First Federal Suit Against Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Law Filed
Author: Trudy Ring
This article was updated on 04/01/22 to include new information about the judge assigned to the case.
The first federal lawsuit has been filed against Florida’s “don’t say gay” law.
Lawyers with the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the firm of Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP filed the suit Thursday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida on behalf of Equality Florida and Family Equality as well as students, parents, and a teacher.
“The diverse group of plaintiffs come from throughout Florida. They face, and have already suffered, concrete harms as a result of this blatantly unconstitutional law,” says an NCLR press release.
House Bill 1557 was signed into law Monday by Gov. Ron DeSantis. It bans classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in grades K-3 and requires that any mention in higher grades be “age-appropriate.” The suit name DeSantis as a defendant, along with the Florida State Board of Education and the state’s Department of Education, plus several local school boards.
“As alleged in the complaint, HB 1557 would seek to erase for an entire generation of Florida public school students the fact that LGBTQ people exist and have equal dignity,” the release says. “HB 1557 harms LGBTQ people — and violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution — by discriminatorily censoring classroom instruction about sexual orientation or gender identity in Florida public schools, not only for grades K-3 but for any grade as long as someone concludes that the discussion is somehow not ‘age-appropriate.’ The law deliberately employs broad and vague terms, inviting arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement by parents, who are designated as roving censors and empowered to sue local school boards for damages based on any violation.”
The law raises many questions, according to the lawyers, such as whether a student with same-sex parents can mention the family or their relationship; how a teacher can respond to a student being bullied for their sexual orientation or gender identity; and if a school librarian has to remove books with LGBTQ+ characters or references. Teachers are already removing some material and say they will no longer foster or participate in discussions that touch on LGBTQ+ issues, the release notes.
“Over time and continuing today, our nation has strived to make good on its promise that everyone is entitled to be treated with equal dignity under the law. That is true when it comes to LGBTQ Americans, who now have the constitutional right to identify openly as LGBTQ, to marry, and to form families with children,” Roberta Kaplan, founding partner of Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP, said in the release. “With the passage of HB 1557, Florida has not only taken a giant step backwards, but it has done so at the expense of our children, the most vulnerable members of society. It is hard to imagine anything more offensive to our constitutional system than treating one group of school kids as second class based solely on who they are or who their parents are. This law cannot be allowed to stand.”
“We are proud to stand with the families who have fought to be recognized and with the students who have demanded to be included and respected,” added Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida. “LGBTQ people are a part of every family, every community, every school, and we will continue to stand firmly on the side of equality for all.”
“One in four children with LGBTQ+ parents already report feeling unsafe in school and this harmful law will make thousands of children and families in Florida potentially even more vulnerable to bullying and mistreatment in the classroom,” said Stacey Stevenson, chief executive officer of Family Equality. “Our families deserve to be treated equally under the law. We are nothing to be ashamed of, and our existence cannot be erased.”
“This discriminatory law threatens the decades of progress we’ve made in creating safer schools for everyone,” said NCLR Executive Director Imani Rupert-Gordon. “While this law will endanger all students, it will be particularly damaging to LGBTQ students and LGBTQ parents. We are filing this challenge only days after the bill was signed into law because the harms it is causing are already so incredibly clear. Every young person deserves to be safe at school, and we will fight unconscionable laws like this until that is true for every student.”
The full lawsuit is available here.
The judge assigned to the case is U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor, who Slate reports is a Donald Trump appointee. Winsor “is perhaps best known for defending Florida’s defunct ban on same-sex marriage. This assignment illustrates how Trump and Republicans stacked the deck against LGBTQ equality for decades to come by flooding the courts with reactionaries in just four years,” according to the outlet.
In 2014, Winsor said that making marriage equality illegal would then support “responsible procreation and childrearing” because “heterosexual couples are the only couples who can produce biological offspring.”
If same-sex couples were allowed to marry, Winsor argued, the stability of the family would be harmed by decreasing “the likelihood that children will be born to and raised by the mothers and fathers who produced them in stable and enduring family units.”
Original Article on The Advocate
Author: Trudy Ring