The Baraboo High School in Wisconsin has become infamous for a photo that surfaced over the weekend of male students throwing a Nazi salute.
Some of the photographed students didn’t throw the salute, including one gay student named Jordan Blue who is now speaking out about it.
The photo was taken last spring on the steps of the country courthouse before the junior prom as an annual tradition. The boys in the photo were all juniors — many are now members of the school’s Class of 2019.
Blue tells the local CBS News affiliate, “As soon as I heard the photographer say ‘Raise your hand,’ I knew what was going to happen…. [The photographer] did not say ‘Raise your hand in a Nazi symbol way,’ and I’m pretty sure that my classmates just interpreted it as ‘Raise your hand — let’s do this as a joke.'”
Blue says he believes that his fellow students knew what the “sieg heil” salute meant and adds that he didn’t throw the salute because “It did not represent my morals and I could not do something that I didn’t believe in.” He also says that a parent standing nearby yelled at the boys to stop throwing the salute.
The GoBaraboo Twitter account shared the photo on Sunday, captioning it with the following message: “We even got the black kid to throw it up #BarabooProud.” The account has since gone private.
Blue also gave a statement to VICE News and Young Turks contributor Jules Suzdaltsev, in which he writes, “The photographer took the photos, telling us to make the sign.”
Blue adds, “These classmates have bullied me since entering middle school.”
In a separate tweet, Suzdaltsev writes that he heard from 100 people telling stories about the high school and surrounding community. “Nearly all of the stories echo the same basic theme: the community as a whole has a lot of casual & jokey racism, homophobia, and transphobia that is accepted as a part of life. The school (and other schools in the area) do little to nothing to address these issues.”
The Baraboo School District has released a statement saying that it is investigating the incident and “will pursue any and all available and appropriate actions, including legal, to address the issue.” The district states that it is a “hate-free environment where all people regardless of race, color, religion, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin or ancestry, are respected and celebrated.
The photographer, Peter Gust, also spoke with the CBS News affiliate, saying that he told the boys to wave their hands as if saying goodbye to their parents. Gust says that the gesture is being taken out of context, stating, “For society to turn it around and now blame these kids is absolutely wrong.”
The CBS News reporter states that the photo is particularly concerning considering that anti-Semitic attacks in the U.S. rose from 1,267 attacks in 2016 to 1,986 in 2017, according to the Anti-Defamation League, a group that tracks such attacks.
Blue said he thinks some of his fellow classmates are regretful for throwing the salute. He said, “Some of these people have bright futures ahead of them, so why’d they do it?”