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“Don’t Say Gay” student leader says school stopping run for student leadership

Jack Petocz organized a state-wide student protest against Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill & annoyed administrators suspended him



Jack Petocz (Center) at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government earlier this Spring (Courtesy of Jack Petocz/Facebook)

Jack Petocz, a Flagler Palm Coast High School junior, organized a state-wide student protest against Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill this past March, and at his school, annoyed administrators suspended him.

On Tuesday, Petocz said that the school’s disciplinary action is now preventing him from running for senior class president.

“When I returned, the administration assured me that no further disciplinary action would be taken. A month later, they broke this verbal agreement and placed a level 3 referral on my record. Now, due to this high level of discipline, I am being prevented from running for senior class president. I am continuing to be punished for standing up for my identity and against widespread hatred.”

The suspension over the student walkout became a viral moment that propelled the 17-year-old into the national spotlight and into the national discourse over a spate of harsh laws targeting the LGBTQ+ community.

17-year-old Cameron Driggers, a student LGBTQ+ activist-organizer of the group Recall Flagler County School Board and co-leader of the walk-out, his friend’s suspension inspired him to create a petition on to pressure Flagler Palm Coast High School Principal Greg Schwartz to rescind his seemingly arbitrary decision to suspend Petocz.

One protest at the school over its suspension of Petocz brought together a grizzled and proud Out gay U.S. Marine Corps veteran accompanied by his fellow vets, who alongside with Driggers and the other young adolescent activists protested in a rally in front of the school at the same time Petocz and his father were inside meeting with Flagler Palm Coast High School Principal Greg Schwartz, hoping to get him to rescind his seemingly arbitrary decision to suspend Petocz.

Jack Petocz (with bullhorn) leads Flagler Palm Coast High School protest against DSG bill (Photo by Alysa Vidal)

Later on during the day Driggers posted to the petition the news that Principal Schwartz had backed off.

“Recall FCSB is pleased to announce that Jack’s suspension has ended and he is back on-campus. We are grateful for the thousands of people around the globe that shared, tweeted and protested in support of Jack, the organizer behind the state-wide Don’t Say Gay Walkout. Over 7500 signatures were collected on a condemnation of Principal Greg Schwartz’ conduct last Thursday. With Jack back on campus, Recall FCSB will continue to empower student leaders in and out of school,” Driggers wrote.

Principal Schwartz also committed to removing the ‘disciplinary action’ from Petocz’s school record.

On Tuesday, Petocz announced that Principal Schwartz and other school officials are barring him from running for an elected student office.

In response to the news, PEN America issued the following statement from Jonathan Friedman, director of the Free Expression and Education program:

“By going back on their word and imposing a red mark on Jack Petocz’s disciplinary record, the Flagler Palm Coast High School administration appears bent on retaliating against him for organizing the walkout against the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill. This is unconscionable. Jack exercised his right to protest as a citizen, and he led the walkout with the school’s approval. No student ought to be intimidated or punished by school authorities for their political speech, and the school already told him he would not be disciplined. This is especially troubling alongside news of other efforts to censor or intimidate students raising their voices for LGBTQ+ rights across Florida. The leaders of Flagler Palm Coast High School should remove this infraction from his record so that he can run for class president just like any other student.”

On Twitter, Petocz urged people to contact his school to get officials to reverse this latest decision.



Fla. DMV: ‘Misrepresenting’ gender on drivers licenses is fraud

HRC, Equality Florida condemn decision to rescind previous policy



(Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

BY ERIN REED — According to a letter submitted by an anonymous source on Monday, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles has rescinded the policy that allowed transgender individuals to update the gender marker on their driver’s licenses. 

The letter, written by Deputy Executive Director Dave Kerner, states that gender will be interpreted as “biological sex.” Furthermore, the letter declares that any person “misrepresenting” their gender marker would be guilty of fraud, facing civil and criminal penalties and revocation of licensure.

The letter, apparently sent out on Jan. 26, asserts that “gender” is synonymous with “biological sex,” and argues that gender identity is “neither immutable nor objectively verifiable.” It suggests that permitting trans individuals to update their gender markers on their driver’s licenses would “prevent the state from enforcing its laws.” These laws include bans on trans individuals using the bathroom of their gender identity and laws targeting adult medical care.

You can view the full copy of the letter here:

The move marks a significant escalation and seems to have been initiated unilaterally by the department. This action is in line with other unilateral measures taken by the executive branch in Florida and other states. These include the Florida Board of Medicine’s ban on trans care, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s directive through the Board of Education to ban trans bathroom usage in schools, and Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey’s efforts to target adult trans care via the rule-making process. However, none of these examples previously involved driver’s licenses. If upheld, Florida would become the first state to prohibit driver’s license changes under criminal penalty for trans individuals.

The ramifications of this rule could be far-reaching. All trans individuals in the state with Florida driver’s licenses not aligning with their “biological sex” might immediately be in possession of a fraudulent license. The state could seek to suspend or revoke the licenses of trans individuals under this policy. Moreover, during traffic stops involving trans individuals, they could face legal challenges with police officers if the officers believe the driver’s license “misrepresents” their “biological sex.”

State Rep. Anna Eskamani appeared to confirm that computer systems were no longer accepting gender changes at FLHSMV offices:

This development coincides with the consideration of two bills in Florida that aim to prohibit driver’s license changes through the legislative process: House Bills 1233 and 1639. These bills could require all Floridians to sign “biological sex affidavits” when renewing or updating their driver’s licenses. The policy could be a strategy to deter trans Floridians, aware of the bills, from quickly updating the gender marker on their driver’s licenses before their passage. Notably, Florida driver’s licenses typically have long expiration periods, often lasting eight years post-issuance.

Under this policy, trans individuals in Florida could face considerable challenges in daily life. Many have already left the state, and of those remaining, 80 percent reportedly wish to leave. This policy could instantly criminalize trans individuals who drive in the state with updated gender markers. It would compel trans people to disclose their identity in any situation requiring a driver’s license. Additionally, it would provide Florida a means to enforce its bathroom laws, which criminalize trans individuals for using bathrooms that align with their gender identity in many public spaces.

Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida, issued the following statement:

“The DeSantis administration’s obsession with scapegoating transgender Floridians has escalated into an outrageous attack that further erodes freedom and liberty in our state. This cruel policy threatens transgender Floridians with civil and criminal penalties and blocks them from obtaining the critical government-issued identification necessary to continue their daily lives. Transgender people have always existed in every culture on every continent and always will. In Florida, tens of thousands of people have legally updated their gender marker on their driver’s license or ID. They carefully followed the rules to ensure their identification accurately reflects who they are, and they trusted this process. Now, an abrupt policy reversal has thrown their lives into chaos. The cruelty of this kind of government overreach and intrusion should alarm every Floridian. These reckless and hateful policies are intended to make the transgender community feel unsafe and unwelcome in Florida and to bully them out of public life entirely. 

We know this is a devastating development, and we are working with our coalition partners, our grassroots volunteers, and our legal groups to figure out what options are available to fight back.” 

The Human Rights Campaign reacted to this latest attack on the rights of trans Floridians in an emailed statement by HRC President Kelley Robinson:

“For years, transgender people have warned of radical anti-LGBTQ+ forces’ true aim: to abuse governmental power to take away our freedoms and drive trans people out of public society,” said Robinson. “From AG Paxton hunting for private medical information of transgender children, to Florida’s assault on identification documents, to Midwest lawmakers saying the quiet part out loud, these right wing extremists are no longer hiding the ball. They want to humiliate, harass, and use policy to eliminate transgender people from public life. But you cannot legislate away the community. Transgender people are powerful. They are our friends, neighbors, and family members. And we will stand arm-in-arm with them to fight back against this sinister agenda.”

Florida currently occupies the most dangerous level on the Transgender Legislative Risk Assessment Map, “Do Not Travel.” The state’s oppressive laws have drawn similar travel advisories from HRC and Equality Florida. Should this policy be enforced, the state’s trans population will find it even harder to move freely and could come into conflict with law enforcement and criminal penalties just for having documents that match their gender identity. The policy appears to be the latest attempt at putting trans “eradication,” championed at CPAC, into action within the borders of Florida.


Erin Reed is a transgender woman (she/her pronouns) and researcher who tracks anti-LGBTQ+ legislation around the world and helps people become better advocates for their queer family, friends, colleagues and community. Reed also is a social media consultant and public speaker.

Follow her on Twitter (Link)

Website here:


The preceding article was first published at Erin In The Morning and is republished with permission.

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Fla. bans all DEI programs at state colleges and universities

‘This is a brazenly political attack on Florida’s colleges’



Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz, Jr. (WFLA YouTube screenshot)

On Wednesday the Florida State Board of Education implemented strict regulations to limit the use of public funds for diversity, equity and inclusion programs, activities and policies in the Florida College System.

The rule adopted by the board defined, for the first time, DEI and affirmatively prohibits FCS institutions from using state or federal funds to administer programs that categorize individuals based on race or sex for the purpose of differential or preferential treatment. 

In a statement the board noted that its decision “will ensure that taxpayer funds can no longer be used to promote DEI on Florida’s 28 state college campuses.”

“The State Board of Education also replaced the course ‘Principles of Sociology’ with a comprehensive general education core course in American history. The aim is to provide students with an accurate and factual account of the nation’s past, rather than exposing them to radical woke ideologies, which had become commonplace in the now replaced course,” the statement continued.

“Higher education must return to its essential foundations of academic integrity and the pursuit of knowledge instead of being corrupted by destructive ideologies,” said Florida Commissioner of Education Manny Diaz, Jr. “These actions today ensure that we will not spend taxpayers’ money supporting DEI and radical indoctrination that promotes division in our society.”

Joe Saunders, senior political director for Equality Florida, responded. 

“There’s no surprise today that the State Board of Education, a board that has been a rubber stamp for Gov. Ron DeSantis’s agenda of censorship and surveillance, moved forward with another sweepingly broad rule that abolishes diversity and inclusion programs in the Florida College System,” Saunders said.

“The board’s rules go well beyond what’s required by Gov. DeSantis’s already extreme SB 266, handcuffing state colleges from using any state-funded resources on diversity programs that help recruit talented faculty, support students with unique needs, and help Florida’s colleges compete for national research and funding. This is a brazenly political attack on Florida’s colleges, and all minorities in Florida, and is one more way state agencies have been weaponized to support Gov. DeSantis’s failing political ambitions. Shame on the State Board of Education for passing rules that weaken and threaten Florida’s colleges in service to one more manufactured culture war,” Saunders added.

The Human Rights Campaign reacted to the news, noting:

“The State Board of Education’s rule is the latest in right wing attacks on programs that make college campuses inclusive, welcoming, and ensure all students and faculty have the chance to thrive. In his quest for power, Gov. DeSantis has weaponized state agencies, wielding them against the people they are there to serve, and used education as his political punching bag. This is a shameful assault on Florida’s college students and staff of all backgrounds,” National Press Secretary Brandon Wolf said in an emailed statement.

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LGBTQ lawmakers, advocates vow to resist repressive legislation in Fla.

Hundreds descended upon Tallahassee on Tuesday



Supporters for LGBTQ Rights gather at the Florida Capitol building in Tallahassee, Fla., on Jan. 16, 2024. (Photo courtesy of Equality Florida)

BY MICHAEL MOLINE | Several hundred LGBTQ rights advocates gathered in the Florida Capitol Tuesday to denounce fresh attacks on their rights and urge passage of legislation that would repeal existing restrictions on their rights.

Legislative Democrats joined the crowd on Tuesday, including gay Sen. Shevrin Jones, of Miami-Dade County, and House member Michele Rayner, representing parts of Pinellas and Hillsborough, along with representatives of Equality Florida, which organized the affair. The crowd was good-naturedly rowdy despite the threat they saw to their wellbeing.

Angelique Godwin of Equality Florida addresses a news conference at the Florida Capitol on Jan. 16, 2024. (Photo by Michael Moline)

“I will not be scared out of the state. You will not make laws to remove me or my dreams. I was raised on an America that believed that freedom will ring,” said Angelique Godwin, coordinator for trans-related events at Equality Florida.

“We are not pawns in a political game; we are people with the right to dignity, equality, and a life free from constant slander and discrimination,” Godwin added later in a written statement.

The speakers referred to House Bill 599 and Senate Bill 1382, which would bar state and local governments and contractors or nonprofits drawing state money from recognizing employees’ preferred gender pronouns if they differ from their biological sex.

Additionally, employers could act against employees or contractors based on the “deeply held religious or biology-based beliefs, including a belief in traditional or Biblical views of sexuality and marriage, or the employee’s or contractor’s disagreement with gender ideology.”

Equality Florida Senior Political Director Joe Saunders, a former state House member, called it the “Don’t Say Gay or Trans at Work” bill.

‘Trans erasure’

House Bill 1233 and Senate Bill 1639 would require the state to treat people according to their biological sex instead of their gender identity, including on their drivers’ licenses. Any health insurer that pays for gender reassignment treatments would have to cover “detransitioning” treatments, intended to reverse the process. Additionally, insurers would have to offer policies lacking transition care and to cover treatment of gender dysphoria as a mental rather than physical health problem.

“[D]istinctions between the sexes with respect to athletics, prisons or other detention facilities, domestic violence shelters, rape crisis centers, locker rooms, restrooms and other areas where biology, safety or privacy are implicated which result in separate accommodations are substantially related to the important state interest of protecting the health, safety and privacy of individuals in such circumstances,” the measure says.

Also, the state and its subdivisions would have to count transgender people for statistical purposes according to their biological sex.

Saunders referred to that one as the “trans erasure” bill.

“These bills are fuel for a sinister belief that transgender people don’t exist and that government should be weaponized to exclude them from public life,” he said.

By contrast, LGBTQ-friendly legislators are pressing the Health Care Freedom Act (Senate Bill 1404) essentially repealing Florida’s and trans care restrictions) and the Freedom to Learn Act (Senate Bill 1414) repealing restrictions on classroom instruction about race, color, national origin, or sex and forbidding schools from requiring employees to notify parents of student’s LGBTQ status “if a reasonably prudent person would believe that disclosure would result in harm to the student.”

“We are fed up with government intrusion into our private lives,” Saunders said.

Joe Saunders of Equality Florida addresses a news conference at the Florida Capitol on Jan. 16, 2024. Flanking him, l-r, are Senate members Shevrin Jones and Tracie Davis. (Photo Credit: Michael Moline)

‘Read the numbers’

Participants mocked Gov. Ron DeSantis’ second place showing in the Iowa Republican caucus, with former President Donald Trump leading 51.1 percent of the vote, nearly 30 percentage points ahead of DeSantis.

“Read the numbers from yesterday,” Jones, of Miami-Dade County, told the governor. “Your policies don’t work; America don’t like them and Florida don’t like them, either.”

“Banning books does not ban LGBTQ youth or adults and it will not eliminate them. Restricting access to Black, queer, and other diverse media does nothing, nothing, to actually protect our children. It actually harms them. A child should not have to feel fear from their parents because of who they are,” said Duval County Democratic Sen. Tracie Davis.

Equality Florida Executive Director Nadine Smith on Jan. 16, 2024. (Photo by Michael Moline)

Republicans are scapegoating LGBTQ people and other minorities to distract from their inability to solve problems including high insurance and housing costs, Equality Florida executive director Nadine Smith said.

Smith compared the climate now to the 1970s, when Anita Bryant led her anti-LGBTQ campaign, and earlier, when the legislative Johns Committee rooted out reds and LGBTQ people from the public universities. Then as now, LGBTQ advocates were seen as “grooming” children for sexual abuse.

Smith urged moderate Republicans to see the light. “History will remember what you do this session,” she said.


Michael Moline has covered politics and the legal system for more than 30 years. He is a former managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal and former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal.


The preceding article was previously published by the Florida Phoenix and is republished with permission.

The Phoenix is a nonprofit news site that’s free of advertising and free to readers. We cover state government and politics with a staff of five journalists located at the Florida Press Center in downtown Tallahassee.

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