Respect Diversity + Inclusion

Arizona students protest new laws targeting LGBTQ+ community

Hundreds of Arizona high school students gathered this week to protest laws that took effect over the weekend.
(Lynne Gilbert/Getty Images)

Story at a glance

  • Arizona high school students on Thursday walked out of class to protest a number of new state laws that took effect Saturday that they say discriminate against LGBTQ+ people.

  • Among the new laws that went into effect are two measures that ban transgender young people from competing on sports teams consistent with their gender identity and prohibit youth under 18 from accessing gender-affirming surgeries, which are already not recommended for minors.

  • Students across the country this year have staged walkouts to protest other laws and policies considered harmful to the LGBTQ+ community.

Hundreds of Arizona high school students on Thursday walked out of their classrooms to protest a slate of new laws that took effect over the weekend and have been accused of being discriminatory against the state’s LGBTQ+ population, particularly transgender youth.

More than 380 bills signed into law by Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) this year took effect Sept. 24, including two measures that restrict the ability of transgender young people to access some forms of gender-affirming health care and play on school sports teams consistent with their gender identity.

Another new Arizona law sponsored by Rep. Jake Hoffman, a Republican, bans “sexually explicit” materials from kindergarten through 12th grade classrooms. The measure drew sharp criticism earlier this year for initially including “homosexuality” on a list of “explicit” conduct deemed inappropriate for students to learn about in school, prompting Hoffman to add an amendment that struck the word from the bill.

“It is embarrassing that we live in a state and a country where people are at risk simply for being who they are and loving who they want,” Blues Patrick, a high school senior at Hamilton High School in Chandler, Ariz., told the Arizona Mirror Thursday.

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Patrick joined hundreds of classmates, as well as students from other high schools across the state, in protesting the laws that took effect Saturday as part of a coordinated walkout organized by the student-led group Support Equality Arizona Schools.

“Just this action of walking out tells our state and our legislators that we as students will not settle for passive measures,” Dawn Shim, a 16-year-old junior at Hamilton High School and the group’s founder, said Thursday in a pre-walkout message on Instagram. “We need action, and we need it now.”

The Arizona walkout mirrors other student-led walkouts to push back against recent legislation that targets LGBTQ+ rights in other states. 

Thousands of Virginia students from more than 100 high schools walked out of their classrooms this week to protest new model transgender policies for the year introduced this month by Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s (R) administration. The draft policies would bar transgender students from using restrooms that match their gender identity and require parents to consent to their children changing their name or pronouns at school.

In March, students in Park City, Utah, walked out of class to protest the state legislature’s override of Gov. Spencer Cox’s (R) veto of legislation to bar transgender youth from participating in school sports. The same month, students in Florida marched against the state’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which limits how public school teachers may address topics including sexual orientation and gender identity in school.

Students at Grapevine High School in Texas last month staged a walkout to protest new district policies preventing teachers of students below the fifth grade from engaging in classroom instruction related to sexual orientation, gender identity and race.

Following the Virginia walkouts this week, conservative commentators brushed off the students’ protests as stunts to “get out of class.”

“There’s no way any of these kids actually care,” Alec Sears, a strategist for the Republican National Committee, wrote in a tweet accompanying aerial footage showing scores of student protesters.

Shim, of Support Equality Arizona Schools, refuted that assumption on Thursday.

“We aren’t out here missing our school day and interrupting our education because we want to,” she told a crowd of her peers, the Arizona Mirror reported. “We have been forced into it.”