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“Don’t Say Gay” student walk-out leader is barred from student government

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

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

PALM COAST, Fl. – 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 Change.org 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 Change.org 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.

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Florida

CDC: Meningococcal Disease outbreak investigation in Florida, 7 deaths

Gay & bisexual men urged to get vaccinated if living in Florida, or talk to their healthcare provider about vaccination if traveling to state

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CDC Headquarters, Atlanta (Photo Credit: U.S. Government/GSA)

ATLANTA – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Thursday that the agency is continuing its collaboration with the Florida Department of Health to investigate one of the worst outbreaks of meningococcal disease among gay and bisexual men in U.S. history.

At least 24 cases and 7 deaths among gay and bisexual men have been reported so far a CDC spokesperson noted.

In response to this outbreak, CDC is recommending gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men get a meningococcal vaccine if they live in Florida, or talk with their healthcare provider about getting vaccinated if they are traveling to Florida. CDC is also emphasizing the importance of routine vaccination for people with HIV.  

“Getting vaccinated against meningococcal disease is the best way to prevent this serious illness, which can quickly become deadly,” said José R. Romero, M.D., Director, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. “Because of the outbreak in Florida, and the number of Pride events being held across the state in coming weeks, it’s important that gay and bisexual men who live in Florida get vaccinated, and those traveling to Florida talk to their healthcare provider about getting a MenACWY vaccine.” 

People can find a meningococcal vaccine by contacting their doctor’s office, pharmacy, community health center, or local health department. Insurance providers should pay for meningococcal vaccination for those whom it is recommended for during an outbreak. In Florida, anyone can get a MenACWY vaccine at no cost at any county health department during the outbreak.  

Seek medical attention right away if you have symptoms of meningococcal disease. Symptoms can appear suddenly and include high fever, headache, stiff neck, nausea/vomiting, or a dark purple rash. Symptoms can first appear as a flu-like illness, but typically worsen very quickly. People spread meningococcal bacteria to others by sharing respiratory and throat secretions (saliva or spit). Generally, it takes close or lengthy contact, such as kissing or being near someone coughing, to spread these bacteria.   

Meningococcal disease can affect anyone and can be deadly and includes infections of the lining of the brain and spinal cord (meningitis) and bloodstream. Keeping up to date with recommended vaccines is the best protection against meningococcal disease. 

More information about the outbreak and vaccine is available at Meningococcal Disease in Florida, 2022 | CDC.  

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Florida

Florida proposes eliminating Medicaid coverage for gender affirming care

Should Florida’s Health Care Administration enact the rule, approximately 9,000 trans Floridians insured with Medicaid could be impacted

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Screenshot/WCJB ABC 20 Gainesville

TALLAHASSEE – Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) released its Notice for a Proposed Rule to eliminate Medicaid coverage for gender affirming care for transgender Floridians.

AHCA’s rule proposes that Florida Medicaid coverage “does not cover the following services for the treatment of gender dysphoria: puberty blockers, hormones, sex reassignment surgeries, and any other procedures that alter primary or secondary sexual characteristics.” 

If enacted, approximately 9,000 transgender Floridians insured with Medicaid could be impacted.

 “Access to healthcare is a right every human being deserves,” said Equality Florida Director of Transgender Equality Nikole Parker. “Transgender individuals are humans just like everyone else. Just because our experience isn’t widely understood, does not mean we don’t deserve respect and access to life-saving healthcare.  The country’s major medical and mental health associations recognize the critical importance of gender affirming care.  Health care should be driven by scientific consensus, not political pandering or an election cycle.” 

Public comment on the proposed rule is being accepted through July 8, 2022, and can be submitted at the “make comment” link on this page.

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Florida

Anti-LGBTQ laws making Florida less welcoming for businesses

The state LGBTQ+ Business Climate Index is issued annually to help business leaders make equitable decisions about where to operate

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OUT Leadership/Facebook

TALLAHASSEE – In a new report by OUT Leadership, the global network for LGBTQ+ business leaders and companies, the state of Florida’s ranking has decreased at a higher rate than most states making it less suitable for companies who value LGTBQ+ inclusion in the workplace.

The report is called the State LGBTQ+ Business Climate Index for 2022 and is issued annually to help business leaders make equitable decisions about where to operate.

“At a time when our state is recovering from the pandemic and unprecedented employment challenges, this report shows that the current decisions from the state’s leadership about prioritizing culture wars over cultural diversity is harming our reputation as a welcoming and inclusive state to LGBTQ talent, and with companies who truly value equality for their workplace cultures,” said Nadine Smith, Equality Florida Executive Director.

“Our coalition called Equality Means Business was developed to highlight companies in our state that walk the walk when it comes to LGBTQ protections in their places of business,” said Rene Cantu, Equality Florida Business Outreach Manager. “It would be a shame if our corporate partners and their team members start considering moving out of Florida because of the current climate, but there are some who are doing so.”

The report measures such factors as legal/nondiscrimination protections, youth and family support, political and religious attitudes, health access and safety, and workplace culture through the lens of the LGBTQ+ community in each state.

According to this report, Florida’s score for 2022 is 53.43, a drop of 3.40 points from 2021. This score also lies 11 points below the national average of 64.61, and places Florida at a ranking of 31 out of 50. The report further states that the dramatic drop in score is a direct result of the anti-LGBTQ legislation being passed, including the “Don’t Say Gay” law.

Though the law does not take effect until July 1, its chilling effects are already being felt across the state. Graduation speeches and yearbook photos have faced censorship in the law’s wake while books with LGBTQ characters and Black authors are being challenged and banned, COEXIST flags and rainbow “Safe Space” stickers are being peeled from classroom windows, and teachers are considering leaving the profession for fear of the law’s implications. 

“The message is clear: LGBTQ kids and kids with same-sex parents are not welcome in Florida schools or our state. That reality is making it harder for pro-equality businesses to operate in the state,” Equality Florida noted in a press release Thursday.

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