The lawsuit alleges that Florida’s controversial “Don’t Say Gay” law effectively prohibits students and teachers from exercising their most fundamental constitutional rights.
Florida teenagers and their families have sued to block the state from enforcing controversial legislation that restricts classroom discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity.
According to NBC News, the so-called “Parental Rights in Education Law,” popularly called “Don’t Say Gay,” bans instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in “kindergarten through grade 3, or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”
The law also affords Florida parents the right to litigate against districts that violate “Don’t Say Gay’s” restrictions.
The Parental Rights in Education bill was signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis in March.
At the time, DeSantis said that it ensures that “parents can send their kids to school to get an education, not an indoctrination”; the National Center for Lesbian Rights initiated a standalone legal challenge shortly afterward.
Earlier this week, three other civil rights—identified by NBC News as Lambda Legal, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the Southern Legal Counsel—filed a separate lawsuit on behalf of two Florida couples and their children, an individual high school student, and CenterLink, an international associated of LBTQ community centers.
“Children should not be the political fodder used to inflame hatred and bigotry for the sake of winning and holding onto power,” said Bacardi Jackson, interim deputy legal director for the SPLC’s Children’s Rights Practice Group. “But that’s exactly what this unconstitutional law seeks to do. The real lives and identities of all of our children and their families are not words on a page that can just be edited out, nor should they be. All of us, and our democracy, are irreparably harmed when people, and especially children, are relegated, made invisible, and targeted for who they are or who they love. This law cannot stand.”
Will Larks, the individual high school-age plaintiff named in the lawsuit, said he fears that “Don’t Say Gay” will “embolden” conservative parents to launch frivolous complaints against school districts that accommodate LGBT children and provide safe places for discussion.
“I am concerned that this law will eviscerate any hope of healthy and important discussions about LGBTQ+ issues or historical events, which are already lacking in our schools,” said Larkins, who is a rising senior at Winter Park High School in Orange County, Florida. “Because of the vague language of the law, closed-minded parents are emboldened to become vigilantes to force their beliefs upon other people’s children by suing the school district over anything they disagree with.”
The lawsuit contends that “Don’t Say Gay” is a conservative “vigilante enforcement mechanism,” that has an “intentionally wide and sweeping scope, [and] invites parents who oppose any acknowledgement whatsoever of the existence of LBTQ+ people to sue, resulting in schools acting aggressively to silence students, parents, and school personnel.”
“The law, by design, chills speech and expression that have any connection, however remote, to sexual orientation and gender identity,” the lawsuit states.