Activism

Florida student suspended for handing out Pride flags at protest against cruel ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill

Lily Wakefield March 4, 2022
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protest against Florida's Don't Say Gay bill

Around 500 students at a protest against Florida's "Don't Say Gay" bill. (Twitter/ Jack_Petocz)

The student organiser of school walk-outs across Florida in protest against the state’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill has been suspended for distributing Pride flags.

Despite condemnation across the US and internationally, Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, also known as House Bill 1557, has been picking up steam and is on its way to a state Senate vote. 

If passed, it would ban “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”.

The terms “age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate” are not defined, but the bill aims to give parents the right to sue their child’s school if they believe it has been violated.

Jack Petocz, a junior at Flagler Palm Coast High School (FPCHS) in Palm Coast, Florida, and the political strategy associate of lobby group Gen Z For Change, organised a walk-out on Thursday (3 March) for students not only in his own school, but in schools across Florida.

According to The Daytona Beach News-Journal, more than 20 schools participated in the walk-out. On the day, around 500 FPCHS students gathered in the school’s stadium for a protest, chanting: “Say gay! Say gay! Say gay!”

Now, giving students a glimpse of what life would be like if the “Don’t Say Gay” bill becomes law, Petocz has been suspended until further notice “pending an investigation”.

He told the publication: “Following the protest, I was called into the principal’s office, told I was disrespectful and openly advocating against staff.

“They suspended me from campus until further notice. I informed the principal I wasn’t going to speak with him and was going to talk to a lawyer.”

Petocz had purchased 200 Pride flags and brought them to the school to distribute at the protest, which had been given a 15-minute time slot by the school.

But said that he was told by principal Greg Schwartz that he “wouldn’t be allowed to” hand out the flags.

“He went further to question the intentions of our protest, asking if Pride flags were relevant to opposition to the bill,” he said.

“I decided to move forward and handed the flags to other student organisers for distribution at the event.”

By the time the protest began, Petocz said school administrators were trying to confiscate the flags from students.

He said: “I pushed back on this, as I wasn’t going to allow staff to minimise our reach and message. Using my megaphone, I told students to hold onto their flags and not to allow them to silence us.”

According to Petocz, staff attempted to stop the protest after seven minutes.

Florida students refuse to ‘stand idly by’ in face of ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill

In a statement posted to Twitter, Jack Petocz said: “As the leader of the rally and a proud member of the LGBTQ+ community, I encouraged my fellow students not to give in to the school’s unconstitutional seizure of our Pride flags, but instead continue demonstrating our Pride in a peaceful manner.

“After the rally, I was informed that I had been indefinitely suspended. School administrators allowed me to collect my things and escorted me off campus.”

Petocz continued: “I am proud of who I am and I am proud of all of this 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.”

A petition to have Petocz’s suspension lifted has been signed by more than 3,500 people at the time of writing, and Gen Z For Change is accepting donations “so we can keep getting into good trouble”.

More: don't say gay bill, Florida, pride flag

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