Florida Student Who Organized 'Don't Say Gay' Protest Is Suspended

A Florida student has been suspended from his high school after organizing a mass protest against the "don't say gay" bill.

Jack Petocz, who attends Flagler Palm Coast High School, promoted a statewide walkout against the Parental Rights in Education legislation, which would ban the discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in certain grades at Florida schools.

After leading the walkout at his own school on Thursday, Petocz distributed around 200 pride flags for a rally. The teenager told The Daytona Beach News-Journal that he had been advised not to hand out the flags by the school's principal, Greg Schwartz.

In a statement posted on social media, Petocz said he had wanted to protest the "homophobic and discriminatory legislation" at the rally, which had been approved by the school.

"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," Petocz wrote.

"Students waved pride flags and stood together, showing the politicians peddling bigotry that we will not be silenced."

Petocz added that even though the school administration had permitted the demonstration, their "demeanor and tone drastically shifted" as the rally progressed.

He said administrators began confiscating students' pride flags and attempted to remove them from campus. "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," he wrote.

After the rally, he was told that he had been indefinitely suspended. He was escorted off-campus after gathering his belongings.

"I am proud of who I am and I am proud of all of those protesting these regressive bills," Petocz said. "We must let our politicians know that no matter how hard they try, they cannot suppress our identities or silence our voices."

Jason Wheeler, a spokesman for the Flagler County school district, told the News-Journal that the district had allowed the students to walk out for 15 minutes, but the rally had gone on for longer than agreed.

However, some students reportedly complained that staff attempted to end the rally after only seven minutes

The students were also told not to wave flags in order to "avoid undue safety concerns and campus disruptions."

Wheeler added: "School administration spoke with the event organizer numerous times about the expectations and parameters so that students could take part in a peaceful, safe protest."

A change.org petition calling for Petocz's suspension to be lifted has gained more than 2,800 signatures.

Newsweek has contacted Principal Schwartz for comment.

The "don't say gay" bill—which is designed to give parents more say in their children's education, according to its sponsors—has been approved by the Florida House of Representatives and is supported by Governor Ron DeSantis.

The legislation has come in for criticism inside and outside the state, however, with President Joe Biden among those voicing opposition to it.

"I want every member of the LGBTQI+ community—especially the kids who will be impacted by this hateful bill—to know that you are loved and accepted just as you are," Biden tweeted. "I have your back, and my Administration will continue to fight for the protections and safety you deserve."

dont say gay protest
A gay pride flag is waved by fans during the MLS match between Atlanta United and Orlando City at Orlando City Stadium on July 21, 2017. Students in Florida are using pride flags at protests against the state's "don't say gay" bill. Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images