As we move to ‘Publish’ this post we got word that the Florida legislature stayed late tonight to effectively ban abortion in the state after 15 weeks; intentionally following Alabama’s model to offer another challenge to the women’s right to choose their health care. –Editor
Student Walkout 2022: Florida Students “Say Gay”
Thousands of high school students across the state of Florida walked out of school as part of a student-organized Don’t Say Gay Walkout action Thursday in protest of the controversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill currently making its way through the Florida legislature.
From Jacksonville to Miami and nearly everywhere in between, high school students brandishing rainbow flags and pro-LGBTQ signs streamed out of classrooms, gathering outside of school facilities to express their opposition to the bill.
Known officially as the Parental Rights in Education bill, the proposed measure would prohibit the discussion of LGBTQ topics in Florida schools. It previously included provisions that could have force teachers and other school officials to out closted LGBTQ students to their parents, no matter how hostile the conditions they lived with at home. The bill passed in the state House last week and the Senate is preparing for a vote on similar legislation.
A companion to Governor DeSantis’ “Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees Act,” or “Stop W.O.K.E. Act,” which allows parents to sue if their children are exposed to Critical Race Theory without the parents’ approval.
Student-Led Protest Like Parkland Protest
The Don’t Say Gay Walkout grew out of organizing by student-led organization Recall FCBS, a group formed in Flagler County Florida with the mission of monitoring “rampant bigotry and corruption within the Flagler County School Board.” The group started organizing the protest locally last month and encouraged other student groups to participate in today’s walkout.
Recall FCSB founder and director Jeff Petocz told the Daytona Beach News-Journal that he was suspended Thursday indefinitely from Flagler Palm Coast High School for “[being] disrespectful and openly advocating against staff” after 500-plus students chanted “Say Gay” at the school’s stadium Thursday. Petocz said the school’s principal cited his distribution of Pride flags during the protest as part of the reason for the suspension.
“He told me I wouldn’t be allowed to (distribute the flags). He went further to question the intentions of our protest, asking if Pride flags were relevant to opposition to the bill,” Petocz said.
“I decided to move forward and handed the flags to other student organizers for distribution at the event.” According to Petrocz, administrators attempted to block students with rainbow flags and other pro-LGBTQ items as they approached the stadium and tried to confiscate the items.
Other students claimed administrators attempted to end the protest seven minutes into the 15 minute period that school had allotted for the public action. Flagler County School District spokesperson Jason Wheeler declined to comment on Petrocz’ claims, saying he couldn’t release specifics about individual students’ participation.
Petocz shared his suspension on Twitter which immediately sparked the trending #StandWithJack hashtag showing solidarity. “I am proud of who I am and I am proud of all of those protesting these regressive bills,” Petocz said in a statement following the protest.
“We must let our politicians know that no matter how hard they try, they cannot suppress our identities or silence our voices. Gen-Z will not stand idly by as our rights are stripped from us.”
Protest Florida’s Don’t Say Gay: “We Say Gay” At The Capitol
In Tallahassee, students marched toward the State Capitol and were joined by Florida State University students who lined the entrance to the legislative chambers chanting “We Say Gay” and “F–k DeSantis” As the groups merged.
Pro-LGBTQ lawmakers danced and chanted side-by-side with the students, including Rep. Fentrice Driskell. “They shouldn’t have to take time away from being kids to come up here and make sure we do our job right,” Driskell told the Tallahassee Democrat. “We should always be looking out for them first, and we failed them. Our Republican-led legislature fails them.”
Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, who is openly gay, greeted the student group in the Capitol courtyard. “Those of you who are LGBTQ youth, we stand with you. We see you. You matter, and we get up and fight for you every single day,” Smith told the crowd.
High School Students Across Florida
Students walk out in Sarasota, Orlando, St. Petersburg and Naples, and others.
Overall, the message from students across the state was they were protesting lawmakers’ efforts to stigmatize and restrict LGBTQ students and demanded that no legislation be passed to restrict or limit the status and equal treatment of LGBTQ students in schools.
A major criticism of the legislators efforts is how it changes what is currently an important safe space for students be themselves with the time and protected space to figure it out, especially important for those afraid their home environments could turn hostile if they came out.
“The first person I ever came out to was a Pine View teacher, and we’ve had long conversations about who and where I’d be if I hadn’t been able to share myself with them,” said Zander Moricz, Sarasota’s Pine View School for the Gifted student class president and organizer of the school’s walkout. “[E]rasing schools as a place to do this will be deadly, in the literal sense … I’m our school’s first openly-gay class president and the queer students at Pine View are pretty vocal.”
“I think we’re a perfect example of the support that exists for kids being who they are in school,” Moricz added.
Fears for Safety and of Censorship With Incalculable Long Term Impact on Students
“One of the problems with the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill is that a lot of people already don’t understand LGBTQ+ issues and rights,” said William Lopez, a student at Naples’ Gulf Coast High School who participated in that school’s walkout. “If we are censored in schools, it makes it even harder for the world to understand us, which risks more people disliking us.”
On the same day as the protests, The Point Foundation, one of the country’s biggest nonprofits focused on LGBTQ issues in higher education, said it was designating $1 million for LGBTQ college students “whose work can help combat oppression and erasure of LGBTQ people and culture” in response to the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
Florida’s Don’t Say Gay Walkout: Previously on Towleroad
Screenshot courtesy of YouTube/News4JAX