Reading Time: 3 minutes

A harmless mural painted over the summer at the Child and Adolescent Health Center at Grant Middle School in Michigan is under attack by Christian parents who claim it’s “Satanic.”

It was painted by Evelyn Gonzales, a sophomore at the local high school, who won a contest aimed to “brighten up” the health center with a painting that depicted smiling kids and the message “Stay Healthy.” The end result was a mural that included a number of kids, one of whom is wearing a shirt with the pink and white stripes of the transgender flag, another who is decked out in LGBTQ-friendly rainbow clothes, and a third in the colors of the bisexual flag. The point is that everyone is welcome at the school. No one is excluded. Though it’s not like the color scheme would be obvious to viewers unless they were looking for it; on the surface, we’re all just looking at happy smiling kids.

But there are also other symbols that drew predictable outrage from conservative parents who think everything’s part of some wider liberal conspiracy.

There’s a demon face (in the center left) that’s inspired by the video game Genshin Impact.

There’s 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 last week:

“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 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. They say they don’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) is synonymous with some sort of propaganda campaign.

Not all parents felt that way. 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 late last week 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 up the space.

If that’s what it takes to keep the rest of the mural up, and if Gonzalez is okay with the changes, so be it. But none of this will prevent those same bigoted parents from spreading conspiracy theories about what the artwork actually means. Instead of accepting the intentions of the child who created the mural, they’re led by their Christianity to pretend their bad-faith interpretation of the picture is the only correct take.

At least the school officials are defending the art and the intention behind it—even while making those minor changes. Unlike the conservative parents, they know what it means to support kids.

Avatar photo

Hemant Mehta is the founder of FriendlyAtheist.com, a YouTube creator, podcast co-host, and author of multiple books about atheism. He can be reached at @HemantMehta.