Students across Florida have walked out of classes in protest of the state legislature’s hateful “Don’t say gay” bill, a bill that would ban teachers from acknowledging the existence of LGBTQ people. The bill will soon get a vote in the state Senate. The state’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis is expected to sign it into law.
Flagler Palm Coast High School senior Jack Petocz told NBC News he was “indefinitely” suspended for organizing the statewide protests as well as handing out 200 rainbow flags to his classmates despite even though his principal told him not to.
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“I believe this attempt to threaten me and remove me from campus is riddled with homophobia and bigotry,” said Petocz. “You’re silencing a queer student standing up for what he believes in, in his rights, and you’re disciplining him for challenging you on the allowance of pride flags in a gay rally? It’s ridiculous. It truly is.”
The bill’s text would make it illegal for teachers from kindergarten through fifth grade to discuss anything in the classroom related to LGBTQ identities. If they do so, parents can sue them.
Florida Republican state Representative Joe Harding has said his bill won’t prevent students from discussing their LGBTQ families or stop teachers from discussing LGBTQ historical events, like the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooing in Orlando. But critics say the vaguely written bill will frighten teachers and administrators from speaking about LGBTQ issues regardless.
Tallahassee-area students walked out and headed to the Capitol with a message: "We say gay." ❤️ #DSGWalkout pic.twitter.com/5d5L4GHX8o
— Equality Florida (@equalityfl) March 3, 2022
I AM GAY! I AM NONBINARY! I AM PROUD!!
WE SAY GAY 🏳️🌈 #DSGWALKOUT pic.twitter.com/DbjfLBH9s7
— KAITLYN (@miraclewaves) March 3, 2022
#DSGWalkout #DontSayGay pic.twitter.com/oxG1vcj1Gm
— Gabby (@findingknob) March 3, 2022
#DSGWalkout was pretty cool :) pic.twitter.com/j0AIhOybhq
— river (@feorage) March 3, 2022
RIGHT NOW | Students at Gibbs High School in St. Petersburg are walking out of class in protest of the controversial so-called #DontSayGay bill moving through the legislature, which limits instruction on sexual orientation, gender identity in schools. @10TampaBay #DSGWalkout pic.twitter.com/RovcSSEh2n
— Josh Sidorowicz WTSP (@JoshWTSP) March 3, 2022
This generation of “kids” knows better than any other that we are all one human family and love is just love. Do better for them. Vote NO on HB1557.
THEY vote in November. And they ain’t playing.
Lk Howell High #DSGWalkout
.@equalityfl .@GLSEN .@GSANetwork🏳️🌈 pic.twitter.com/8FJVg3Wf7z
— Sandy Stenoff (@1BatMom) March 3, 2022
Students from @Riverview_HS joined in on the statewide “Don’Say Gay” walkout. Nearly 100 people came out to peacefully protest. What the students are saying tonight on @SNNTV. #DSGWalkout pic.twitter.com/zIuPHBs6Qh
— Annette Gutierrez (@annette_tv) March 3, 2022
FL HS students across the state are leaving their desks in protest of the #DontSayGay bill. Right now, students are at our Capitol PLEADING to lawmakers to not let this go any further.
You can HEAR the students while lawmakers debate…
…what Florida’s state dessert should be. pic.twitter.com/X3d7DYZ2LW
— Eunic Ortiz (she/her) (@eunicortiz) March 3, 2022
— Angel (@Romani_Angel21) March 3, 2022
#DontSayGay walkout at Freedom High School right now- sent to me by one of the teachers who saved me. 🏳️🌈 pic.twitter.com/2qp0cAkyfD
— Michael Womack (@MichaelPWomack) March 3, 2022
In a message of solidarity, Democratic Florida Congresswoman Val Demings wrote, “Florida students will not tolerate bigotry and bullying Republican elected officials have aimed at LGBTQ+ youth. To the students across Florida participating in walkouts, standing together, and sending a powerful message against the #DontSayGay bill: I see you and I’m with you.”
Florida students will not tolerate bigotry and bullying Republican elected officials have aimed at LGBTQ+ youth.
To the students across Florida participating in walkouts, standing together, and sending a powerful message against the #DontSayGay bill: I see you and I’m with you. https://t.co/AAbFD00is3
— Val Demings (@valdemings) March 3, 2022
A 2017 Hornet article found that seven states with similar “no promo homo” laws also had some of the worst HIV rates in the entire nation.
The LGBTQ student advocacy group GLSEN says that schools often misapply vaguely written “no promo homo” laws to apply to health curriculum, school events, and even extracurricular activities. Such states also offer little to no sexual health education, leaving LGBTQ students completely ignorant about their identities or how to protect themselves from anti-LGBTQ bullying.
The bill is just part of a larger anti-LGBTQ push from state conservatives. In late 2021, the Florida Department of Education yanked down an anti-bullying portal following pressure from right-wingers. The department said the information is “under review,” but it’s unclear when, if ever, it will return online.