Government actions on LGBT matters — such as Florida’s passage of the Parental Rights in Education bill (H.B. 1557), known to opponents as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill — are pushing some young people into political activism ahead of this year’s elections.
Standing on a street corner between Flagler Palm Coast High School and Wawa with a group of young locals waving signs supporting School Board candidates Sally Hunt and Courtney VandeBunte on Aug. 1, 17-year-old organizer and FPC student Cameron Driggers linked the local youth activity to a broader trend.
“I think this rally and the active work that we’ve been doing on [candidates’] behalf is really a testament to how Gen Z is standing up and making their voice heard, and showing that we’re not going to take oppression lying down, we’re going to stand up for our rights,” he said.
Statistically, Generation Z — people born between 1997 and 2012, also referred to as “Zoomers” — leans to the left of older generations on social issues like same-sex marriage, transgender rights and abortion.
Zoomers also more likely to be LGBT: In Gallup polling this past February, 20.8% of adult Gen Z respondents — about one in five — identified as LGBT, compared to 10.5% of Millennials, 4.2% of Generation X respondents and 2.6% of Baby Boomers.
They also seem to vote. 2018 midterms and 2020 elections both saw high youth voter turnout.
Local LGBT activist and FPC student Jack Petocz helped organize the local group “Recall FCSB” — for “Recall Flagler County School Board” — last November after School Board incumbent Jill Woolbright pushed to have the district remove a black LGBT memoir, “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” from school media centers.
Some students interpreted that act as a response to the book’s LGBT themes; Woolbright has said that her opposition to the text’s presence in schools stemmed from its explicit sexual content.
Petocz had also organized a student walkout at FPC and around the state in response to H.B. 1557. “It’s written to be intentionally vague — it’s ‘K through 3,’ and then ‘in a matter which is not age-appropriate,’ so it continues into later grades,” he said.
He referred to news stories about other counties discussing discouraging teachers from displaying a photo of a same-sex spouse on their desk, saying that the law could have a chilling effect on discussions of LGBT people. “It’s quite evident that this bill is going to have wide-ranging effects,” he said.
Petocz has also been keeping an eye on recent state-level debates about transgender health care: The Florida Department of Health has proposed guidelines that discourage social gender transitions (changes in pronoun use, haircuts and clothing) for transgender minors and would limit transgender minors’ access to hormone blockers and cross-sex hormones.
“I think it’s just again another blatant attack to hurt the community,” Petocz said. “...Some of these are just simple steps, like socially transitioning ... allowing people to use a name that they identify with, allowing people to dress the way they want. It’s not always hormones and puberty blockers and things like that.”
Emelia Kern, a recent Matanzas graduate, said she became involved in local politics when students rallied at the Government Services Building in support of “All Boys Aren’t Blue” before a School Board meeting in November.
“I think it’s so important to stay to stay involved if you can, and if you’re capable,” she said, “because even if it doesn’t directly affect you, it does affect so many people and so many people’s lives, and it’s so important to look out for your peers.”
FPC student Samantha Stone, 17, said she started getting involved in politics after Petocz organized the walkout.
“This year, a lot of my friends are starting to speak out,” she said. “The walkout started a lot of things where a lot of people jumped on. ... We’ve had a lot going on the last couple years, and that really was an awakening for a lot of people, and especially a lot of kids at the high school. We’re all becoming active now.”