GRANT, Mich. (WOOD) — The debate over a mural with LGBTQ symbols continued in Grant Monday night as some parents pushed for the mural to be removed from the middle school.
Before parents, students and the greater community weighed in, Grant Public Schools Superintendent Brett Zuver asked for both sides to be civil and listen with compassion. Zuver said that certainly hasn’t been the case in Grant over the last several weeks.
“We are better than that,” Zuver said. “We collectively are better than that. It almost makes me want to cry when I hear about some of the things that have been said and done. We are better than that.”
Zuver asked for the community to set an example for its students, the state and even the country.
“We’re a public school,” Zuver said. “We’re here for all students. All means all. There’s no questions, we are here for all students.”
It started earlier this year when a Grant High School student, 16-year-old Evelyn Gonzales, won a contest to decorate the middle school’s Child and Adolescent Health Center. Evelyn created a mural that shows several characters, including some wearing shirts that have LGBTQ pride symbols on them.
Evelyn’s art teacher, Jill Kuebler, defended her student, calling the mural “incredible” and “inclusive.”
“This is a public school where we say we support all kids,” Kuebler said. “We need to be sure we’re doing that.”
“I was completely shocked and appalled at the behavior of some members of our community toward Evelyn,” Kuebler added. “If this had taken place in my classroom, it would’ve been shut down immediately.”
Kuebler urged those who don’t like the mural to simply move on.
“If you see a piece of artwork you don’t like, you don’t have to make a negative comment,” Kuebler said. “If you don’t like it, walk past.”
Some parents want the mural painted over.
“The mural invites an animosity and a controversy,” one resident, Nate, said. “And this should’ve been known before it was ever approved. Just by the nature of it.”
“There is nothing in that mural that promotes inclusiveness for everyone,” Nate added. “It doesn’t promote straight. It just promotes favoritism to one side. What about the rights of the straight kids?”
Some complain that one symbol in the mural was satanic, a demon-like face that was drawn from a video game character.
“This should not be allowed in a young middle school’s place of school where they come daily,” another parent said.
Some parents who oppose the mural have now said they don’t just want the mural painted over: They want the Child and Adolescent Health Center completely shut down over untested concerns about what Proposal 3 means for health care.
“The fight for our kids is far from over,” a Facebook post from one opponent reads in part.
The clinic is located in the middle school but run by an outside health care agency, which leases the space.
“Everybody’s accepted at our clinic. We do not judge anybody,” Lori Donati, who works at the health center and organized the art contest, previously told News 8. “We support (the artist) 100% with her painting. We like it. It’s all inclusive and that’s what this school needs.”
Other residents said there are more important issues to focus on.
“Let’s focus on what needs to be done,” one resident said. “I’m a bus driver for Grant. There are so many issues in the morning and in the afternoon. Let’s focus on those.”
Those parents asked the school board to make sure Evelyn’s mural stays in Grant.
“I urge the board to show that you are rational and we are a community of acceptance,” another resident, Megan, said.
Evelyn has since retained an attorney who is working pro bono. The attorney told News 8 they are considering removing the images sourced from the video game — which weren’t included in her original submission and were added to fill space — but that the student is not willing to remove the LGBTQ symbols or change anything else about the mural.
“It’s just a matter of showing that you won’t stand down when there are bullies out there or a faction of people who don’t agree with you or have these, I would say, old-school, bigoted feelings that just want to force their way…” the student’s attorney Mitch Bisson, a Grant native now living in Las Vegas who is handling the case, told News 8 last week.
Zuver said the Grant community has an opportunity to “learn and grow together” with this situation.
“We must do better,” Zuver said. “We will do better.”
— New 8’s Rachel Van Gilder and Susan Samples contributed to this report.