The Florida student activist who helped organize a mass protest of the Florida GOP’s anti-LGBTQ Don’t Say Gay law just got suspended from school indefinitely, and that sparked a national Twitter trend #NotAfraidToSayGay.
Thousands of students across Florida walked out of school in protest of Republican efforts to ban LGBTQ topics in schools. As lawmakers debated the proposal deemed as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill and rammed it through the Florida House of Representatives, the chants of youth gathered at the state capitol in Tallahassee were audible inside the legislative chambers.
Yesterday’s student walkouts to protest Republican bigotry being passed in state House, though not yet its upper chamber, were catalyzed by social media posts from youth activist Jack Petocz, who helped organize the walkout not only for Flagler Palm Coast High School where he is a student, but also about twenty other schools across the state.
Unfortunately for Petocz, when you speak out against the powerful in the supposed “free state of Florida”, he learned a lesson in school that adult political activists like this author have long known.
You will be censored for speaking out, and you will be punished. Following the day’s protests, Petocz announced that he has been indefinitely suspended from school “pending an investigation”. Fortunately, older former student activists rallied around Petocz and a Twitter rally supporting him ensued.
Reply with #NotAfraidToSayGay to support the high school student who was suspended in Florida for organizing a protest about the don’t say gay bill.
— Scott Dworkin (@funder) March 4, 2022
Friends: Today, the student who organized a walkout in opposition to Desantis’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill was suspended for the protest.
Can we get 1,000 fast replies using the hashtag #NotAfraidToSayGay to make it the top trend in America?
— MeidasTouch.com (@MeidasTouch) March 4, 2022
— Annette Taddeo (She/Her/Ella) (@Annette_Taddeo) March 4, 2022
— Nikki Fried (@NikkiFried) March 4, 2022
What was the terrible, specific deed that landed Petocz in indefinite suspension?
Flagler Palm Coast High School Principal Greg Schwartz told him that he was not allowed to distribute over 200 pride flags to students, which Pecotz purchased himself. Schwarz even bizarrely questioned how the pride flags were relevant to expressing opposition to the homophobic bill.
Following his suspension, Pecotz released a statement against the Don’t Say Gay bill saying he is:
“Proud of who I am and proud of all of those protesting these regressive bills”.
He added that “we must let our politicians know that no matter how hard they try, they cannot suppress our identities or silence our voices.”
I organized the statewide #DSGWalkout today in response to attempts to silence and erase the LGBTQ+ community in Florida. I was indefinitely suspended from my school for organizing a peaceful rally. Read my full statement below. pic.twitter.com/R5tplMvC8D
— Jack Petocz (@Jack_Petocz) March 3, 2022
Students like Pecotz should be applauded and encouraged for taking a stand in our political process and being civically engaged.
We should encourage youth who seek to defend those who are vulnerable.
We should stand up in protest with Jack Petocz.
— Jack Petocz (@Jack_Petocz) March 4, 2022
Thomas Kennedy is an elected Democratic National Committee member representing Florida. He tweets from @tomaskenn.
is a reported opinion columnist and roving correspondent. He's an elected member of the Democratic National Committee from Florida and a Director of Sunshine Agenda Inc. a government transparency nonprofit organization.