High school students protested in the 4th floor rotunda and on the 5th floor in the state Capitol, March 3, 2022. Credit: Danielle J. Brown.
Several dozen high school students on Thursday began demonstrating on the 4th floor of the Florida Capitol building in Tallahassee, chanting, “We Say Gay.”
That’s a reference to legislation that would restrict certain conversations about gender identity and sexual orientation in public school classrooms. The bill has become one of the most controversial bills of the 2022 legislative session.
The high school crowd also chanted the phrase ‘F— DeSantis.’
Some lobbyists in the Capitol urged the high schoolers to use a different phrase other than an expletive toward the governor of Florida. The kids then stopped using the expletive.
So far, no one has been harassed or removed.
Thursday, demonstrations occurred elsewhere across the state over HB 1557.
“Today, those who will be most impacted by this dangerous piece of legislation — Florida students — mobilized by the thousands to walk out of class and demand a stop to the Don’t Say Gay bill,” according to a Thursday press release from Equality Florida, a statewide LGBTQ advocacy group. “Their courage and resilience is to be applauded as they stand tall in the face of unprecedented bigotry in the legislature that would muzzle their teachers and erase them from classroom discussion.”
The bill is designed to limit how the LGBTQ community is discussed in public school classrooms by restricting conversations, considered “instruction,” particularly related to the youngest elementary children. But those limitations could be felt in higher grades.
Described as the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill by LGBTQ advocates, the legislation, which is nebulous, says that classroom “instruction” on “sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students.”
The bill allows parents to sue school districts if they are not privy to situations related to their children or if their students are encouraged to have discussions on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Kelsi Young, who is 17, has concerns that language in the bill will put students in harm’s way, should it be approved and signed into law.
“A teacher having to report if a student comes out to them could destroy the trust between the student and the teacher and really put the student in danger,” she said.
Young continued: “It’s very vague too. ‘Age appropriate?’ They never specified what that is. I personally think people of all grades need to learn about same sex marriage, just like any other marriage.”
Johanna Aldiva, 16, said that she learned of the protest over Instagram, and decided to attend the protest.
“I came up with a group of students. We met at the crosswalk,” she told the Phoenix. She walked from the nearby Leon High School down the road from the Capitol building.
“It (HB 1557) completely enrages me. Completely,” Aldiva said. “I knew I was gay when I was 11 and I was immediately comforted by my parents. And there are families, students, kids that don’t have supportive families.”
Aldiva said that while some lawmakers showed their support for the students, she think others weren’t moved.
“They’re like ‘I don’t need to listen to these teenagers,’” Aldiva said. “In a way… we know more of the social aspect. Like, we personally have experience on what it feels like to be discriminated against. Rather than this bunch of people who don’t understand what it’s like and they’re just trying to force upon their own beliefs on the entire state.”
Alex Standwood, an 18-year-old, helped organize a group of his high school friends to attend the protest.
“I heard about it from classmates, so I brought me and friend down, we made signs and we just decided to scream and make our point of view known,” he said.
“We’re not only telling them ‘it affects us,’ but we’re screaming it in their faces so they can no longer ignore us,” Standwood said. “Us kids, you can throw a punch at us but we’re going to throw it right back.”
“The thing is…we’re going to be the next voters,” Standwood said. “We’re kicking their asses out. We’re voting in people that actually care about human rights.”
Several Democratic lawmakers encouraged the students and spoke with them during the protest.
Later, some Democratic House members sported a strip of black tape over their mouths with the word ‘GAY’ written on it — a demonstration of their opposition to the bill.
Meanwhile on Thursday, DeSantis talked about freedom of speech at a press conference. He was talking about protecting health care practitioners’ freedom of speech, but bills on that issue have not gotten much traction in the Legislature.
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