TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A Florida student claims he was suspended from his high school for passing out pride flags to students during a walkout protesting House Bill 1557, according to The Daytona Beach News-Journal.
The legislation, known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill states that schools “may not encourage discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in primary grade levels or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students,” giving parents the power to decide what their children should learn about sexuality.
The bill has drawn backlash from LGBTQ advocates who say it will hurt LGBT youth, who already experience higher rates of bullying, by ignoring the issues they face.
On Thursday, thousands of students across Florida walked out of classrooms to protest the legislation.
Jack Petocz, a junior at Flagler Palm Coast High School in Palm Coast, helped organize walkouts for a number of schools.
He told the News-Journal he was suspended for handing out pride flags to students at his school ahead of the protest.
Petocz said his principal pulled him aside beforehand, and said he wasn’t allowed to give out the flags.
“He went further to question the intentions of our protest, asking if pride flags were relevant to opposition to the bill,” Petocz told the newspaper. “I decided to move forward and handed the flags to other student organizers for distribution at the event.”
After the protest, Petocz said he was called into the principal’s office and told he was being “disrespectful and openly advocating against staff.”
“They suspended me from campus until further notice,” Petocz said. “I informed the principal I wasn’t going to speak with him and was going to talk to a lawyer.”
“I’ve never been disciplined before and will continue to advocate on behalf of marginalized communities,” the teen added.
A petition circulating online calls on the school to rescind the suspension. It has a little under 3,200 signatures as of 9 a.m. Friday.
The News-Journal reached out to the school district for comment, but their spokesman said he couldn’t release specifics about an individual student’s participation in the event.