GASTON COUNTY, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) — Two men featured in a photo removed from the Gaston County Museum are speaking out for the first time.

The photo shows Justin and Bren Hipp kissing at the Charlotte Pride Parade in 2019, following their engagement. It’s one of two pictures Gaston County Manager Kim Eagle removed from an exhibit at the museum.

“I was shooting for Charlotte Pride,” said Freelance Photojournalist Grant Baldwin, who took the photo.

The photograph conveys a love story caught on camera.

“All it is, is showing two people in love, two human-beings,” said Justin Hipp, who is featured in the photo.  “Who is that hurting?”

The photo is now the center of controversy in Gaston County, after the county manager demanded it be taken down from the walls of the Gaston County Museum.

“To remove this moment in history that gave us visibility and celebrated our engagement in a state that marriage has been legal since 2014 is unjustified,” Hipp said.

The county released this statement regarding the incident:

“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.”

Another image, displaying a black woman handcuffed on the ground, was also taken down. Photojournalist Grant Baldwin also took that image, during a protest surrounding the removal of a Confederate statue outside the Gaston County Courthouse.

“I’m happy [that] an image I have made is creating dialogue,” said Baldwin. “So, I’m not upset with the county manager or placing blame.”

During Pride Month, the situation is certainly shining a light on LGBTQ+ rights.

“They’re doing the opposite of what they’re trying to do,” said Bren Hipp, who is also featured in the photo.  “I find that ironic and a great form of karma.”

Baldwin has three other photos in the exhibit, one of which replaced the Pride photograph. That one is an image of Cam Newton with CMS kids.