Metro Weekly

School Board Orders Removal of LGBTQ-Inclusive Mural

A Michigan school board ordered a mural at a health center located inside a middle school to be taken down for depicting LGBTQ characters.

The Grant Middle School mural under fire for LGBTQ imagery – Photo: WZZM

A local school board ordered a health care provider that operates a clinic inside a West Michigan middle school to remove a student-designed mural containing LGBTQ imagery if it wishes to have its contract renewed.

Earlier this month, the Grant Public Schools Board of Education voted to authorize a new contract with Family Health Care, which operates the Child and Adolescent Health Center inside Grant Middle School, in Grant, Michigan. \

The center offers medical and dental care, vision, hearing, and mental health services to all Grant Public Schools students, at no cost to families. 

But part of the new contract stipulates that the health clinic must remove the mural, painted by a student who won an art contest, by the end of October, according to MLive and the Muskegon Chronicle.

The mural became a source of contention last October after conservative parents and community members accused the student, Evelyn Gonzales, of including “Satanic” characters and “demonic” symbols in the mural, and attacked her for including LGBTQ content as well.

The mural depicts children, of all skin colors, including one wearing a hijab, and animals wearing hats with red crosses on them.

One student is wearing rainbow colors and overalls with a rainbow logo, while two others wear the bisexual Pride flag colors. Another student, receiving a shot from a bunny nurse, is wearing a shirt in the colors of the transgender Pride flag.

In the background are symbols, including a letter, stars, a peace sign, a mushroom, butterflies, and the Hamsa hand, also known as the Fatima hand, which is represents good luck in some North African, Middle Eastern, and Latin American cultures.

At the time, Gonzales said that one of the symbols that people were objecting to came from a video game, although conservatives claimed it was a depiction of Satan, and claimed her drawing of the Hamsa hand was a symbol for witchcraft, calling the mural anti-Christian and a form of “hate material,” according to Grand Rapids-based ABC affiliate WZZM. 

Other objectors argued that including the transgender Pride flag was wrong because transgender identity is a form of “mental illness” caused by bipolar disorder, autism, and other conditions that need psychological treatment.

“I put my art up there to make people feel welcome,” Gonzales argued.

At the time, Tracey Hargreaves, a self-described conservative with two children in the Grant Public School system, told Today.com that despite her own beliefs, she thought the people who protested the mural at a school board meeting were “bigoted.”

“The meeting turned into a hate fest. Usually there are ten people at these meetings, and 50 showed up. It wasn’t even about the mural … People were talking about how we need to pray the gay away,” she said. “I had to stand up and say something. It was out of control. You can’t catch gay, honey. It’s not contagious.”

The school board previously voted to end its contract with the clinic in June, but after facing backlash from the community, decided to re-enter contract negotiations with the clinic. Some citizens have since launched a recall petition seeking to remove four board members who voted to terminate the contract. Organizers of that effort say they intend to continue with the recall, based on the belief that those members aren’t acting in the best interests of the community.

In a statement responding to the board’s demand to remove the mural, Alan Neushwander, a spokesperson for Family Health Care, defended the mural for celebrating diversity and inclusion, saying the organization prizes those values.

“During contract negotiations, it was clear the mural was important to the Board of Education. The student painted the mural to highlight inclusivity and diversity, values that are important to Family Health Care,” Neushwander said in the statement. “Diversity, equity, and inclusion are at the forefront of everything we do at Family Health Care. As required by law, we are accepting of all students regardless of age, race, color, national origin, disability, religion, or sex, including sexual orientation or gender identity.

“While it is disappointing that the mural must be removed by the end of October, it’s a compromise we reluctantly were willing to accept to ensure the children of the Grant community continue to have access to medical and behavioral health care.”

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