parents and other members of the school community. In just a few days, we managed to get over two thousand signatures. Some of the comments people left were very touching. For example, Marten Reichowwrote: “As an alumni of the school, I was taught to uphold the values of the European Institutions. Seeing visible allyship of LGBT+ issues at an early age would have helped me and many more in accepting ourselves and others, and the School should be proud to support actions like these, instead of censoring them.”
Unfortunately, despite the enormous support, the petition failed to meet its objective. No amount of continuous effort could persuade our school administration to admit they were in the wrong and take back their decision. Finally, after a series of guilt tripping emails, we decided to give in and change the cover image. You can read the full issue by clicking here – this version has no cover to protest the school administration’s decision. But too much had happened for us to leave it at that. We might have lost this particular fight, but the events inspired a struggle for independence for the school magazine, that continues to this day. It is impossible that the school alone has the power to censor the students’ own magazine – only once all stakeholders of the school community, including the students that work so hard on the project, have a say in this matter, will unjust censorship be prevented and the right to freedom of expression preserved.