Students in the Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) at East Lake hosted a protest this past Thursday against the Parental Rights in Education bill, more commonly known as the Don’t Say Gay bill, which is currently on the Florida Senate floor.
The bill seeks to reinforce the “fundamental right” for parents to know and control what happens in their children’s classrooms. If passed, it would require schools to notify parents of any changes in student services and allow parents to access all school records of their children, excluding cases where doing so would lead to abuse or neglect by the parent.
More pertinently, it would also prohibit all discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in grades K-3, restrict discussion of said topics that is “not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards” in all Florida schools, and allow parents to withhold consent for healthcare services. If schools do not comply, the bill permits parents to take legal action against them and the State Board of Education, with all costs paid by the school district.
If passed, the bill would take effect on July 1, 2022, and be fully in place by June 30, 2023. The bill has already passed the Florida House of Representatives by a 69-47 vote, and is supported by Governor Ron DeSantis.
East Lake’s silent, sit-down protest, which was in conjunction with several others across the state, ran from 12:00 to dismissal at the campus flagpole. “We are trying as much as we can to stop this bill from passing, because it is not just about kindergarten to fifth grade… sexual identity and gender identity talk could be banned all the way up to 12th grade if they have to,” said senior and protest leader Sage Thompson. “We are trying to keep queer history alive and trying to keep [such] talk inside the schools, where people can be accepted if they can’t be accepted at home.”
The protest was initially attended by well over 100 people, but a number of attendees were merely skipping class. Some of these attendees went against the protest’s cause by standing, chatting, cheering, and even fighting protesters, including Sage, who was punched in the back and was sent to the nurse’s office. Many water bottles were thrown at protestors as well. The school police were called, and they attempted to dismiss the entire protest at 12:25 despite principal approval. The aggravators largely left by 12:30, while the core protestors remained, still numbering in the several dozens.
Administration was in favor of the peaceful protestors, with water being provided throughout the remainder of the protest and school police standing by. Protestors were also permitted to leave the school and access their lockers 5 minutes early, so as to mitigate any further violence.
“I am so proud of the students that came out today,” said guidance counselor and GSA sponsor Mrs. Leah Liguori. “[The protest] escalated in a negative way that we were not expecting, and I think it’s further proof of why this needs to be taught in school. If some of these people who came out to our protest were educated, if they had been taught this from a very early age, they would have been more accepting.”