Metro Weekly

4-H Club Removes Child’s Rainbow Drawing After Bigots Complain

A 4-H club asked a youth participant to create a painting, later erasing a rainbow from the design after receiving anti-LGBTQ pushback.

The painting in the window of the Iowa newspaper “The Chronicle” – Photo: KCCI.

A 4-H club in Odebolt, Iowa, removed a children’s drawing of a rainbow from a window after receiving complaints about the rainbow’s meaning to the LGBTQ community.

Rachel Burns, the mother of 4-H club participants Frannie Burns, 10, and Elwood Burns, 12, says that her children were invited to paint the windows of a local business to promote the club and celebrate National 4-H Week.

The project was intended to encourage people to join the organization, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and state and local governments.

But beyond being required to include the club’s name and have a message encouraging people to join, Burns says her children were given complete artistic freedom.

Elwood was assigned to paint the window of The Chronicle, a local newspaper. As part of the painting, he wrote the slogan: “Have your heard the news? 4-H is 4 everyone,” with a drawing of an orange, yellow, green, and blue-colored rainbow underneath.

Elwood said the design was meant to show the club was inclusive of LGBTQ individuals, a value that the national 4-H organization has promoted on its website, reports Des Moines-based CBS affiliate KCCI.

But when the family drove by the window the following day, the rainbow had been removed.

“I wasn’t expecting that at all,” Elwood Burns said. “I was kind of in shock. I didn’t really know what to do. I also didn’t want to make a huge deal out of it, but I think inclusion should not be erased from a window like that, especially when 4-H is supposed to be fully inclusive in supporting LGBTQ+.”

Rachel Burns told KCCI she contacted the club leader about the change and was told the club was receiving complaints, prompting the removal of the rainbow. It is still unclear who specifically complained. 

The Chronicle said they did not have an issue with the painting and did not request its removal.

But the Burns family said it bothered them that 4-H leaders removed the painting without informing them of the decision, and felt that the club had ceded to discriminatory demands and failed to stand by its values.

Frannie Burns wrote an open letter explaining why she and her brother ultimately decided to quit the club. 

“I believe (removing the rainbow) was childish and inappropriate,” she wrote. “I also believe that this is telling the children of this 4-H club that it is right not to include members of the LGBTQ+ community which is not in fact right. This is the reason I am quitting this club and moving to a new inclusive club. This is also the reason I ask this club either to change for the better or close.”

Another child also quit the club in solidarity with the Burns family.

Rachel Burns posted her daughter’s letter to social media. While she’s received some supportive messages, she says she’s also received calls and messages from people angry at her for publicizing the incident. 

“Iowa 4-H Youth Development is working with local staff and volunteer leaders to address this situation,” the Iowa 4-H state program leader said in a statement. “We are committed to creating high-quality learning environments in which young people feel a sense of belonging as they build skills to make a positive impact on their communities.”

This isn’t the first time that 4-H’s commitment to inclusion has been questioned.

In 2018, the organization released a policy welcoming LGBTQ participants, but later rescinded it after receiving pressure from Trump administration officials, according to the Des Moines Register.

In January 2019, 70 Democratic members of Congress criticized the USDA of “inappropriate overreach” for pressuring 4-H officials to rescind the pro-LGBTQ policy, which simply stated that the organization would be open to people of all sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender expressions — in terms of participants, staff, and adult volunteers.

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