Jack Petocz was suspended from Flagler Palm Coast High School after organizing a walk-out of more than 500 students to protest the "Don't Say Gay" bill on Thursday. The 17-year-old Florida student passed out pride flags and led chants of "Say gay!" through a black megaphone while school administrators told him and other students they needed to return to class. Less than one week later, Florida Republicans passed a bill intended to stifle the free speech of LGBTQ people on public school campuses and their allies.
Student protests have taken place across Florida in the last week in response to the controversial House Bill 1557 or The Parental Rights in Education bill, dubbed by critics as the "Don't Say Gay," which would restrict "classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity" in Florida classrooms. The bill was passed in the Florida House last month in a 69-47 vote and was approved 22-17 by the GOP-led Florida Senate on Tuesday. The legislation will be effective July 1 as Governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican, is expected to sign the bill. He has openly defended the bill, saying in a press conference that it's about giving students "no sexual instruction." The Biden administration, on the other hand, has called the bill anti-LGBTQ.
The legislation would restrict lessons on gender identity in kindergarten through 3rd grade. The bill would also provide parents with legal backing to sue teachers and school that educate students in these areas.
The "Don't Say Gay" has garnered a fierce backlash by students and LGBTQI+ advocates for the harm it will do to youth in restricting representation in classrooms. Erasing the LGBTQI+ community from educational settings has been regarded as exclusive and repressive, setting the precedent that students should suppress their gender identity.
"Instead of coming up with these vague bills, why are we not supporting the most inclusive, tolerant education and, and society that we can?" said Democratic state Senator Tina Polsky in a debate over the bill.
Petocz suspension is specifically based on the teen's distribution of 200 pride flags which he purchased on his own and brought to the rally. Students with flags and pride merchandise were reportedly confronted during the rally by school administrators who were attempting to confiscate the items.
"Following the protest, I was called into the principal's office, told I was disrespectful and openly advocating against staff," Petocz told The News - Journal. "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 suspension is currently "pending an investigation" and the teen has been advised not to do interviews based on potential legal action. He told news outlet WESH 2 that he won't be silenced and "is proud of what took place despite the personal cost."
Following the passing of the bill in the senate he tweeted, "The "Don't Say Gay" bill has passed the Senate. Gen-Z is angry, disappointed and tired of politicians policing our education and erasing our identities. Make no mistake, we will fight back and our voices will be heard in November. #RemoveRon"