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Photo of Charlotte LGBTQ history removed from Gaston County museum; photographer speaks out

Advocates are speaking out against a decision from the county manager to remove a photo of two men kissing from the county museum's photography exhibit.

GASTON COUNTY, N.C. — An exhibit highlighting photography will be without a photo taken during a Charlotte Pride event after a decision from the Gaston County manager.

The Gaston County Museum of Art and History is currently displaying Into the Darkroom, a photography exhibit aimed at showing photography's use as an art form and its place in history.

The exhibit uses photos from the 20th century, showcases vintage cameras, and features work from four modern photographers in Gaston County. One of these photographers, Grant Baldwin, used a photo he took at the 2019 Charlotte Pride Parade of two men kissing. Baldwin says the photo was taken during a marriage proposal.

Credit: Noisy Bird Creative
Pride photo on display at Gaston County museum

However, shortly after opening the exhibit, this photo was removed.

Gaston County officials state this decision was made after Kim Eagle, the county manager, instructed museum staff to work with Baldwin to select another photograph to highlight.

"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 county said in a statement.

The decision did not involve the museum's board of commissioners.

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Baldwin also said he was not involved and was not contacted by county officials about the decision.

Credit: Grant Baldwin/Charlotte Pride
2019 Charlotte Pride Parade, Aug. 18.

"While the county said it is an advocacy issue I do feel like it's been targeted because it's an LGBTQ image," he said. "Part of the reason I feel that way is because there are other images on display that could be viewed as advocacy."

Baldwin says the museum asked each photographer to provide three to four photos representative of their work with no guidelines or restrictions. The museum had no issue with Baldwin's photo until the county chose to remove it.

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The museum asked Baldwin to find a photo to replace the removed image, however, he states if this issue is not resolved he will choose not to participate.

Charlotte Pride expressed disappointment in the decision from the county.

"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.

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Clark Simon, President of the Charlotte Pride Board of Directors, believes this action has served as a detrimental impact on the LGBTQ community.

“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," said Simon.

Additionally, Baldwin says the county rejected a photo of Gaston County Sheriff's Office deputies arresting a woman during a protest against a Confederate statue on display near the courthouse.

Credit: Grant Baldwin
Woman arrested during protest in Gaston County

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"The county told [the museum] they could not display the photo because it contained county employees," said Baldwin, "so I submitted a photo of four students leading a march during the George Floyrd protests in Uptown Charlotte, and that was accepted."

While usually on the other side of a story, Baldwin says he's been barraged with messages from media outlets and advocates, but notes he's glad that the issue is getting attention.

"[This situation] is creating dialogue and shedding light on an issue," said Baldwin. "My role in capturing the image is not one where I was seeking advocacy but one where I was seeking to capture what was going on to provide accurate information."

The Gaston County Museum declined to comment on the situation.

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