The controversial legislation, officially named the Parental Rights in Education bill, passed through Florida’s House of Representatives, despite some republicans voting against it, by a vote of 69-47 on 24 February.
As the legislation continues to advance, students across the state used social media to coordinate in-person protests on 3 March.
Flagler Palm Coast High School senior Jack Petocz, who helped organize the protests, told NBC News: “The language and the supporters of the bill and the rhetoric around the bill really shows what this bill is, and it’s an attempt to hurt queer people like me”
NBC News reports that following the rally, Petocz was called into his principal’s office and suspended “indefinitely.”
“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.
Students protesting at the Florida State Capitol were commended by Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, the first openly LGBTQ+ Latin person elected to the Florida Legislature, who has been challenging the bill since it was first proposed.
“Thank you all so much for doing this, for standing up for the LGBTQ community, We have been fighting against the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill for so many months, and you being here today, actually sends a really strong message,” Smith told crowd. “ The students who are impacted, those of you who are LGBTQ youth, we stand with you, we see you, you matter and we get up and fight for you every single day.”
A group of local students just showed up to the Florida Capitol to protest the #dontsaygaybill. They sent a powerful message to the legislature by being here!— Rep. Carlos G Smith (@CarlosGSmith) March 3, 2022
To LGBTQ youth, we stand with you, we see you, you matter and we get up and fight for you every single day! #SayGay 🏳️🌈 pic.twitter.com/ylQRMcfhOz
The ‘Don’t Say Gay’ now heads to the Senate, where it is expected to pass and become law.
Cathryn Oakley, the state legislative director and senior counsel at the Human Rights Campaign, said: “Let’s be clear – the negative consequences of [the bill] will ripple across Florida. It will hurt the LGBTQ+ community, people of color, and women. Every historically marginalized population will be impacted by this legislation.”
Tallahassee-area students walked out and headed to the Capitol with a message: "We say gay." ❤️ #DSGWalkout pic.twitter.com/5d5L4GHX8o— Equality Florida (@equalityfl) March 3, 2022
Yeah… we did that. Students at Colonial HS in Orlando, Florida today held a walkout in protest of HB 1557.@GovRonDeSantis: SAY GAY and veto the #DontSayGay bill! 🏳️🌈💂— dariel👨🏻🚀🌞 (@darieltweet) March 2, 2022
You guys seein' this? @johannaocps @ChairJacobsOCPS @AnnaForFlorida @CarlosGSmith @LindaStewartFL pic.twitter.com/gBNFiebRGF
RIGHT NOW | Students at Gibbs High School in St. Petersburg are walking out of class in protest of the controversial so-called #DontSayGay bill moving through the legislature, which limits instruction on sexual orientation, gender identity in schools. @10TampaBay #DSGWalkout pic.twitter.com/RovcSSEh2n— Josh Sidorowicz WTSP (@JoshWTSP) March 3, 2022
Protesters are demanding that Disney, which holds huge political and economic sway in the state and is one of Florida’s largest employers, speak out against the bill.
Despite hosting so-called ‘gay days’ at its parks and profiting off sales of Pride merchandise every year – all whilst reportedly bringing in an annual revenue of $17 billion – Disney is said to have donated money to every sponsor of the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
LGBTQ+ historian, author and activist Dr. Eric Cervini said on Instagram: “I AM TIRED OF #PRIDEPOSERS LIKE @DISNEY. Please boycott, share (TAG DISNEY!), and use that saved subscription money to donate to @equalityfl. LGBTQ+ kids’ lives are at stake”
Disney heir Abigail Disney also called on the company to speak out :
“I could not be more unhappy with their political activities, both in terms of whom they fund and how they lobby,” she wrote on Twitter.
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