Respect Equality

Florida LGBTQ+ groups, families challenge ‘Don’t Say Gay’ in new lawsuit

The lawsuit filed Thursday in federal court calls the new law “blatantly unconstitutional.”

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  • COVID-19 patients were at a 25 percent greater risk of developing a psychiatric disorder in the months after infections than those who experienced other respiratory illnesses.

  • Patients diagnosed with COVID-19 had a 3.8 percent chance of developing a psychiatric disorder compared to 3 percent of those with a different respiratory diagnosis, researchers said.

  • The rates of psychiatric diagnosis were measured over two periods – 21 to 120 days after a COVID-19 diagnosis, and from 120 days to a year after diagnosis.

Several LGBTQ+ organizations, students and families in Florida on Thursday filed a federal complaint challenging the state’s new Parental Rights in Education law — known to its critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” law — as a “blatantly unconstitutional” attempt to stigmatize and erase LGBTQ+ people in the state’s public schools.

In the lawsuit filed Thursday in federal court, advocacy groups Equality Florida and Family Equality, along with Florida students, parents and a teacher, say the law, which was signed Monday by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, is an “unlawful attempt to stigmatize, silence, and erase LGBTQ people in Florida’s public schools.”

Beginning in July, public primary school teachers in Florida will not be permitted to engage in classroom instruction related to sexual orientation or gender identity, and public school teachers of all grade levels will be barred from addressing those topics in a manner that is not “age appropriate or developmentally appropriate” for their students.

The lawsuit alleges that the Florida law violates the First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment rights of public school teachers, students and parents in Florida, as well as Title IX, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Since the bill, which is also known as House Bill 1557, was introduced in the state legislature in January, LGBTQ+ advocates have argued that it unfairly discriminates against LGBTQ+ people.

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“By design, H.B. 1557 uses vague terms to create a statutory structure in which anyone who discusses or acknowledges any aspect of LGBTQ identity must fear running afoul of the law, while it is simply taken for granted that discussing heterosexuality or cisgender identity in school settings is perfectly fine,” the lawsuit, filed by the law firm Kaplan Hecker & Fink and the National Center for Lesbian Rights reads. “The effect of H.B. 1557 is thus to chill the rights of teachers, students, and officials, who, like any rational person, will avoid the danger zone created by a state-mandated censorship code.”

Florida parents under the law will also be given greater authority to take legal action against school districts believed to be in violation, which the complaint alleges will “amplify” self-censorship in schools as school boards will be motivated to avoid lawsuits by “quelling or punishing any potentially risky speech.”

The lawsuit filed Thursday claims that the “harmful effects” of the new law have already begun to manifest in classrooms even though the law does not officially go into effect until July 1, and teachers and school administrators have said they will remove LGBTQ+ references from the curriculum and shut down in-school discussions that touch upon LGBTQ+ issues.

“LGBTQ students and parents are unsure about whether they can express or discuss their identities, and they worry about detention or other possible discipline or exclusion that may result if they do,” the lawsuit reads.

“Already, our children have told us that they are afraid that they will not be able to talk about their family at school,” Dan and Brent VanTice, two of the suit’s plaintiffs and the parents of two first-grade students, said Thursday. “We are heartbroken that our children are already feeling isolated and stigmatized by this law.”

Lindsay McClelland, the mother of one of the lawsuit’s young plaintiffs, a transgender fifth-grader at a Florida public school, said she worries the new law will prevent her daughter’s teachers from shielding her from bullying.

Earlier this week, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona in a statement encouraged students who believe they may be experiencing discrimination, including harassment at school, to file a complaint with the Department’s Office of Civil Rights, adding that his office will be “monitoring” the Florida law once it takes effect for any potential violations to federal civil rights law.

The lawsuit names DeSantis, Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran and other education officials as defendants.