A Catholic priest in Hackensack, N.J., ordered a charter school that leases the school grounds from his church to cover up a Pride mural in the school cafeteria, calling it “obscene” because it included an homage to Keith Haring’s interlocking male symbols. And the 16-year-old student at the Bergen Arts and Science Charter School in nearby Garfield who painted the mural took to Twitter to express her frustration.
“So ... my school’s owned by a Catholic Church and they want me to take down my Keith Haring mural that supports the LGBT community,” wrote the student (who did not want her name published), according to the North Jersey Record. “They think it’s inappropriate and wrong for a school setting. I’m heartbroken and I really never thought this could actually happen. Please help.”
Reverend Paul Prevosto, who runs Holy Trinity Church, ordered the mural to be covered up after concerned parishioners brought it to his attention.
"It was offensive," Prevosto said about the mural that included famous images of Haring's (including hands holding up a rainbow heart), and he told the school to “take care of it."
While Bergen Arts and Science Charter School is a public school in New Jersey, which became the second in the nation to mandate that LGBTQ history be part of the curriculum, the lease agreement with the church requires that the school adhere to Catholic ideals.
“Due to the Catholic nature of the Landlord, Tenant promises to conduct no affairs or establish any organizations that would be contrary to its Catholic moral values, ethics, and faith,” according to the lease.
Anything "that would be contrary to our Catholic sensitivity should not be displayed or seen,” Prevosto said, citing the lease.
The mural was part of an art class project in which students were asked to paint murals in the school cafeteria that were inspired by famous artists. The student, who is queer, has said that she did not paint the mural as a political act but that she wanted to pay homage to Haring, the ’80s-era pop artist and activist who died of AIDS.
“This school is infringing on my rights just as much as the church now,” the student tweeted about the school allowing her mural to be painted over. “A public school is complicit in discrimination.”
“As a public school, we are inclusive, supportive, and respectful of the artistic expression of our students, and likewise are respectful of the directives of the church as a private entity and owners of the property,” iLearn, the nonprofit management company that runs the school, wrote in a statement.
While iLearn did not push back against the discriminatory directive from the church, the Keith Haring Foundation responded, according to the Record.
“Many people are appallingly narrow-minded and fearful,” the organization wrote. “We are deeply sorry that you cannot express yourself, as is your right.”