Mireya Rivas came into the meeting annoyed. A teacher had shouted at her and her girlfriend to stop hugging in the hallway.
“There are always boys and girls making out all over there, and nobody says anything to them,” Rivas told her classmates.
That's not the point, said Taylor Forester, a music teacher and sponsor of the Gay-Straight Alliance student group at U.S. Grant High School.
Forester sat on a stool behind a grand piano. Students dotted the risers in the chilly choir room.
Even if the teacher was prejudiced, Forester said, the students were breaking the rules about public displays of affection.
“What we can do is reply with kindness,” Forester said.
U.S. Grant High School is home to one of Oklahoma's few support clubs for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students.
There's plenty of regular club talk — parties, T-shirts, projects. But the students are keenly interested in educating their peers and reaching out to younger people.
“There are lots of people out there who need a safe place,” said Rivas, who graduated from Grant this May. Rivas said she is bisexual. “There should be a place in school where you can be OK with who you are.”
Forester teaches them about successful people who are gay, hoping to offer a little inspiration regardless of what career her students enter. This day, she talked about Frida Kahlo, a famous Mexican artist who was bisexual.
“Oh!” called out one student. “She's the one with the unibrow!”
The group laughed and then crowded around Forester's computer to see picture of Kahlo's paintings.
Forester said she's proud that many teachers are supportive of the group and the students. Students who feel attacked or unwelcome can't focus, the teacher said.
“If they don't feel safe,” Forester said, “they're not going to learn in that classroom.”
One of the things Forester works with her students on is how to communicate. Bullying is still an issue, and students need to know how to protect themselves and others. Other students need to know that words hurt.
“They're real people,” Forester said. “They have families. They have hopes. They have dreams. And every one if them is valuable.”
Bullying has gotten better at the school since the founding of the club, said Luis Barajas, who will be a junior this fall. Many students can feel alone and scared, he said, and the club helps build support.
Still, he said, some people will be cruel.
“People can come from really dark places, and it can inspire hate in them,” Barajas said.
Heather Stempf said club members work to curb bullying, but that it still goes on.
“Students, they're going to straight up tell you and make fun of you,” said Stempf, who graduated from Grant this year.
Stempf is straight, and her mother told the family she was gay when Stempf was in middle school. Her mother, Shannon, said her daughter's love and acceptance has meant the world.
“She supports me for who I am,” Shannon Stempf said, wiping tears.
Heather Stempf said she wants to show her classmates that she supports them, too.
“We're here to support everybody,” she said. “It's our job to make everybody feel like they have a place because everyone does have a place.”