A Queer High-School Senior Tells Us About Life in Florida After "Don't Say Gay" Expansion
Image Source: Courtesy of Will Larkins
Almost exactly a year ago, Will Larkins, a student at Winter Park High School near Orlando, FL, went viral. They shared a video on Twitter in which they educated classmates about the 1969 Stonewall uprisings — just days after Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the Parental Rights in Education bill into law, prohibiting teachers from discussing sexual orientation and gender identity through the third grade. On April 19, at DeSantis’s request, the state’s Board of Education expanded the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law to all students through 12th grade. The Florida House, meanwhile, has been passing bills that ban gender-affirming care, limit bathroom access for trans individuals, and ban children from drag shows.
Larkins is just two weeks away from graduating high school in Florida and is continuing to advocate for fellow LGBTQ+ students, attending school-board meetings and organizing protests. Days after the news broke about the expanded law, Larkins told POPSUGAR about how they’re fighting for fellow queer students, what their classmates think of the Board of Education’s latest move, and more. Read what they had to say, all in their own words, below.
I knew that this expansion was going to happen, because I’d known about the Board of Education vote since February. So I’ve been preparing myself. I know the Board of Education is appointed by our governor, who doesn’t like us. But it’s still a complete slap in the face to all of us who have been advocating so hard against it, to the students who are actually affected by these laws, who have stakes in the school system.
I have a younger sister who’s going into her sophomore year, and I just know how much this is going to take away from a potentially high-quality education for her. Because that’s not what they’re going to have anymore. They’re going to learn so much less than I learned, because teachers will be self-censoring, they won’t be able to have open discussions. I’m really afraid for the students in Florida in the next couple of years.
Honestly, it makes me sad that I can’t stay a little bit longer in high school to help let students in my school know that they’re not alone and know that even if the teachers aren’t able to freely express their support, there are students who are willing. I show up to school every day wearing a rainbow flag and a trans flag around my neck. So that’s just kind of the energy that’s unfortunate I can’t bring into next year.
I know that the majority of students see censorship of education as an inherently negative thing, because it is. You tell students that sexual orientation and gender identity can’t even be mentioned until after 12th grade? It’s absurd. Last year, they were telling us that we were crazy when we said that this is just the first step to something larger, when we were saying that this was going to harm so many people. They said, “Oh, it just goes to third grade, you don’t want to talk about sexual orientation or gender identity with third-graders, right?” But it was never about that. And now it’s to 12th grade, and it’s everyone. A lot of students are really scared, because we were raised in a century where we learned about fascism, where we learned about book banning in Nazi Germany, where we learned that censorship of information and education is the first step to a bigger problem. I think our generation sees right through it.
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