Dalila Ali Rajah
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Thousands of Florida Students Walk Out to Protest ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill

Out Rep. Carlos Smith speaks to children during a walkout

Students across Florida have organized class walkouts on Thursday to protest the “don’t say gay” bill under consideration by the Florida legislature after an image spread on social media calling for students and schools to participate in the statewide action.

A student at Colonial High School in Orlando, Dariel Cruz Rodriguez, shared footage from a protest held at the school. In it, a female student takes to the microphone to denounce the legislation, which would limit discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation in Florida schools that isn’t deemed “age appropriate” by the state.

“Schools are a safe space away from home, especially for LGBTQ+ students who don’t receive that kind of support at home,” she said. “Gender identity is not taboo. It’s not something we should ignore or take away from our primary schools.”

Rodriguez, vice president of the student council at Colonial High School, told The Advocate, “We as students need to stand up for each other. As issues arise that can negatively impact our peers, we have to show love and solidarity to one another because that is how we can accomplish change. No matter our age, we are still a group of committed people who want to be heard.”

He said the walkout was organized in collaboration with the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance.

And that’s not the only place protests are occurring.

A senior at a high school in Flagler County was suspended after handing out Pride flags during the walkout, Flagler Live reports. Senior Jack Petocz, the student organizer of the walkout, had several meetings with the administration, including principal Greg Schwartz, about the event.

Local TV station WTSP broadcast aerial footage of students at Gibbs High School in St. Petersburg flooding en masse out of class.

Michael Womack of Equality Florida sent photographs of a protest at Freedom High School in Orlando. He said it was “sent to me by one of the teachers who saved me.”

Womack emphasized that the walkouts were student-led. “We did not organize them,” he wrote in another tweet.

Students from Rutherford High School in Plant City also poured out of class in large numbers, one waving a hand-written poster proclaiming “You can’t SILENCE LGBTQ youth!!!”

That particularly touched Equality Florida Chair Nadine Smith, who tweeted, “This is my alma mater. I was senior class president. An honor student. Captain of sports teams.  Head yearbook photographer. And I was deeply closeted. Totally isolated and depressed. The Don’t Say Gay bill wants that for students today. We say NO!”

Students in Sarasota lined the streets to chant, “No homophobes. No KKK. No fascist USA.”

In nearby Lakewood Ranch, walkouts drew media attention. “I feel that we have to take our time out of our day to talk about it,” junior Nicole Bundy told the Tampa Bay Times.

In Tallahassee, students in the afternoon started marching around the Florida capitol in protest of the bill, which already passed in the Florida House and will be considered by the Senate next week. Students ended up filing around the entrance to the House and Senate floor, waving rainbow flags and cheering, “We will not be victims.”

The walkouts are taking place as LGBTQ+ activists protest Walt Disney World for not taking a stance against the bill despite holding commercial Pride events like Gay Days annually.

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