More than 600 students walked out of 7th period classes at prestigious MAST Academy Thursday in protest of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, a measure critics say is designed to limit instruction or discussion of gender issues and sexuality.
Junior Ambrose Carbunar called the legislation “a huge backslide in the advancement of LGBTQ rights. It is important to take a stand against it. ”
The protest was sponsored by MAST’s student goverment leaders and the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance. Information passed by social media and word of mouth, and students left their classrooms and walked to the soccer field where administrators had set up an area for them to congregate. Faculty and administrators were close by as students walked out. Television news choppers captured images of the protest at the Virginia Key campus from above.
The text of the bill states: “Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties 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 in accordance with state standards.” Because the bill would allow parents to sue districts over alleged violations, educators worry it would create a “chilling effect.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis is expected to sign the legislation. He said Monday: “We’re going to make sure that parents are able to send their kid to kindergarten without some of this stuff injected into their school curriculum.”
Teachers at the science-oriented magnet school asked students to sit down, but a few got up to speak about how harmful they thought the law would be.
About 10 students got up to share personal stories of how they had “come out” to their families and felt less than acceptance. Others talked about homophobic resonses they’ve recieved at previous schools.
“I felt safer after coming out. It’s important to share our experiences. This bill can and will deny that opportunity for young children, and those negative consequences for children that young will leave lifelong impacts,” Carbunar said.
Youth suicide risk for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender populations has remained elevated for decades. A survey conducted by the Trevor Project found that 42% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicice in the past year.
MAST’s administration declined to comment on whether or how they would carry out the legislation, formally known as the “Parental Rights in Education” bill.
Florida’s bill came as part of a wave of “culture war” legislation introduced in other states, but its impact is yet to be seen.
President Joe Biden earlier called it “hateful,” and U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said this week “all schools receiving federal funding must follow federal civil rights law, including Title IX’s protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”