Students protest a “Don’t Say Gay” proposal at the Florida Capitol on March 3, 2022. (Photo by Danielle J. Brown/Florida Phoenix)
Statewide LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Florida filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against Gov. Ron DeSantis, state education officials, and others over a new law aiming to limit conversations about LGBTQ people in classrooms.
The lawsuit arrived in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, claiming that the newly signed law, HB 1557, violates the U.S. Constitution, including discrimination protections under the First Amendment, which is related to freedom of expression, and the Fourteenth Amendment, which says no state can deprive any person of life, liberty, or property.
According to a press release, the plaintiffs include LGBTQ students and families who “face, and have already suffered, concrete harms as a result of this blatantly unconstitutional law.”
Other plaintiffs are Family Equality, a nationwide LGBTQ advocacy group based in New York, and Equality Florida.
The defendants include DeSantis, the Florida Department of Education, members of the state Board of Education, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, and the local school boards of Manatee, Sarasota, Miami-Dade, St. Johns, and Jackson counties.
The new law allows parents to sue if a school district withholds information about their children’s well-being or exposed them exposed to classroom instruction about sexual orientation or gender identity deemed not “age-appropriate.” The bill expressly bans such discussions for kids in kindergarten through third grade, but could capture instruction and counseling through high school.
The law’s official title is “Parental Rights in Education,” but LBGTQ advocates have dubbed HB 1557 “Don’t Say Gay.” Supporters of the legislation claim that the new law protects a parent’s right to direct the upbringing of their children and that some topics are best discussed at home.
“By design, HB 1557 constructs a statutory scheme in which any rational person who discusses or acknowledges any aspect of LGBTQ identity must fear running afoul of the law. The effect of HB 1557 is thus to chill the rights of teachers, students, and school officials, who, like any rational person, will avoid the danger zone created by a state-mandated censorship code,” according to the lawsuit.
Bar on enforcement sought
The suit asks the court to strike down the law and prohibit Florida’s education officials from enforcing it and to award damages where appropriate and attorney fees if the lawsuit prevails.
Equality Florida previously stated plans to sue should any student be harmed by the legislation when it cleared the Florida House and Senate during the 2022 legislative session.
The law firm representing Equality Florida is New York-based Kaplan Hecker & Fink, which posted on twitter Thursday: “We’re proud to represent our extraordinary plaintiffs in challenging Florida’s discriminatory and unconstitutional #DontSayGay law.”
The lawsuit arrived on the annual International Transgender Day of Visibility. One of the students in the lawsuit is a transgender girl in fifth grade.
According to GLSEN, an advocacy groups focused on protecting LGBTQ students, Transgender Day of Visibility aims to highlight transgender activism and the accomplishments of transgender people.
In recognition of the day, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona has arrived in Orlando for LGBTQ-focused roundtables and discussions on the expected damage from HB 1557.
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