On Monday, hundreds of students staged a walkout at a high school in Orange County, Florida, demonstrating against a bill that would limit discussion of LGBTQ issues in schools throughout the state.
More than 500 students participated in a protest at Winter Park High School, organized to oppose legislation — colloquially known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill — that was being debated in the state Senate at the time. The legislation would ban discussion of LGBTQ issues in primary school classrooms and severely curtail what can be discussed in older grades, and could have disastrous repercussions beyond lesson plans.
On Tuesday, that legislation passed in the state Senate. The bill is now on its way to Gov. Ron DeSantis’s (R) desk, who has signaled he will sign it into law.
During the protest on Monday before the bill’s passage, students at Winter Park High School shouted slogans in support of their LGBTQ peers, chanting “We say Gay” to demonstrate their opposition to the bill. Students taking part in the demonstration also held signs in support of transgender students.
Students at my alma mater, Winter Park High School, protesting the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
I’m so incredibly proud 🏳️🌈pic.twitter.com/lJxDRS8eZj
— Jack Cocchiarella (@JDCocchiarella) March 7, 2022
Will Larkins, a junior at the high school and one of the students who helped organize the protest, said that the walkouts would continue if the bill was eventually passed into law.
“We wanted to show our government that this isn’t going to stop,” Larkins said to CNN. “There were walkouts all last week. This is going to continue. If this passes, there will be protests everywhere.”
A student who took part in a separate walkout, which took place last week at Flagler Palm Coast High School in Palm Coast, Florida, says that he was suspended for handing out Pride flags to participants.
Jack Petocz, a junior who helped organize the walkout against the anti-LGBTQ bill, said that the principal of the school told him ahead of the event that he wasn’t allowed to hand out rainbow flags.
The school’s principal questioned “the intentions of our protest, asking if pride flags were relevant to opposition to the bill,” Petocz later explained. “I decided to move forward and handed the flags to other student organizers for distribution at the event.”
After the protest concluded, Petocz said that he was called into the principal’s office yet again, and suspended for being “disrespectful and openly advocating against staff.” The junior says that he plans to speak to his family’s lawyer about the events.
Experts predict that the “Don’t Say Gay” bill will have a detrimental effect on students if DeSantis signs it into law. “The likely outcome of the bill would be to deter teachers from addressing these issues and to chill open discussions and support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students,” Ryan Thoreson, a researcher at Human Rights Campaign, said in February.
It’s also possible that the bill could result in increased harassment of LGBTQ students, and less consequences for those who bully them; due to the bill’s vague language, students might feel as though they are unable to discuss their situation with teachers, and may be less willing to share that their LGBTQ status is the basis for their harassment