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Student’s LGBTQ mural must be removed from Michigan school, board says

The high schooler, who painted the mural after winning a student art contest, said she hoped the mural would “make people feel welcome.” 
A mural at Grant Middle School in Michigan has sparked controversy since last year.Courtesy Chandler Morris

An LGBTQ-inclusive student mural created inside a Michigan middle school must be painted over by the end of October. The decision, made last week by the local school board, comes nearly a year after the mural ignited backlash from some parents who said it promoted LGBTQ imagery and witchcraft.

A high schooler in Grant, Michigan, painted the mural inside of a student health center at Grant Middle School after she won a student art contest. Some parents objected to the mural during a Grant Public Schools Board of Education meeting in October because the mural features a student wearing a T-shirt with the colors of the transgender Pride flag, two students wearing the colors of the bisexual Pride flag and another wearing rainbow Pride colors. 

Some critics argued that the artwork promotes witchcraft because it includes a video game character that looks like a demon and a Hamsa Hand, also known as the Hand of Fatima, a palm-shaped design seen as a symbol of protection in many cultures. 

The school board voted in June to cut ties with Family Health Care, which operates the Child and Adolescent Health Center inside Grant Middle School, in addition to two other school-based health centers in the area, according to WOOD-TV, an NBC affiliate in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The centers provide free medical, dental and behavioral health care to children, according to the Family Health Care website.

Family Health Care and a group of parents challenged the board’s vote, and, after months of negotiations, the board approved a new contract with Family Health Care last week, WOOD-TV reported. The mural’s removal is part of the deal. 

“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 last week. At the school board meeting last October, Evelyn Gonzales, the Grant High School student who painted the mural, said through tears that she created it “to make people feel welcome.”

At the same meeting, one parent condemned the inclusion of LGBTQ Pride colors, specifically characterizing transgender people as having a mental illness.

Following the meeting, Grant Public Schools said in a statement that, “at the student artist’s request, the mural will be returned to its original form as originally submitted and approved by the Administration,” which meant the demon video game character and the Hand of Fatima would be removed, NBC’s reported at the time.

Superintendent Brett Zuver, who judged the contest for the mural, told in October that Gonzales added those symbols to help fill extra space in the mural. He described the agreement between Gonzales and the school board as a “very positive resolution.”

“I am very proud of her,” Zuver said at the time. “She is a great young lady.”

A few weeks after the meeting, some community members rallied around Gonzales and started a Go Fund Me fundraiser for her college expenses, according to local ABC affiliate WZZM-TV. 

Neither Zuver nor the Grant Public Schools Board immediately responded to NBC News’ request for comment regarding the board’s recent decision to remove the mural completely.