Thousands of teens walk out of school in protest over Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law

‘They are essentially trying to silence the LGBTQ community’

Gustaf Kilander
Washington, DC
Friday 04 March 2022 21:02 GMT
Florida students stage walkouts in protest of ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill
Leer en Español

Thousands of Florida high school students walked out of class on Thursday to protest the proposed law backed by state Republicans dubbed as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

The walkout was part of a campaign organized by Flagler Palm Coast High School junior Jack Petocz, with the walkout message spreading on social media via #DSGWalkout.

“Today, the Florida House passed the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill. Students are angry, frustrated and ready to fight this sickening piece of legislation,” Mr Petocz tweeted on 24 February. “I’m organizing a statewide school walkout on March 3rd at 12:00 PM in opposition.”

The Parental Rights in Education bill is awaiting its final vote on the floor of the Florida state senate after being passing its last committee vote this week following its approval in the statehouse.

If it passes, the bill would ban discussions of gender identity and sexuality in the state’s public schools.

Mr Petocz has said that more than 20 schools in Florida have announced that they would take part in the walkout. Students at Gibbs High School in St Petersburg marched holding blue, pink, and white transgender flags and a rainbow had been drawn on the ground.

Walkouts were also seen on social media in Gainesville, Orange Park, and Fort Myers. High school students in the Florida capital of Tallahassee protested at the state capitol, shouting “we say gay”, holding signs and waving a pride flag.

Handmade signs used by the students displayed slogans like “protect LGBTQ+ kids”, “my existence will not be taboo”, “abolish the Don’t Say Gay Bill Now”, and “Don’t Say Gay – Scream It!”

Multiple Democratic legislators greeted the students and took pictures with them, the Orlando Sentinel reported.

Tallahassee high school senior Ashton Link, 18, told the paper that it was the first time he protested, adding that the proposed law is “blatantly” discriminatory to LGBT+ individuals.

“They are essentially trying to silence the LGBTQ community by saying, ‘Oh OK. You’re allowed to be gay, but just don’t talk about it. Pretend that you are not gay,’” he said.

Mr Petocz has spoken out against the bill on Twitter since February. He told reporters that he had been suspended “pending an investigation” following his work on the demonstration.

Orlando activist Jack Cocchiarella tweeted that “a student in Florida was suspended for distributing pride flags at today’s protest of the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill. This is unacceptable!”

Students at Colonial High School in Orlando staged a walkout on Wednesday.

“This is really awesome to see students at a school in East Orlando, Colonial HS, walkout in protest of the #dontsaygaybill!! Keep up the pressure ya’ll!!” state Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith posted.

“Bravo!!! Future leaders standing up and speaking out against the #DontSayGayBill!” state Senator Linda Stewart added.

The executive director of Equality Florida, Nadine Smith, tweeted that “the @GOP censorship and intimidation agenda knows no bounds. Books are already being pulled off shelves on Florida schools as @GovRonDeSantis pushes his agenda to muzzle students, erase history, and intimidate teachers, and pummel public schools with lawsuits”.

Governor Ron DeSantis pushed back on the narrative surrounding the bill during a press conference on Friday, issuing fresh warnings about his concerns about transgender matters in schools.

“It’s inappropriate to be injecting those matters like transgenderism into the classroom,” he said, according to Florida Politics.

He also disagreed with the bill being referred to as the “don’t say gay”.

“You call it that. I haven’t seen that in any of these bills,” Mr DeSantis told a reporter. “Where is this coming from?”

“Does the truth matter or not? Is that in any of these bills? Yes or no,” he added.

He said he “didn’t have a dog in the fight” and “this wasn’t my legislation,” but nonetheless defended the bill.

“You actually look at the bill, and it says no sexual instruction in grades pre-K through 3. How many parents want their kindergarteners to have transgenderism or something injected into classroom instruction?” he said.

“It’s basically saying for our younger students … do you really want them being taught about sex? And this is any sexual stuff. But I think clearly right now, we see a focus on transgenderism, telling kids they may be able to pick genders and all of that,” Mr DeSantis added.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in