In the recent months, the citizens of Florida have expressed their concerns about a new legislation, the House Bill 1557 called “Parental Rights in Education,” but more widely known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
Opinions on the bill are split, as its supporters claim that the bill protects young students from being exposed to topics that are not appropriate for their age. The bill’s opponents, however, claim that the bill is homophobic and is an attempt to silence LGBTQ+ topics at educational institutions, forcibly pretending that people who are a part of that community do not exist.
If the bill becomes reality, Florida teachers would not be allowed to discuss any topics related to sex or gender from Kindergarten through third grade. Furthermore, discussions about topics that are not “age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students” would be banned from all grade levels.
Such vague wording is the main concern for people, especially students, who are a part of the LGBTQ+ community. The terms “age-appropriate” and “developmentally appropriate” leave a lot of room for interpretation, which could be used as means to discriminate against LGBTQ+ students.
Supporters of the bill fight back the argument of the opposing side, which claims that discussion regarding sex and gender should be left up to the parents. They argue that discussions on said topics are relevant and are often the only opportunities for students to discuss them, as a lot of students may have parents who are against the LGBTQ+ community.
Schools across Florida have organized walkouts to express their support for the community and opposition to the bill. One of the walkouts organized at Flagler Palm Coast High School brought a lot of attention, as the student who was the organizer of the event was suspended for handing out pride flags at the protest.
“My school district tried to prevent us from giving out pride flags and distributing them,” said Jack Petocz. “I resisted, and I told students to not give up their pride flags, because they’re a symbol of our identity. They’re a symbol of acceptance and embrace of our queerness.”
Petocz is a junior at Flagler Palm Coast High School and he was the one responsible for the walkout at his school. He has also played a major role in starting the conversation about the bill on social media, gaining supporters and creating a petition in an attempt to stop the bill.
In his petition, Petocz writes, “Bills like this cause further immeasurable harm to communities that already face harassment, discrimination, and attacks like these day after day for simply existing.
“These bills are attempts at erasing us, stigmatizing us, and isolating us, and they would continue to push LGBTQ+ youth even farther to the margins. It’s heartbreaking and hits way too close to home for me and so many others.”
At the moment of writing this article, the petition was signed by 46,866 people, with 50,000 signatures being its goal.
Even at such a young age, Petocz became a name known by many students who feel the same way about the issue.
After he was suspended, he released a statement about what happened, at the end of which he writes,
“I am proud of who I am and I am proud of all of those protesting these regressive bills. We must let our politicians know that no matter how hard they try, they cannot suppress our identities or silence our voices.
“Gen-Z will not stand idly by as our rights are stripped from us. It is now up to you to decide which side of history you will be on, the side that empowers us or the side that seeks to erase us.”
The bill was passed last month with a 69-47 vote and is now awaiting the decision of Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis. Although he did not yet make the decision to sign the bill, he has voiced support for it.
Students and allies across the country show support to the protests in hopes that it will not be signed.