The Parental Rights in Education law, which prohibits public schools from teaching about gender or sexual orientation to students in kindergarten through third grade, was signed into law by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in March 2022. It is also illegal under the law to discuss these subjects in a way that is inappropriate for pupils of any grade level or age. Opponents claim that the regulation suppresses teachers and removes LGBTQ+ individuals from history.
But one high school student made the decision to oppose the legislation and inform his peers about a crucial period in the LGBT rights fight. A gay and nonbinary junior in Winter Park, Florida named Will Larkins shared a video of them lecturing a class about the Stonewall riots of 1969, which were a sequence of unrest in New York City that followed a police raid on a gay bar. Larkins stated that the reason he decided to tell the Stonewall story was because his US history class did not cover it in the curriculum.
Stonewall: A Turning Point for LGBTQ+ Rights
A police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay club in Greenwich Village, on June 28, 1969, set off the Stonewall riots. Since homosexuality was illegal and stigmatized in the majority of states at the time, the raid was one of many that targeted LGBTQ+ enterprises. In contrast to earlier raids, though, the Stonewall Inn’s customers fought back against the police, who were outnumbered and confined inside the establishment, and refused to be arrested. Supporters gathered and hurled bottles, bricks, and other things at the police as a result of the altercation. The riot, which attracted thousands of LGBTQ+ persons and supporters to demonstrate against discrimination and police brutality, raged for several hours and persisted into the following few nights.
The current LGBTQ+ rights movement was sparked by the Stonewall riots, which are largely credited with inspiring a large number of activists and groups to demand recognition and equal rights. The first gay pride marches in 1970, the establishment of the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activists Alliance, and the American Psychiatric Association’s 1973 removal of homosexuality from its list of mental disorders are just a few of the significant events that followed Stonewall.
Larkins: A Voice for LGBTQ+ Youth
Will Larkins has experience with advocacy and activism. In addition to co-founding the Queer Student Union at his school, he has authored an opinion piece for the New York Times criticizing the Parental Rights in Education statute. In opposition to the bill, which he claimed was an assault on our identity and our freedom to exist, he also assisted in planning a sizable school walkout.
Larkins claimed that after attending courses about events that occurred in America in the late 1960s and early 1970s that did not address the uprisings, he sought his history teacher for permission to write about Stonewall. Larkins’s teacher, who was unaware of Stonewall, consented to allow him to present to the class. With the hashtag #SayGayAnyway, Larkins shared the video of his lecture on Twitter, where it was seen over 400,000 times and shared 25,000 times. Along with letters of thanks and support, he also received correspondence from politicians, celebrities, and other LGBTQ+ instructors and students.
But Larkins also encountered criticism and abuse from certain internet trolls, who branded him derogatory names and charged him with brainwashing and manipulating his peers. In response, Larkins said, “I’m a 17-year-old junior in high school teaching my classmates about a historical event.” This class has covered a lot more in-depth historical material. How come you all call me a rn and a groomer? Give up harassing and sexualizing young people like me.
A courageous and inspirational young person, Will Larkins disobeyed an oppressive legislation and informed his peers about an important moment in LGBTQ+ history. In addition to increasing LGBTQ+ visibility and knowledge, his Stonewall lesson questioned the erasure and censorship enforced by the Parental Rights in Education Act. In addition to pressuring the Florida government to overturn the law and provide a more inclusive and truthful curriculum, Larkins expressed his hope that his efforts may inspire other LGBTQ+ students and allies to come out and share their stories.