Generation Z is often recognized for their strong commitment to social issues and activism. Being hyper-informed à la the internet and being angry at the circumstances of the world they were recently born into has resulted in an uptick in the kind of rebellious actions that can be healthy for a society. One such positive troublemaker, a Senior at Winter Park High School, has spent the latter half of their high school career organizing for change.
Will Larkins (they/them) has always had an inherent affinity for activism but never thought it would become the central focus of their life. Will recalls crafting their first petition out of construction paper – against a new, unpopular lunch menu at the elementary school – in the second grade.
“In fifth grade, I had a teacher who was the first person to introduce me to the concept of activism,” Larkins said. “We raised money for Syrian refugees, which she organized, and I was leading the charge. Every single weekend, [I went] door-to-door. I was so excited to be able to make a difference in someone’s life in a positive way.”
Since then, Larkins has attended and organized dozens of protests and actions about issues affecting them and their peers. But the introduction of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill in 2022 catapulted them and their activism into the spotlight. After transferring to Winter Park High for their junior year, Larkins faced the most brutal bullying and homophobia they had ever experienced.
“I’m lucky enough to have supportive parents, and something that I realized while being bullied and seeing it for myself on social media was that not everyone had the ability to stand up for themselves because of the fear that they’d be kicked out or abused or shunned by their family,” Larkins said. “So, I started the Queer Student Union. I thought, ‘okay, well, as terrible as it is, I can defend myself, I can defend other people, and I can navigate the school system without the concern of being outed.’”
That resilient spirit led Larkins to the State Capital in Tallahassee, where the reality of the need for political activists set in.
“Something about it clicked, you know? It really clicked with me, being up in Tallahassee and being able to look legislators in the eyes. I met so many wonderful people doing incredible work, but everyone was an adult. There were no young people. So I realized that this is something that I could do that I feel like I’d be good at and that I’m passionate about, and that’s needed,” Larkins said.
Soon after, Larkins – despite being threatened with expulsion – organized what would turn out to be the biggest school walk-out protest against “Don’t Say Gay” in Florida, with over 700 students leaving their classes in solidarity. The act drew the attention of an editor from the New York Times opinion section, who reached out to Larkins and asked them to write an essay published on March 22nd, 2022. In the last year, Larkins has traveled to the State Capital many more times and has even been invited to The White House to represent their cause.
How does this bold-beyond-their-years teen recommend getting involved in political activism for those who are interested but do not know where to start?
“What you do is see what issues are going on in your city, your state, your neighborhood, and your school in your district – you can make an actual impact there. If someone wants to be involved, wants to make a change, and wants to make the world a better place, you have to look at who is already doing it in your community and is already working on the issue or problem that you want to solve, and ask ‘what do they need?’ Start there, and you will find out what your skills are in regard to advocacy,” Larkins said.
As Larkins and other teens like them to continue to navigate an ever-changing political landscape with grace and eagerness, it is an inspiring thought that they may succeed in doing good for the community, and in turn, for the world.