After nearly a year of back and forth, the Grant School Board voted Sept. 11 to remove a controversial mural that opponents say features queer themes and witchcraft from Grant Middle School north of Grand Rapids. The mural was created by a high schooler who won an art contest and was designed in an effort, she said, to make people feel welcome. But the inclusion of transgender Pride and rainbow colors drew the ire of a group of vocal parents who demanded the mural be removed.
It all started last October when the mural was installed in the Family Health Care health center located in the middle school. Evelyn Gonzales, the student artist, included certain elements, like a character from a video game that some parents claim represented Satan and a depiction of a student wearing a sweater in the transgender Pride colors. The original, agreed-upon design, the district claims, did not include these elements.
A resolution was reached that would allow for the mural to remain if restored to its original design. But Gonzales, whose parents said she felt threatened, secured legal counsel and that delayed any changes from being made.
Almost a year after the whole mess started, the school board ruled that the mural must be painted over by the end of October. This, despite protestations by Gonzales that the mural does not represent anything evil – and that the video game character featured is not the devil.
"That's not what I'm a part of," Gonzales said at the original board meeting last year. "That's not what I'm trying to put out there."
Parents remained skeptical even after Gonzales offered her explanation for what appeared in the mural. One even went so far as to call transgender people mentally ill. "When adults pretend things that are like real life, it's a mental illness," parent Danielle Beight said at last year’s meeting. "We need counselors, we need medication that's going to help bipolar disorder, fix their brains."
Nate Thompson, another parent, said the mural was anti-Christian.
"We and our administration should … get all of this hate material out of our schools because it is hate material," Thompson said.
After being told their contract would not be renewed for the 2023-2024 school year, Family Health Care negotiated with the district and agreed to remove the mural in order to keep the health center open to students.
“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,” Family Health Care said in a statement.
On the bright side, progressive parents started a GoFundMe for Gonzales to pay for her college tuition. “I am very proud of her,” Grant Schools Superintendent Brett Zuver, who judged the mural contest, told Today.com last year. “She is a great young lady.”
Not all parents were opposed to the mural. Tracey Hargreaves, who identifies as a “conservative, right-wing, gun-loving American,” spoke up in favor of the mural.
“I’ve never seen more bigoted people in my life,” said Hargreaves during the meeting and, later, to Today.com: “The meeting turned into a hate fest. Usually there are 10 people at these meetings, 50 showed up. It wasn’t even about the mural. People were talking about how we need to pray the gay away.”