The Freedom From Religion Foundation is proud to be naming Florida teenager Will Larkins as recipient of its Catherine Fahringer Student Activist Award, which includes a $5,000 cash scholarship.
Larkins, a junior at Winter Park High School, Fla., is president and co-founder of the school’s Queer Student Union and one of the organizers of an impressive Say Gay Anyway walkout of 500 students on March 7. Larkins even testified in person on Feb. 28 before the Florida Legislature against the punitive measure, which passed on March 8, but which hasn’t yet been signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
The Parental Rights in Education bill is also known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill because it seeks to inhibit or outright prohibit public schools from teaching about sexual orientation and gender identify. From kindergarten to third grade, such mentions would be illegal, and would only be permitted through the 12th grade if not deemed “age-inappropriate” by any complaining parent. Additionally, the bill would encourage parents to sue districts for alleged violations, and teachers to effectively “out” students to parents.
In a moving guest essay, “Florida’s ‘Don’t say gay’ bill will hurt teens like me,” that ran in the New York Times in March, Larkins recounts being surrounded by classmates at a high school Halloween party last year, who shouted homophobic slurs, with one student threatening violence.
“When I broke down crying in class the next day, my teacher comforted me,” Larkins writes. “She told me that she had gone through something similar when she was my age . . . Had the proposed law been in effect last year, my teacher could have put herself in jeopardy by being there for me.”
Larkins adds: “From an early age I knew I was different. . . . By fourth grade, I was convinced that I was broken. I didn’t know how to defend myself when other kids made hateful comments or bullied me — I didn’t know why I was the way that I was.”
In learning “how common the experience of falling outside the gender binary was . . . I grew to understand and love myself,” Larkins writes. “Education made me hate myself less.”
Larkins cites statistics from the the Trevor Project, which show that LGBTQ teenagers — who are four times more likely to attempt suicide as straight counterparts — are far less likely to attempt suicide if they learn about LGBTQ issues in school.
“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,” Larkins concludes.
“We are so impressed with Will Larkins’ courage and activism, for so bravely sharing personal experiences and for speaking out at school and in his state Capitol against this pernicious legislation,” comments Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with approximately 36,000 members and several chapters across the country, including roughly 1,800 members and a chapter in Florida. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.