Metro Weekly

Florida Teen “Investigated” For Presentation On Stonewall Riots

17-year-old Florida high school student Will Larkins was moved to another history class after giving a talk on the LGBTQ historical event.

Larkins giving a presentation on the Stonewall Riots at Winter Park High School – Photo: Will Larkins, via Instagram

A Florida teen was placed under “investigation” and moved to another class five weeks before the end of the school year after giving a presentation on the Stonewall Riots to his history class.

Will Larkins, a 17-year-old junior at Winter Park High School in Winter Park, Florida, a suburb of Orlando, presented the lesson on the riots to their history class on March 31 while wearing a red cocktail dress and pearls. They asked a classmate to film the presentation to post a video to Twitter later. 

Larkins, who uses “they/him” pronouns, is the founder of Winter Park High’s Queer Student Union and one of the chief organizers behind a student walkout to protest Florida’s “Parental Rights in Education” bill, dubbed by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

Larkins has been outspoken about the legislation, testifying against the bill in Tallahassee and writing an opinion piece for The New York Times about the legislation’s negative effects on LGBTQ youth, who will no longer view schools as a “safe space” where they can express their feelings openly.

“Now, under threat of lawsuits, districts, schools and teachers may be hesitant to talk at all with students about gender identity and sexuality, even if the conversation is ‘age-appropriate,'” Larkins wrote, adding that some of their LGBTQ friends have been physically abused or thrown out of their homes after coming out or being “outed” as LGBTQ to their parents by others.

“When I look back to elementary school, I wonder how different my childhood would have been had my classmates and I known that I wasn’t some tragic anomaly, a strange fluke that needed to be fixed,” Larkins wrote in the op-ed. “People in support of the bill always ask, ‘Why do these subjects need to be taught in schools?’ To them I would say that if we understand ourselves, and those around us understand us, so many lives will be saved.”

Following Gov. Ron DeSantis’ decision to sign the bill into law, Larkins obtained permission from his teacher to give a presentation on the Stonewall Riots in their history class, knowing it could trigger backlash from school officials seeking to comply with the new law.

According to The Washington Post, which reported on the controversy over the video, Larkins’ teacher was initially not even aware of what the Stonewall Riots were.

Because the history class had been learning about pivotal historical events from the late 1960s and early 1970s, Larkins claimed to have asked his teacher, “Are we going to learn about Stonewall?” The teacher allegedly responded, “What’s Stonewall?”

The video of Larkins’ lesson went viral on social media, but also garnered criticism from defenders of the law.

Some people condemned Larkins’ decision to wear a dress during his presentation, while others continued to insist the law does not apply to their age group — even though Larkins and their classmates are much older than students in grades K to 3, whom the law purports to protect.

Larkins has previously argued that the bill contains overly vague language that could restrict discussions about LGBTQ issues or historical events from being broached in older grades if the material is not deemed to be “age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”

Larkins says teachers will actively censor or shy away from LGBTQ content in order to avoid potential conflicts with parents. Similar complaints of censorship and discrimination have been raised by at least two other LGBTQ high school students who are part of a group of plaintiffs suing over the law

After the Washington Post story was published, Larkins claimed their history teacher became angry about the article and complained to administrators. Larkins claims school officials placed them under “investigation” for the presentation on the Stonewall Riots.

They later tweeted that he had been moved to another history class, and that the girl whom Larkins had asked to film the presentation got a “referral,” meaning she was disciplined for her actions, even though at least four other students also filmed the presentation on their phones.

Larkins’ new history teacher has apparently hung up a Gadsden flag, a Revolutionary War-era flag that generally symbolizes opposition to government interference, particularly by the federal government, although in recent years it has been co-opted by some far-right groups as a symbol of opposition to progressive politics and social liberalism.

One Twitter user responded to Larkins that such consequences were an inevitable side effect of the new law, and that his teacher may have become upset out of fear that she could be disciplined.

“[S]she can face backlash from parents and administrator,” the user tweeted. “When politics get imposed on the school system, the majority of teachers will fail to support their students because they are afraid to lose their jobs. I generally really support teachers, and that consequence is not necessarily their fault. But the kids are always the ones that will suffer the worst, especially when they learn that they can’t trust their teachers.”

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