CKHS Students Hold “We Say Gay” Walkout

Sophomore Aidyn Pacl alongside the Gender Sexuality Awareness (GSA) club held a walkout to stand up against multiple pieces of anti-LGBTQ+ legislature, specifically the “Don’t Say Gay” bill in Florida and show their support for the LGBTQ+ community.


Adrie Starkenburg

A sea of students participating in the walkout.

Rainbow colored flags waving in the wind, arms reaching to the sky, voices shouting in unison. Hundreds of Central Kitsap High School students marched out of class together in a walkout, coordinated by sophomore Aidyn Pacl, through her TikTok on April 1, 2022, to show their support for LGBTQ+ rights and their disdain for Florida’s HB 1557 bill, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by critics and the “Parental Rights in Eduation Act” by proponents, as well as over 240 other anti-LGBTQ+ bills across the nation that have recently passed their respective state legislature.

Members of GSA and protest speakers gather in front of the students, many with LGBTQ+ flags around their shoulders. (Adrie Starkenburg )

After the passing of HB 1557, Floridian public school teachers cannot legally hold classroom discussions or instruction surrounding gender identity or sexual orientation. Florida governor Ron DeSantis tweeted that HB 1557 “ensures parents can send their kids to kindergarten without gender ideology being injected into instruction and they will be notified and have the right to decline healthcare services offered at schools.”

However, CKHS walkout organizers and speakers are concerned about the rhetoric of the legislation and the impact of the legislation on LGBTQ+ youth in schools.

CKHS Gender Sexuality Awareness club president Cailey Wallace identified the bills as “heartbreaking and disgusting.”

“Especially in the year 2022, I feel like we should be further past than this…It’s April 1, and we’ve had over 240 bills being introduced into office [this year] and that can’t happen. It’s not okay at all,” she emphasized.

Cailey Wallace posing for photos after the walkout. (Adrie Starkenburg )

“The people pushing this legislation tell us that they’re trying to protect kids, but they’re killing us. Refusing to talk about LGBTQ identities won’t make us go away, it will just force kids to stay awake at night wishing they could just be normal like everyone else. It will teach them to hate themselves for being different,” protest speaker Elliot Schweitzer vocalized through the megaphone.

Students showing their support while holding a pride flag. (Laney Lark)

Walkout organizer Pacl highlights the potential for worsening mental health within LGBTQ+ youth as their identities or backgrounds face legal and societal stigmatization. 

“[These bills] will probably lead to an increase in suicide and suicide attempts, more than what we already have in the LGBTQ+ community,” she said.

According to a study by the National Library of Medicine, 82% of transgender individuals have considered suicide while 40% have attempted.

Students advocating for protection for transgender youth smile with pride flags draped on their backs. (Laney Lark)

Especially for LGBTQ+ youth who come from unsupportive or unaccepting families, higher levels of restrictive spaces pose another risk for their mental health and self image.

Walkout attendee Charlie Ioerger detailed their struggles with coming out and gender dysphoria that was only intensified by the lack of support at home and within the school: “I am a transmasc senior. I have a semi-accepting mom, but live in my very unaccepting grandfather’s house…I go through everyday hearing my birth name and being called ‘she,’ simply because I feel that not all teachers will respect me. I use the girls’ bathroom and locker room because as much as I feel out of place, I don’t think I would be safe walking into the men’s bathroom or locker room.”

Students supporting LGBTQ+ rights at the walkout by making a speech. (Laney Lark)

Protesters were not only concerned with the familial and mental health aspects of the potential damage of HB 1557, but the societal and safety implications as well. Students expressed that they should not have to worry about their safety, especially somewhere that is supposed to be a place of learning. 

Students gather for photos after the walkout speeches have ended, holding their signs. (Adrie Starkenburg )

LGBTQ+ students have already dealt with slurs being a part of the student body’s language and feeling unsafe before the restrictive legislation was created and passed.

“Within the actual LGBTQ community itself, we’re all very supportive, very kind, all very understanding of each other. But around [the culture], it’s a joke. I hear people calling each other [the F-slur], horrible slurs in the hallway all the time,” said Wallace. 

Now however, the additional divide between students being a legal issue rather than only a social one promotes a culture where students cannot ask for help when they are not feeling safe, where students second-guess their trust for familiar or ‘safe’ adults. 

“I feel like [this legislature] just makes them feel unsafe…not like we can be ourselves even though before we were actually doing okay, but then we kind of took a bunch of steps backward with all these bills,” said senior and walkout attendee Zoe Dela Cruz.It’s just like a regression in our society.”

Student holds sign that says “Normalize love,” and includes several LGBTQ+ flags. (Adrie Starkenburg )

Wallace also spoke on speaking out against anti-LGBTQ+ bills, not just within her community, but also nationwide. 

“Over the weeks and months to come, I plan on reaching out to as many United States Governors and officials as I can, and letting them know directly just how damaging the hundreds upon hundreds of bills they introduce yearly are to their own people,” she said, in a speech made during the walkout. 

She also encouraged supporters to do the same, saying “I should not be standing up here at all, representing the queer community that isn’t as lucky as I am. I should be protected just the same as any other child in this country,” and “Send letters to government officials. Let people like Governor DeSantis know that we will not stand for any further oppression.” 

A protester holding up a sign at the nation LGBTQ+ Rights Walkout held on April 1, 2022. (Talor Avery)

Dela Cruz emphasized, “It’s amazing, that…we’re so young, and we are trying to make all this change.”

Walkout organizer Pacl ended her speech with a similar idea, and a message echoed by many during the walkout: “We’re here. We’re queer. Get used to it.”