Student organizer of statewide protest against Florida ‘don’t say gay’ bill suspended for handing out pride flags: report
Jack Petocz, the student who organized a statewide school walkout and protest against Florida Republicans’ “Don’t Say Gay” bill has been suspended indefinitely, reportedly for handing out pride flags, which he says school administrators confiscated.
Thousands of students in at least 20 schools across the state participated in the protest Thursday, including about 400 to 500 at Petocz’s Flagler Palm Coast High School, where he is a junior.
Petocz had worked with school administrators who initially supported his plan to hold a short walk out but Petocz says hours before the protest was to begin Flagler Palm Coast High School Principal Greg Schwarz called it off, local news outlet FlaglerLive reports. Petocz believes one school board member he has clashed with in the past, who was seen walking around the school Wednesday with Principal Schwarz may have ordered the protest to be canceled.
“Petocz was suspended after the protest because he distributed pride flags after being told not to,” FlaglerLive reports.
Petocz is taking on the administration’s actions.
“Today, I led a planned and preapproved rally at Flagler Palm Coast High School in my home state of Florida in opposition to the homophobic and discriminatory legislation being pushed by Governor DeSantis and the Florida State Legislature,” Petocz says in a statement. “Over 500 students from my school joined thousands of other concerned youth statewide to demonstrate their constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and freedom to protest. Students waved pride flags and stood together, showing the politicians peddling bigotry that we will not be silenced. We made our plea to those actively targeting us, the same people who pledged to protect and empower all Floridians.”
“Although the school administration had initially approved the rally and expressed support for students’ civil liberties, their demeanor and tone drastically shifted as the rally progressed. Administrators began confiscating pride flags and attempted to remove them from campus. As the leader of the rally and a proud member of the LGBTQ+ community, I encouraged my fellow students not to give in to the school’s unconstitutional seizure of our pride flags, but instead to continue demonstrating our pride in a peaceful manner,” Petocz says.
“After the rally, I was informed that I had been indefinitely suspended. School administrators allowed me to collect my things and then escorted me off-campus.”
"I am proud of who I am and I am proud of all of those protesting these regressive bills. We must let our politicians know that no matter how hard they try, they cannot suppress our identities or silence our voices. Gen-Z will not stand idly by as our rights are stripped from us. It is now up to you to decide which side of history you will be on, the side that empowers us or the side that seeks to erase us.”
Florida’s first LGBTQ Latino state lawmaker weighed in.
#DontSayGay has not even passed the Florida Senate and students are being suspended indefinitely for handing out pride flags in protest of the bill. \n\n#DeSantis has truly turned Florida into an anti-gay hellhole. https://www.news-journalonline.com/story/news/education/2022/03/03/dont-say-gay-flagler-palm-coast-high-school-walkout-organizer-jack-petocz-suspended-indefinitely/9344494002/\u00a0\u2026— Rep. Carlos G Smith (@Rep. Carlos G Smith) 1646344117
In a disturbing revelation school board attorney Kristry Gavin reportedly told FlaglerLive, “I’m sorry he believes … he should be permitted to have the gay pride flag, the rainbow flag or whatever, but when it carries a connotation of political a statement, it’s no longer [permissible.]”
There is a Change.org petition to have Petocz’s suspension rescinded. It has received over 1700 signatures in just hours.