ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Students inspired by social media posts against a controversial Florida bill that limits classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity participated in a walkout against the legislation.
A large group was seen around noon Thursday outside Gibbs High School, coinciding with a graphic on social media calling for statewide participation in the walkout. Some people were seen holding a blue, pink and white transgender flag while a rainbow appeared to be chalked on the ground.
"We won't stand for the diminishing of our perspectives within educational institutions!" the graphic reads, in part. "Queer students deserve to openly be their authentic selves.
"Student leaders are encouraged to spread the word within their own schools and organize!"
The House version of the "Parental Rights in Education" bill, HB 1557, bars educators from teaching LGBTQ-related topics within a curriculum to students in kindergarten through third grade.
Because of its restrictions, opponents have dubbed the bill "Don't Say Gay." In addition to limiting teachers' lesson plans, school districts may opt to ban topics of sexual orientation or gender identity beyond third grade if leaders deem them not to be age or developmentally appropriate.
The bill allows for the discussion of such topics should they spontaneously come up in the classroom, said Republican Rep. Joe Harding, who sponsored the House’s version of the bill, in an earlier committee meeting.
WESH-TV interviewed 17-year-old Jack Petocz, who called for the statewide walkout in opposition to the legislation. Petocz, an openly gay student at Flagler Palm Coast High School, told the station that lawmakers are trying to silence his voice and others in the LGBTQ community.
He says he was bullied at an early age and credited his teachers for helping him. The conversations were not sexual in nature but encouraging moments, Petocz said.
"If we don't start at these younger grades with embracing our identities and letting it be known that these people exist, and we're OK, and we shouldn't be ostracized from society then we're going to see this regression," Petocz said.