Chase Schubert couldn’t believe what he read about the Parental Rights in Education Bill passing in the Florida House and Senate on Feb. 24 and March 8, respectively.
The Mercer Island High School (MIHS) senior knew it was crucial to take a stand against what he referred to as the “overtly discriminatory” legislation, which is dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. The bill restricts educators from how they’re able to discuss sexual orientation and gender identity in schools.
Beginning at 10 a.m. on March 11, Schubert — president of the MIHS Queer Straight Alliance — led a peaceful organized walkout on the school campus. At the tail end of third period, a plethora of students rose from their desks and headed to the amphitheater to listen to five speakers discuss the bill and share personal stories about the challenges that LGBTQIA+ people face and ask for their fellow students’ support, MIHS Principal Walter Kelly said.
It was a successful and inspiring walkout in banding against the “terrible” legislation, said Schubert, 17, adding that more than 250 students participated in the 20-minute event.
“We try to keep it pretty kind of low key and very peaceful and loving, especially coming from the queer community: we are all about acceptance and love and peace. We want to keep a good vibe,” said Schubert, who noticed some pride flags in the audience to go along with the signs he made, one of which said, “We Say Gay.”
Two students were so moved by the gathering that they emerged from the crowd to talk alongside the scheduled speakers. Schubert, who identifies as queer, was glad to have more voices on board.
Schubert informed Kelly on March 9 about his walkout plan and was given the go-ahead. The student distributed fliers on March 10 and Kelly informed the school staff about the walkout.
“Mercer Island High School is very, very supportive with us walking out and us engaging in activism and that’s something I very much value and appreciate,” said Schubert, who was proud to hold one of many walkouts that took place nationally disputing the bill. “I think it’s very much helpful to our students. Young people are coming into the world and it’s good that we’re encouraging people to stand up for their rights and representation and opinions.”
There were zero disruptions during the gathering, which Schubert said was peaceful, coordinated and connected.
“There’s usually the haters and the individual student voices, but from staff and from what I can tell, they were very much in support of our walkout,” he said.
For the remainder of the school day, Schubert said dozens of people stopped him in the halls to offer words of appreciation for spearheading the walkout. His classmates said it was a powerful event.
“It’s a good ego boost for me, but also it shows that, ‘Hey, I made a difference.’ We actually made a message get out to the general Mercer Island High School. We did something today and that felt really good,” he said.
Added Kelly: “Our students were respectful, supportive of one another, and I am proud of how our student body consistently rises up for one another. I appreciate that our students look to other people’s experiences and points-of-view in order to create a more inclusive world. This type of student voice and dialog is essential in them finding their own voice in the world. I deeply respect how our students handled the event.”
Delving into the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, Schubert is appalled of the wording that states, “Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”
He feels the bill writers don’t clearly define the terms “age appropriate” or “developmentally appropriate” within the lengthy text.
“It’s a subjective term, and because of that, I think they would try to stall it out as much as possible to the point where queer subjects just become taboo. That’s a big problem,” he said.
Schubert has been a member of the school-sanctioned alliance since his freshman year and noted that it includes 15-20 students who identify as both queer and straight. It’s a support and activist group, which meets once a week and features guest speakers, field trips and more.
He said it’s a “fun, cool place to hang out where you can be your authentic self.”