A Michigan high school student painted an inclusive, pro-LGBTQ+ wall mural in an effort to "make people feel welcome."
But the future of the mural is uncertain after the message of acceptance got lost in translation by conservative adults who clutched their pearls and claimed it had elements of "witchcraft" and other inappropriate messages.
The mural depicted a diverse group of young students, including a girl wearing a hijab; a boy wearing a light blue, pink and white T-shirt–the colors of the transgender Pride flag; a girl wearing pink, royal blue and purple–the colors of the bisexual flag; and another girl wearing a rainbow-colored shirt representing Pride.
On October 10, those who strongly objected to the mural stormed en masse to a school board meeting and excoriated the artwork they thought was offensive–even "satanic."
\u201cA Michigan high school sophomore won a contest \u201cto brighten up\u201d the middle school health center. But the mural came under fire when parents alleged it was promoting LGBTQ imagery and witchcraft. https://t.co/QORXZcV2vD\u201d— NBC News (@NBC News) 1666110009
You can watch a news report on the controversy, here.
Grant Public Schools: 'No final decision was made' on the future of controversial muralyoutu.be
Earlier this year, Grant High School student Evelyn Gonzales painted the mural of goodwill at Grant Middle School to “brighten up” the school's Child and Adolescent Health Center after winning a contest .
“I put my art up there to make people feel welcome," said the sophomore student, holding back tears.
Parents specifically took issue with several elements in Gonzales' artwork, including a mask they said was satan.
Gonzales attended the board meeting and clarified the mask was a character from a video game called Genshin Impact.
Infuriated parents also pointed out a symbol they thought was a reference to witchcraft.
\u201c@NBCNews this is an example of parents instilling their own hatred and bigotry into their kids!\u201d— NBC News (@NBC News) 1666110009
The symbol in question was an illustration of an open palm known to be the Hamsa hand–also known as the Hand of Fatima–an ancient symbol of protection and good luck in North African, Middle Eastern, and Latin American cultures.
\u201c@NBCNews Imagine getting mad at a kid for painting a cute mural. What a sad life these people lead.\u201d— NBC News (@NBC News) 1666110009
\u201c@NBCNews My goodness people are so hateful right now and reading into things that weren\u2019t intended.\u201d— NBC News (@NBC News) 1666110009
Another adult attending the meeting, Nate Thompson, maintained the artwork was "hate material" and believed it was discriminatory towards Christian beliefs.
Said Thompson at the meeting:
“We and our administration should embrace that and get all of this hate material out of our schools, because it is hate material."
Another concerned adult complained:
"I feel like (she) did a really good job finding excuses to defend the things you put on. None of us are that stupid.”
\u201c@NBCNews My heart goes out to the kids who have those parents in their lives. This mural is amazing. Small minded ppl miss out on so much\u201d— NBC News (@NBC News) 1666110009
\u201c@NBCNews Ugh. Republicans should not be allowed to breed. Ever.\u201d— NBC News (@NBC News) 1666110009
Gonzales reportedly left the meeting in tears after being confronted by parents who accused the student of having ill intentions.
\u201c@NBCNews How dare those parent attack a sophomore student with their ridiculous accusations!! I for one applaud the artist for making something that \u201cmost\u201d everyone can enjoy. But, MAGA gotta MAGA, so she is now spurned and ridiculed. Shame on those parents.\u201d— NBC News (@NBC News) 1666110009
\u201c@NBCNews Wow when a teen can\u2019t paint anything without it being outrageous\u2026 some ppl need to chill\u2026\u201d— NBC News (@NBC News) 1666110009
Not everyone at the meeting lambasted the mural.
Tracey Hargreaves, a local mother, defended the mural and was appalled at some of the words used to describe Gonzales' artwork.
“I am a conservative, right-wing, gun-loving American, and I’ve never seen more bigoted people in my life," said Hargreaves.
She later spoke with NBC News and suggested the meeting revealed a different agenda.
“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.”
“I had to stand up and say something. It was out of control."
Hargreaves enlightened ignorant adults with the following concluding statement.
"You can’t catch gay, honey. It’s not contagious.”
A student who identifies as queer and had been bullied throughout middle school and high school said the mural made them feel better and included.
"Maybe you should be more concerned with your children's behaviors instead of what art is on the wall," they told the attending parents.
Lori Donati, who works at the middle school health center where Gonzalez's mural is displayed told NBC News she was "thrilled" with the result.
“Everyone’s accepted at our clinic. What she (the artist) was trying to say (is that) everyone’s accepted no matter what your background is or who you are."
"You are loved and accepted and that’s exactly our philosophy with our office, too.”
While calls for the mural to be removed or altered were made, Grant Public Schools (GPS) has a non-discriminatory policy in their handbook, which states in part:
"Any form of discrimination or harassment can be devastating to an individual's academic progress, social relationship, and/or personal sense of self-worth."
By the end of the meeting, there was no decision made pertaining to the future of the mural.
However, on October 13, GPS announced that "at the student artist’s request, the mural will be returned to its original form as originally submitted and approved by the Administration.”
The "positive resolution" reached between Gonzales and the Administration was to keep the images of the children and animals on the mural but remove the Hand of Fatima and the video game character.