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Students across Florida walkout of classes in protest of “Don’t say gay” bill

Florida don't say gay bill, student walkouts, Florida, Ron DeSantis
Florida students protest the "Don't say gay" billPhoto: Nadine Smith

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.

Related: Disney heir calls out company’s silence on anti-LGBT Florida bill

“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.

 

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.”

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.

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