Florida families and advocacy groups file suit to block “Don’t Say Gay” law

ORLANDO, Fla. — The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Lambda Legal, Southern Legal Counsel (SLC), and Baker McKenzie announced the filing of a federal lawsuit challenging Florida’s controversial Parental Rights in Education bill.

The lawsuit was filed Monday on behalf of seven students and their parents, as well as CenterLink Inc., a nonprofit LGBTQ advocacy organization based in Fort Lauderdale.

Southern Poverty Law Center and co-counsel have challenged the constitutionality of the law in a federal lawsuit against school districts in Orange, Indian River, Duval and Palm Beach counties.

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The suit argues that the law violates the right to free speech and the due process clause of the 14th Amendment, as well as the amendment’s guarantee of equal protection under the law.

The bill, which critics have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law, bans discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in grades K-3.

The law, which took effect July 1, 2022, also gives any parent the legal power to sue districts that they believe are violating its terms.

Read: Despite heavy consequences, Tallahassee still mum on teacher ‘Don’t Say Gay’ do’s and don’ts

Bacardi Jackson with SPLC said children shouldn’t be used as political fodder.

“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,” Jackson said.

Winter Park High School senior Will Larkins, who is one of the plaintiffs in the suit, said the law will prohibit important discussions of LGBTQ+ issues and historical events.

READ: Teachers voice concerns after Orange County previews ‘Don’t Say Gay’ impact to classrooms

“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,” Larkins said.

Supporters say the law gives parents a defined say in their child’s upbringing by keeping talk of gender and sexuality out of elementary school classrooms, and ensuring they are notified about mental and emotional health concerns.

After the law passed this past spring, Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley said it gives parents more of a say in their child’s education.

WATCH: LGBTQ activists speak out on controversial ‘don’t say gay’ bill in Tallahassee

“I know how important it is to empower parents in this relationship. I want to encourage parents across Florida to own it,” Baxley said.

In an email, Governor DeSantis’ press secretary Christina Pushaw said while she had not had a chance to review the lawsuit she said HB 1557 is grounded in the law and in common sense.

“The law says nothing about LGBTQ or any other identity – it is about protecting children and defending parental rights. Floridians don’t want their kids to be exposed to subjects like gender transitioning in school, which should be a place for learning basic skills like reading, writing, and math,” Pushaw said.

At a bill signing event in March Gov. DeSantis said the bill protects the rights of parents to have a say in their child’s education.

Parents’ rights have been increasingly under assault around the nation, but in Florida, we stand up for the rights of parents and the fundamental role they play in the education of their children, DeSantis said.

A hearing date in the case has not been set.

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Q Mccray

Q McCray, WFTV.com

Q McCray is an award-winning general assignment reporter.

Matt Reeser

Matt Reeser, WFTV.com

Matt Reeser joined WFTV in 1998 as a news photographer and has worked for television stations in Kentucky and West Virginia.