Honks, cheers and rainbow-decorated signs accompanied 30 Gainesville High School students as they walked down Northwest 13th Street Thursday afternoon. Hundreds more stood in protest on the baseball fields.
GHS students joined Buchholz and Eastside High and students across the state in a walkout to protest the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, which passed its final state senate committee Monday and awaits a final vote and signature from the governor. Officially known as the Parental Rights in Education Bill, the legislation would bar state educators from discussing LGBTQ+ topics that are not “age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students.”
Nicholas Lloyd, 18, Nya Vidal, 18, and Ella Monck, 17, organized the walkout at GHS.
Jack Petocz, Vidal’s friend and Flagler Palm Coast High School student, inspired this walkout.
“Student voice has so much more power than people think,” Vidal said, gripping her rainbow pride flag in front of her fellow students. “Doing a statewide thing was showing to the legislators that it really does matter to us.”
Students on the baseball fields outnumbered the group outside GHS.
Administration encouraged students who wanted to participate in the walkout to gather on the baseball fields. The organizers felt this failed the purpose of a walkout. GHS threatened students who left without being checked out with suspension or detention for insubordination, Lloyd said.
GHS did not respond to The Alligator’s request for comment in time for publication.
The district made arrangements so middle or high school students who wanted to walk out had a safe, supervised spot on campus to go, Alachua County Public Schools spokesperson Jackie Johnson wrote in an email.
However, the students walking the streets of Gainesville thought gathering somewhere on campus defeated the purpose of the protest because they were not actually walking out of the school.
“There is no real change without attention,” Monck said as a passing truck blared its horn. “We’re out here to gain attention.”
Lloyd held a sign that mimicked Google’s dictionary with the word insubordinate. It read: “in-sub-or-din-ate, adjective. Defiant of authority, disobedient to orders. ‘Insubordinate students showed the FL Congress that they messed with the wrong generation.’”
Despite not feeling supported by their administration, the organizers proceeded with their plans.
“We wanted to step up and do an act of civil disobedience that would get more media attention and really show legislators that we oppose this,” Lloyd said.
He feels this legislation could be detrimental for the Gay Straight Alliance club on campus and would eliminate support networks LGBTQ+ students have.
‘Don’t Say Gay’ would prevent discussions on sexual orientation or gender identity in primary schools. Although the bill specifies grades K-3, broad language such as ‘age-appropriate’ makes it unclear what ages are considered appropriate.
The bill doesn’t ban lessons of LGBTQ+ history and oppression, but the language of ‘appropriate’ could leave districts open to lawsuits from parents who deem an LGBTQ+ discussion inappropriate.
The group walked down in a large square around GHS, garnering supportive honks from oncoming traffic. They passed the baseball fields of their high school and chanted “Hey hey, ho ho, homophobia’s got to go!” Students on the fields ran to the fences, holding up their signs.
Celeste Flory, 16, marched down the street with her peers. She left campus before noon to avoid administration from preventing her exit.
“I think the only reason some people stayed was because of that suspension,” Flory said. “I think that if it’s something that I believe in, I should be able to do it.”
Students at Eastside and Buchholz also participated.
They raised their hands in the air and signed the American Sign Language sign for ‘I love you.’ One sign read “Love is a terrible thing to hate.”
With each car honk of support, smiles spread across the students’ faces. “Love is love,” they shouted in unison.
Contact Emma Behrmann at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @emmabehrmann.
Emma is a second-year journalism major with a minor in Spanish. She is the education reporter this semester. She's from Palm Harbor, Florida, but her second home is the gym. When she’s not writing she’s either deadlifting, squatting or benching.