Parents, students and a non-profit organization have filed a federal lawsuit against four Florida school districts, challenging the constitutionality of a new state law that restricts instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation in classrooms.
The lawsuit, filed Monday in federal court in Orlando, seeks to block the school boards in Orange, Indian River, Duval and Palm Beach counties from carrying out the law (HB 1557), which passed during this year’s legislative session after fierce debate.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs argued in the 53-page complaint that the law violates First Amendment, due-process and equal-protection rights and improperly chills discussion of issues such as gender identity and sexual orientation.
“Florida enacted HB 1557 to silence and erase lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning young people and families,” the lawsuit said. “The law is profoundly vague and requires schools to ban undefined broad categories of speech, based on undefined standards such as ‘appropriateness.’”
The law, which has drawn nationwide attention, prevents instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation in kindergarten through third grade and requires that such instruction be “age-appropriate … in accordance with state academic standards” in older grades.
Republican lawmakers titled the measure the “Parental Rights in Education” bill. Opponents labeled it the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
Opponents also have challenged the constitutionality of the measure in a federal lawsuit filed in Tallahassee against Gov. Ron DeSantis, the State Board of Education, the Florida Department of Education, Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. and several school boards. That case is pending.
The case filed Monday, however, only names as defendants the four school boards, with plaintiffs alleging that the law has caused changes in the way districts handle issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity.
As an example, it said the law has led the Orange County and Palm Beach County districts to remove LGBTQ-related materials from school libraries. Also, it said the Palm Beach County School Board last month adopted a policy to carry out the law.
“Teachers in Palm Beach County schools have already been instructed to review all classroom books and remove any that instruct on sexual orientation or gender identity for grades K-3 and any that are not age or developmentally-appropriate for grades 4-12, including those about which the teacher is ‘unsure,’” the lawsuit said.
In part, the plaintiffs’ attorneys targeted what they allege is vagueness in the law. For instance, they said state standards have not been developed for what would be considered age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate instruction.
“HB 1557’s vagueness inevitably has led to, and continues to lead to, discriminatory and arbitrary application and enforcement across various school districts,” said the lawsuit filed by attorneys from Lambda Legal, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Southern Legal Counsel and the firm Baker McKenzie.
In addition, the complaint said school districts can face costly lawsuits if parents think the law has been violated.
“This vigilante enforcement mechanism, combined with the law’s intentionally vague and sweeping scope, invites parents who oppose any acknowledgement whatsoever of the existence of LGBTQ+ people to sue, resulting in schools acting aggressively to silence students, parents and school personnel,” the lawsuit said. “The law, by design, chills speech and expression that have any connection, however remote, to sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office last month asked U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor to dismiss the constitutional challenge filed in Tallahassee. The motion, in part, argued that the state has the right to set curriculums for public schools.
“Falsely dubbed by its opponents the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, HB 1557 is nothing of the sort,” the state’s motion said. “Far from banning discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity, the legislation expressly allows age- and developmentally appropriate education on those subjects. Consistent with that modest limitation, the law prohibits classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity for the youngest children, neutrally allowing all parents, no matter their views, to introduce those sensitive topics to their children as they see fit.”
The motion also disputed that the “Legislature acted out of animus against LGBTQ individuals.”
“The bill reflects no governmental preference about what students should learn about sexual orientation and gender identity,” the state’s lawyers wrote. “Those subjects must be taught appropriately and, for the youngest children, they may be taught by parents, not in public-school classroom settings. That is a legitimate (state) interest.”
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed Monday in Orlando include Jen and Matt Cousins, the parents of four children in Orange County schools; Will Larkins, a rising senior at Orange County’s Winter Park High School who is president of the school’s Queer Student Union; David Dinan and Vik Gongidi, a married same-sex couple who have two children in Indian River County schools; and the non-profit CenterLink, Inc., which has members including LGTBQ community centers in Orange, Duval and Palm Beach counties.
–Jim Saunders, News Service of Florida
Merrill S Shapiro says
Shhhhhhh……..don’t tell anyone. Some of the right-wingers on the school board are going to be upset by this news!! They may continue to attempt to take away the freedoms for which the founders of our great country fought and were prepared to lay down their lives, but the thirst for freedom, the love of liberty, the longing for justice, the passion for government of, by and for the people, will never perish from our county!
Nobody thinks its odd that these teachers are fighting so hard to talk to first graders about sex?
I am hoping that most of the people who are fighting against this are just too lazy to actually read the law and aren’t that intent on pushing sex talks to little kids.
So the title of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill is a nice bit of political theater and honestly I’m good with it but in all honesty why are people for this or against this? Would like honest perspectives. Ill give my opinion and since it’s imposed basically for 8 year old and younger my belief is these conversations should happen at home instead of a classroom. I’m not saying it should not be taught in a classroom but at a certain education level. Also I believe that the teachers who are teaching subjects on this topic need to be monitored more closely so their personal beliefs are not being pushed.
Pierre Tristam says
Florida Voter in the comment just above yours provides as reasonable an answer as any.
Florida Voter says
I don’t have a child in K-3, but “remove any that instruct on sexual orientation or gender identity for grades K-3” means that the teacher can’t teach K-3 boys to use the boys bathroom and K-3 girls to use the girls bathroom. Teaching about cisgender and heterosexuality ARE gender identity and sexual orientation so prohibited by this law. I think if people were to highlight that fact, this “Don’t Say Straight” bill would start to receive opposition even from the conservatives.
They meant to craft a “Don’t Say Gay” bill but it’s just as much a “Don’t Say Straight” bill.
Been There says
Michael Cocchiola says
Someone tell me why Mega MAGAs are so ugly. Do they doubt their own sexuality? Do they have prurient dreams of same-sex sex? Are they intellectually frozen in 17th-century America?
Please help me out on this.
Sure…your answers are: Yes, Yes, and Yes
ULTRA MAGA says
Mike, you have to look in the mirror to see UGLINESS! America First(MAGA) is about the Constitution and keeping America Free! Ask any Veteran about the COST of Freedom!
Good. Last I checked, the constitution is for ALL not just straight, white, cis-het Christians. This Don’t Say Gay bill is absurd. No one is talking to kids about anything like that. It’s all a pedo-GOP fantasy. I mean THAT is the political party that wants to lower the age of consent and thinks a 10 year old assault victim should have her attackers baby. The GOP Pedo Party is sick. They have this unnatural fascination with children’s genitals (the GOP is the only party actively pursuing this) and just overall obsession with kids and their bodies so the old adage of, “Doth protest too much,” seems to apply here to the GOP.
Bottom line is parent’s rights apply to all and if you stipulate otherwise you’re opening a box that will never close because one day, you too will face discrimination and you won’t have a leg to stand on because per these BS rules and laws, it’ll be permitted. But no one ever thinks they will face discrimination. Think again.
Today’s Republican Party and the far right MAGA dingbat conservatives who support their cult’s agenda, to include the “Don’t say gay” legislation and the ban on abortions are doing real harm to America. Real harm to women. Real harm to children. The conservatives are ok with this. But this is not merely an abstract political issue, but a real problem for real people. Since same sex marriage became the law of the land, there are countless school children who have same sex parents, and teachers are not allowed to even have a classroom give and take discussion with their students about summer vacation trips or kids’ personal family life moments that might involve innocent conversations about a student’s two dads or two moms, because that would now be illegal. So even important sex ed classes are now either completely out of the question or there is an alarming lack of information that has traditionally been taught in schools for decades. The conservatives are ok with this. The foaming at the mouth MAGA mob thought it was an absurd argument in support of abortion’s long-standing legal precedent that young, preteen girls might need access to abortion services due to rape or incest. And when an actual 10-year old girl’s parents took the child to have an abortion after she had been raped and impregnated by an adult, the MAGA world went wild, first accusing abortion activists of fabricating the story outright… that was until the rapist was caught, publicly identified, and charged with a felony for raping that 10-year old on multiple occasions. Even after the preteen girl was given an abortion by a doctor in a neighboring state, many conservatives STILL were upset that the 10-year-old was not forced to carry to term and deliver the baby of her rapist! And now we are seeing in the news that the Ohio state Attorney General is investigating not the rape and sexual abuse of the child, but the doctor who performed the legal abortion on the 10-year-old, all to show that the GOP and so-called Christian fanatical conservatives are not only wackos, but completely out of step with mainstream American views. They love to spout ridiculous propaganda about how their party (cult) is a big tent and inclusive, but in reality, it still remains primarily old white men who support the insurrectionist, twice impeached, former dictator president with extreme views that are anti-women, anti-law enforcement, anti-diversity and anti-democracy. Conservatives are ok with that. Wow, what a platform to run on! We just need to get a lot of shovels and bury that nasty old thing for good, and for the good of this country.
David Schaefer says
Thanks for your opinion 100%.