In reaction to proposed legislation called the “Don’t Say Gay” law, students throughout Florida organized school walkouts to express their opposition to the topic of sexual orientation and gender identity in the state’s elementary schools.
Proponents of the initiative, which is formally known as the Parents Education Rights Act, have said that it would provide parents more control over what their children learn in school and that LGBTQ themes are “not age-appropriate” for children at this age range.
Students in walkouts around the state — in Tampa, Orlando, Tallahassee, and other places – waved rainbow picket banners and chanted, “We say gay!” in opposition to the allegations made by the state’s governor.
According to Jack Petocz, a Flagler Palm Coast High School senior who organized the statewide protests on social media and led his school’s protest in Palm Coast, “The language and supporters of the bill and the rhetoric around the bill really shows what this bill is, and it’s an attempt to hurt queer people like me.”
Petocz said that after the demonstration, he was summoned to his principal’s office and informed that he had been suspended “indefinitely.” Petocz said that he was reprimanded for distributing 200 pride flags for the event despite the fact that he had been ordered not to by the principal.
As a gay man, Petocz believes the effort to intimidate and expel him from university is tainted by bigotry and prejudice towards homosexuals. “You’re suppressing a queer kid who is speaking up for what he believes in and his rights, and you’re penalizing him for questioning your decision to allow pride flags at a homosexual rally? Insane, isn’t it? It is, in fact, the case.” And I believe that they were just furious that I was arranging this in the first place and that they simply used this as a crutch to remove me off-campus “He went on to say
In response to a request for comment, the Flagler Palm Coast High School did not react right away.
The demonstrations are in response to weeks of widespread public indignation over the policy, which has attracted the attention of foreign media, Hollywood stars, and the White House, among other people and institutions. As stated by the measure’s opponents, the law would be harmful to LGBTQ students and teachers in the state by prohibiting them from freely discussing themselves and their families.
House of Representatives member Joe Harding, a Republican who introduced the legislation in January, has stated on multiple occasions that the legislation would not prevent students from discussing their LGBTQ families or from engaging in classroom discussions about LGBTQ history, including events like the 2016 attack on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, which left 49 people dead.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Harding, has said that it would prohibit the “teaching” of LGBTQ issues but has not provided any specific examples of what this would mean.
Students at Bayside High School in Palm Bay, Florida, including Sky Smith, who identifies as a nonbinary lesbian, staged a walkout, which she said was just what schools should be doing.
‘When I was younger, I honestly didn’t see much representation in school regarding the LGBTQ community, and it wasn’t until I got on the internet that I really began studying about it,’ Smith said. “Thus, I believe it should be taught in schools because it will benefit other people in the same way that I have learned it is okay to be homosexual.” It is possible that youngsters will see it as something that is banned, not permitted, or looked down upon if it is not discussed “Smith went on to say something else about himself.
In addition, some critics have stated that the phrasing of the Act makes it unclear to which age groups the legislation may apply. “Discussions concerning sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through third grade or in a way that is not age-appropriate or developmentally suitable for pupils in line with state standards,” according to the law.
A student who identifies as LGBTQ and who attended one of the demonstrations, Eliza River Stone, said her high school in St. Petersburg, Gibbs High School, is adorned with rainbow flags, Gay-Straight Alliance club posters “everywhere,” and other LGBTQ-affirming symbols.
“In terms of assistance, my school has been wonderful. That is something that I haven’t experienced at any other school in my life, and I can’t picture that feeling being taken away from me now “Stone was referring to the LGBTQ-affirming symbols on the walls of her school.
“Individuals who identify as LGBTQ are human, too. People who want to learn about them should not be excluded from doing so “In addition, she said
In the Senate Appropriations Committee on Monday, the proposal was approved after passing the House of Representatives last week. It will now go to a full Senate floor vote, where it is likely to succeed as well.
Democrat Sen. Bill Nelson has expressed support for the proposal, which Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican who is running for re-election and is generally thought to be a possible presidential contender in 2024, has indicated his support for and is likely to sign into law.
The following was said by Bryan Griffin, DeSantis’ deputy press secretary, in an email: “Individuals in the state of Florida have the right to peacefully express their thoughts on any topic in accordance with the First Amendment. Gov. DeSantis supports the rights of parents in this specific measure, which concerns them. Families should be aware of what their children are learning in school, as well as if and what assistance their children are getting from their children’s educational institutions.”
In his statement, Petocz said that he wants to continue to advocate against the bill throughout his time away from school on suspension.
In his words, “regardless of whether it succeeds, this message and precedent remain the same: students are speaking up in unprecedented numbers against this law.”