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Michigan school district will get rid of health center after "Satanic" mural controversy
The school board voted to eliminate the health center months after Christian parents objected to LGBTQ symbols outside of it
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A rural Michigan school district is on the verge of losing a school-based health clinic, all because of a mural drawn by a child.
Last summer, as part of a contest to “brighten up” the Child and Adolescent Health Center at Grant Middle School, Evelyn Gonzales, a sophomore at the local high school, painted a mural depicted smiling kids and the message “Stay Healthy.” She actually included a number of kids, one of whom was wearing a shirt with the pink and white stripes of the transgender flag, another who was decked out in LGBTQ-friendly rainbow clothes, and a third wearing the colors of the bisexual flag. The point was that everyone was welcome at the school. No one was excluded. It’s not like the color scheme would have been noticeable to viewers unless they were looking for it; on the surface, the only thing you’d see were happy smiling kids.
But that mural quickly came under attack from Christian parents who claimed it was “Satanic.” The drawing drew predictable outrage from the kind of conservative parents who think everything’s part of some wider liberal conspiracy.
For example, there was a demon face (in the center left) that Gonzales said was inspired by the video game Genshin Impact.
There was also a “Hamsa hand” (on the far left) that, in some cultures, is said to provide good luck.
Gonzalez said the goal of her art was simply “to make people feel welcome.”
Again, none of this would be evident to casual viewers. But it unleashed massive outrage at a school board meeting in October:
“I feel like she did a really good job finding excuses to defend the things she put on,” says Katelyn Thompson. “None of us are that stupid.”
As for the transgender flag, one parent implied it’s a sickness.
“When adults pretend things that are like real life, it’s a mental illness,” says Danielle Beight. “We need counselors, we need medication that’s going to help bipolar disorder, fix their brains.”
With another saying it is discriminatory against Christian beliefs.
“We and our administration should embrace that and get all of this hate material out of our schools, because it is hate material,” says Nate Thompson.
Some parents who spoke with a local news reporter refused to give their names because they didn’t want to be harassed. The anonymous cowards broke from their prayer circle, however, to explain why the mural was offensive to them… and why LGBTQ kids shouldn’t feel welcome anywhere.
“We just want a neutral place for our kids,” one said. “We don’t want our kids being politicized.”
“Our kids should have neutral places where everybody feels loved and accepted and there doesn’t need to be anything on the wall that causes any sort of division,” one said.
Imagine how warped by faith your mind has to be to look at this mural and claim it’s divisive. These parents said they didn’t want their kids being politicized, yet they’re the ones demanding that LGBTQ kids be excluded from everything. They’re the ones demanding trans kids not be allowed to use the proper bathrooms. They’re the ones demanding schools act like LGBTQ people don’t exist and that acknowledging their existence (a la Florida) was synonymous with some sort of propaganda campaign.
Not all parents felt that way. One of them, Tracey Hargreaves, spoke out in defense of the mural and called out the outrage of the other parents in the district:
“I am a conservative, right-wing, gun-loving American,” Hargreaves declared at the meeting. “And I’ve never seen more bigoted people in my life.”
In an interview with TODAY.com, Hargreaves said, “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,” Hargreaves added. “It was out of control. You can’t catch gay, honey. It’s not contagious.”
Hargreaves added that the symbols were being treated as if they were “satanic.” They were not.
But after running Gonzalez out of that board meeting in tears, by injecting their Christian conspiracy theories onto her work of art that was meant to bring joy to people, the bigots got what they wanted.
Administrators announced in October that the mural would be revised to remove the Hamsa hand and demon image. The kids, however, would stay. Gonzalez agreed to those changes, in part because those images weren’t on her original submission. It was only when she was painting the mural and realized there was more space than she had anticipated that she added those icons to fill the gaps.
The conservative outrage didn’t stop there, though. They’re never satisfied. And now the health center itself is on the chopping block.
Though the specific reason for the termination hasn't been made clear, [Superintendent Brett] Zuver and other community members traced the conflict over the health center to a debate that roiled district board meetings in October, when a group of community members opposed a mural featuring pride colors that a student painted at the health center. The debate in October mirrored a nationwide trend in school board uproars over LGBTQ+ materials and resources in schools.
There’s no indication in the board meeting minutes as to why members voted to get rid of the center. All we know is that the vote was 4-1 to terminate the partnership within 90 days, with one member absent and another abstaining. When a reporter contacted Julie Tatko, president and CEO of Family Health Care, the group that oversees the clinic, she explained that in her conversations with board members, they complained about the center’s utility costs (which were about $5,000/year) and that they wanted to use the space for something else. But the utility cost was negligible at best—something that would likely be covered with a good fundraiser—and it wasn’t clear the board had any other uses for the space in mind or that there was insufficient space for that something else anywhere else in the district.
In a rural town like Grant, this isn’t just a small issue. That health clinic was arguably the most reliable and cost-effective way for students to receive basic medical care.
The superintendent and parents say the health center's impact on students is invaluable. Megan Wirts, a mother of one current Grant student and a former student, praised the center's services, including physicals, checkups, mental health assistance and more.
"We're a small town," she said. "They provide many health services. ... They serve many underprivileged patients."
But because conservatives associated the health clinic with LGBTQ kids for the flimsiest of reasons, the whole health clinic will be gone by the time the new school year begins.
Liberals have long argued that conservatives just want to inflict pain on groups they hate. This is a perfect example of that. Instead of doing what’s best for students, they appear to have used their bigotry as justification to revoke easy access to basic medical care. They didn’t have to do it. They chose to do it. And not a single board member so far has bothered to publicly explain why they felt this health clinic needed to go.
It’s another reminder that school board elections matter. The majority of this board won’t do the bare minimum to help students. It’s appalling that other adults in the community are willing to go along with it by voting for them or not voting at all.
(Portions of this article were published earlier)
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