Listen to this article here

A Tulsa middle schooler is speaking up after adults booed her at a Tulsa School Board meeting last Monday.  Speaking about their experience as a queer youth, the student called on TPS board members to engage in diversity training.

“All TPS Board members should receive training on gender, sexuality, and how to make the community feel welcome and safe at Tulsa Public Schools,” the student said.

Immediately after saying that, a male audience member loudly began booing.

Audience members shouted back “she’s a student!” as board members reacted in horror at the outburst.

“Please stop the clock for a second,” Board President Stacey Woolley interrupted. “This is not what we’re going to do when we have a student speaking. Absolutely not!”

“I just want to remind you,” the student said to the audience, reclaiming the mic, “you just booed a student! Do you know how hurtful that is?”

Now that student is speaking with The Black Wall Street Times. They hope to share their story and encourage others to do the same. At their request, we are not sharing their name in order to respect their privacy as much as possible.

BWST: What compelled you to speak at the board meeting?

STUDENT: There were a lot of things that compelled me to speak at the meeting, but as an LGBTQ+ youth, I knew it was really important for other kids to have that person there to support them.

I know when I was even younger, sometimes I couldn’t really find people my age that were doing those actions and supporting that community. I felt like it was important for other people to know that they have that support. And, getting my message across to the board was really important to me.

BWST: Can you share what that moment (when the person booed) felt like for you?

STUDENT: It was definitely an overwhelming experience. I honestly don’t really know if I’ve ever been so disappointed in a group of people.

The amount of people in the room was a lot, definitely.  I remember walking up to the podium and I was already shaken up because I had to step out for a second, but I made my point.

I made the comment that all TPS board members should receive training on gender, sexuality and how to make the community feel safe and welcome at Tulsa Public Schools. It was at that moment that I got booed.

It went on a little bit differently, it wasn’t just one boo. They booed, and then the other side of the room cheered. Then they booed back again…

I remember turning to my left and I saw a little huddle of people around me, which made me feel really supported, but also it was really nerve-wracking at the same time to have everyone’s eyes in the room looking on you – trying to decide “ooh, what’s she gonna do next?”

After I finished my speech… I walked out of the room and got into a private room until I was able to be walked out by police [to my mom’s car].”

Student’s mother expresses “disappointment” by actions of the adults in the room at Tulsa School Board meeting

When asked if she ever imagined adults in the room would act poorly, the student’s mother responded “it’s disappointing to say this, but yes.”

“This was not [my student’s] first school board meeting. She’s attended several this Spring,” the mother said. “Over social media, I saw the letter that came from the Secretary of Education [Ryan Walters], that was warning about this “liberal woke mob” planning to take over the meeting.”

That letter, from Ryan Walters, claimed calls for diversity training were “radical” and a form of “indoctrination”.

“I warned her ahead of time the environment I was afraid she was going to be walking into,” she said. “And she assured me, and she was right, that she was ready for the moment,” the student’s mother said.

“I think it’s inevitable that when you speak for justice and you speak for truth and you’re visible in that way, you attract attention.”

“I’m disappointed things unfolded the way they did,” her mother continued, “but I’m not surprised.”

Efforts to politicize the Tulsa School Board are creating a ‘hostile’ environment

Both the mother and the student said the continued hostile tone from leaders like Ryan Walters are making confrontation inevitable .

“When you go into school board meetings, you always know there’s always going to be people who don’t support what you’re saying,” the student said. “There’s always going to be people who have different opinions than you, and that’s okay. But, it’s not okay to harass someone about that.”

“You can’t say you want to “protect the children” and then boo at the only student speaker of the evening.”

The student’s mother says the efforts to politicize the school board are shocking. She said it saddens her that her child is living through a moment where she has to expect contention walking into a school board meeting.

“The idea that every meeting is going to be hostile is like… what’s going on?” the student’s mother said, exasperated.

She said she was stunned that the Secretary of Education and many others are focused on political talking points and not student achievement.

“Focus on the actual problem!” she said. “Instead on focusing on student outcomes, your focus is on riling up tempers. That just seems crazy.”

The student said they encourage the person who booed and anyone helping to build this hostile environment to “check in” with themselves.

“Have you ever actually done anything to protect a kid?” they asked. “Have you ever made a kid feel like they had their own power or fire inside of them to be passionate?”

“When you say that you’re “protecting kids” but you’re actually just booing them and tearing them down and telling them their feelings aren’t valued,” she continued,”that’s not protection, that’s hate.”

Calling support for 2SLGBTQIA+ students “indoctrination” is “missing the point”

“This really, for me, is about the hypocrisy of a movement that claims to be about protecting students while booing the one student that came up in front of them,” the student’s mother said.

The calls to action, both the student and her mother said, are not about “changing curriculum.”

The student said her point was making sure teachers and board members “had training to make [2SLGBTQIA+] kids feel safe in the classroom.”

In an interview with Tulsa’s KRMG, Secretary Ryan Walters couldn’t cite an example of any “indoctrinating” literature in the TPS curriculum. He instead told the interviewer to “get online more” and watch TikTok videos.

Refusing to be silenced on Monday, the student stood of the packed room to finish their remarks.

“there’s nothing in this world more valuable than education,” they said. “It’s never too late to educate yourself, just like I do.”

“What I want you to take away from this is the fact that no matter how many times you try to shut us down, we’re not just gonna give up.”

Nate Morris moved to the Tulsa area in 2012 and has committed himself to helping build a more equitable and just future for everyone who calls the city home. As a teacher, advocate, community organizer...