School mural becomes backdrop for cultural conflict
GRANT, Mich. (WOOD) — With cards and letters flooding in to show support for a mural at Grant Middle School and some parents still upset over its LGBTQ symbols, the teenage artist who painted it has retained an attorney.
“Started seeing it on national news sources… It’s kind of heartbreaking a little bit to see that from my hometown,” lawyer Mitch Bisson said.
Bisson, a Grant native who now lives and works in Las Vegas, reached out to the 16-year-old artist’s family to help pro bono.
“Right now we’re just trying to protect the mural and make sure she’s not being harassed,” Bisson said.
The mural went up at the Child and Adolescent Health Center inside the middle school after the artist, a junior at Grant High School, won a contest. It shows people wearing gay and transgender pride symbols, which the artist included to support her friends who have been bullied about their sexuality and to encourage inclusivity.
Conservative parents — about 100 of them — want the mural painted over, saying the school should be a “neutral place.”
“We don’t want our kids being politicized,” one parent, who asked not to be identified by name over concerns about online harassment, told News 8 in October.
The parents also complained some of the symbols in the mural were “satanic.” Those images were sourced from a video game.
Support for the teen has poured in from all around the country. She’s been getting encouraging letters, including from a classroom of kids in California, and a GoFundMe raised $6,000 for her. The supporters called the mural beautiful, saying it is a light for some children in dark places. They called the parents who want it remove blatantly transphobic and racist.
While there was never any notion of removing the LGBTQ symbols, the district and the student artist had agreed to remove some symbols — the ones from the video game, which were not included in her original submission and were added last-minute to fill empty space. That compromise is now on hold.
“While (the artist) is considering removing the one mask that they’re alleging looks like Satan, she’s considering removing that one symbol just as a way to compromise and maybe let everybody move forward a little bit, she’s unwilling to remove any other symbols or pictures or anything else in the mural,” Bisson said.
He said he sent the school a letter to that effect and saying the artist expected nothing to be done to the mural unless she was informed and involved.
“I’ve been in contact with (the superintendent) and other board members and we’re willing to discuss it and see what can be done. We’re not digging our heels in but we are standing firm on the fact that you can’t just remove the mural ’cause you don’t agree with it,” Bisson said.
“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…” he said.
The complaining parents are not backing down and intend to attend a school board meeting Monday, with one parent telling News 8 via text Friday that they would continue to push for the entire mural’s removal despite “horrible attacks.”
The school superintendent urged civility.
“The idea of listening to each other, like really listening to each other with compassion has eroded a little bit,” Superintendent Brett Zuver told News 8.
He called the conflict a “microcosm” of culture wars that have been playing out before school boards across the country.
“Maybe Grant, Michigan, can be an example for the rest of … our county, our state and even the country for figuring out a way to have people with different thoughts and viewpoints get back together and be able to talk and truly listen to one another,” Zuver said.