Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, officially called the Parents Education Rights bill is headed to Gov. Ron Desantis’s desk to become law. It will ban teachers discussing sexual orientation and gender identity in classrooms for young students. There have been many opponents to this legislation, including Sen. Shevrin Jones (D-FL)—Florida’s only openly gay senator was reduced to tears giving remarks on the bill.
Leave it to the youth to start a movement—high school kids all around Florida have been staging walkout protests in opposition to the controversial bill. Over 500 students at Winter Park High School in Orange County walked out of their classrooms in protest, according to CNN.
High school juniors Will Larkins and Maddi Zornek organized the protest. Students left class at 9 a.m. ET and during the walkout, they were chanting, “We say gay!” and holding “protect trans kids” signs. Larkins spoke about how important these lockouts are:
“We wanted to show our government that this isn’t going to stop. There were walkouts all last week. This is going to continue. If this passes, there will be protests everywhere,” Larkins told CNN. “We wanted to get the attention of our representatives, our senators, because the point is to show them that we are the ones in powers. The people are the ones in powers and what they’re doing doesn’t represent us, especially marginalized groups.”
Similar walkouts have happened in Tampa, Orlando, and Tallahassee. Flagler Palm Coast High School senior Jack Petocz organized statewide protests on social media and led his school’s protest. Petocz was called into the principal’s office and suspended indefinitely after the rally. He thinks the punishment is for distributing 200 pride flags for the rally, which the principal asked him not to do.
The senior spoke about the rally and the suspension:
“I believe this attempt to threaten me and remove me from campus is riddled with homophobia and bigotry,” said Petocz, who is gay. “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.
“And I think that they were just they were upset that I was organizing this to begin with, and they just used this as a crutch to go ahead and remove me from campus,” he added.
Rep. Joe Harding, the Republican who introduced the bill, said the measure is about “empowering parents” and improving the quality of life for the state’s children. Harding also stated the bill would prevent the “instruction” of LGBTQ topics, but didn’t cite any examples as to what they would mean. If the bill passes the Florida senate and is signed by Gov. Desantis, it would go into effect in July.