Gen-Z kids are fighting the 'don't say gay' bill

Gen-Z Kids Are Fighting The 'Don’t Say Gay' Bill, We Can Too

There are so many queer youth in Florida, and there are likely thousands of kids with gay parents too. Yet their state’s "pro-family" Republican lawmakers are trying to censor any discussion of their families in their schools.

Thankfully, Florida’s LGBTQ+ teenagers are leading a fierce charge against politicians’ efforts to deny the existence of the queer community.

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The “Parental Rights in Education” bill, dubbed by LGBTQ+ advocates as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, is on its way to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk after passing through both Florida’s House and Senate. DeSantis is expected to sign it.

If the bill is signed into law, it would limit Florida’s teachers from discussing sexual orientation and gender-related issues in their classrooms. For kids with gay dads in the Sunshine State, that would effectively mean any talk about their loving families would have to be shut down by their teacher – by law.

Understandably, parents of older kids are also concerned the bill’s broad language could eventually apply to any grade. The text states that “a school district may not encourage classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in primary grade levels, or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students.

If it becomes law, and a teacher were to break the rules and allow a student to discuss, for example, their own gender identity, or their two dads, the bill states that there would be penalties. Other parents would be allowed to sue the school district. A court may then award damages, and “award reasonable attorney fees and court costs to a parent who receives declaratory or injunctive relief.”

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Initially, Republican lawmakers also proposed an amendment that would have required schools to disclose a student as LGBTQ+ to their parents within six weeks of learning that they are not straight. At least the attempt to codify “outing queer kids” into law was withdrawn before the bill reached the House.

Florida’s Democratic lawmakers did voice their vehement opposition to the bill, but it has long had the full support of the Republican-controlled Houses and their pleas fell on deaf ears.

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On Monday, when the bill came up for debate in the Senate, Democratic State Senator Shevrin Jones – the first openly LGBTQ+ member of Florida’s Senate – teared up while giving an emotional speech aimed at supporters of the bill.

“Seeing these kids, I don’t think y’all understand how much courage it takes for these children to show up every day,” Sen. Jones said of the impact the bill would have on LGBTQ+ youth. “I believe that we all want to do right,” Jones added. “And it seems as if in politics, we have gone down a road to where we are scared to just step out to make sure we're not hurting people.”

If there’s any light at the end of the tunnel, it’s that Mr. Jones was right. It does take courage for queer kids to show up every day, and they’re not stopping now.

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Gen-Z students, born between 1997-2012, are not letting this bill pass without a major fight. Florida’s queer youth are doing what queer youth do best; taking the lead in the latest battle against lawmakers’ attempts to erase LGBTQ+ people from society.

Last Thursday and Friday, high schools across the state grabbed headlines by holding walkouts in opposition to the bill. Many did so in solidarity with Jack Petocz, a High school student and political strategy associate for nonprofit Gen-Z for Change, who organized the walkouts statewide.

In Palm Coast, Petocz received harsh penalties for rousing widespread opposition to the state bill; he said he was suspended from school "indefinitely" after he distributed Pride flags at his demonstration. But we see you, Jack; you haven't come this far just to come this far.

"We must let our politicians know that no matter how hard they try, they cannot suppress our identities or silence our voices,” Petocz said. “Gen-Z will not stand idly by as our rights are stripped from us."

Petocz and his peers have also been leveraging social media to spread their message, garnering global support, and hopefully making it a lot harder for this bill and future ones like it to become law. Celebrities are starting to get on board, including Shawn Mendes and Ariana Grande who reposted videos from student-led rallies against the "Don't Say Gay" bill to show their support. 

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While Petocz may be a force, he is by no means the only one leading the way. High school student CJ Walden told the Miami Herald that he and his peers simply won't stop speaking out. "We will not be quiet," Walden told the Herald. "We will always exist. Even if the law goes into effect."

On Monday, as the bill was being debated in the state Senate, more than 500 students participated in another massive walkout organized by student Will Larkins at Winter Park High School in Orange County, Fla., according to CNN

“The people are the ones in power, and what they're doing doesn't represent us, especially marginalized groups,” Larkins said, as the crowd chanted, “We say gay!” and held signs that said “protect trans kids.” Dozens of students were also bussed to the state Capitol in Tallahassee to protest and talk to politicians.

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Whether it’s a policy banning LGBTQ+ books in Texas schools, laws banning trans kids from school sports, or bills that restrict the mere discussion of queer people in classrooms, it’s obvious this is not the end of the very serious fight for LGBTQ+ rights. Currently, there are 18 bills similar to Florida’s Don’t Say Gay bill being considered in nine other states. 

So how can we help? If you want to support Gen-Z for Change, click here. You can also sign the petition against Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill here. Consider reaching out to thank the only Republican Senators who voted no on the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, Senators Jeff Brandes and Jennifer Bradley. Call your lawmakers to voice your opposition to any similar legislation in your state. And lastly, contact Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office to tell him what you really think.

Posted by Brit Smith

Brit Smith is a Staff Writer & Associate Editor at GWK. A native of London, England, Brit started her American adventure nannying and waiting tables in Texas in 2006, and eventually graduated magna cum laude from the University of California, Berkeley in 2017. Brit has previously written and created podcasts for WBZ NewsRadio, iHeart Media, and Different Leaf.



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