State Watch

Florida parents, teachers refile lawsuit over ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law

(AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Demonstrators protest inside the Florida State Capitol, Monday, March 7, 2022, in Tallahassee, Fla.

A group of students, parents and teachers in Florida have refiled a lawsuit against state and county officials over the enforcement of a new education law that limits how topics related to sexual orientation and gender identity can be talked about in schools.

The amended complaint filed Thursday in the Northern District of Florida comes just over a month after a federal judge dismissed the case, ruling that the plaintiffs had not provided enough solid evidence to prove they had been harmed by the law – known to its critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” law.

Plaintiffs in the refiled lawsuit argue they have “suffered concrete harms” directly tied to the implementation and enforcement of the new law, which was signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) in March and went into effect July 1.

“They have been denied equal educational opportunities they would like to receive, in the curriculum and beyond, and they have been subjected to a discriminatory educational environment that treats LGBTQ people and issues as something to be shunned and avoided, on pain of discipline and liability,” the amended complaint states. “This type of overtly discriminatory treatment has no place in a free democratic society and should not be permitted to stand.”

Among other examples, the complaint cites a September Miami-Dade school board vote to reject a proposal to recognize October as LGBTQ History Month and incorporate lessons about two landmark LGBTQ Supreme Court cases into the existing curriculum for high school seniors on the nation’s civil rights history.

At least four of the nine school board members at the Sept. 7 meeting said recognizing LGBTQ History Month — which the school district celebrated just a year prior — would violate the “Don’t Say Gay” law.

The Miami-Dade school board is named as a defendant in the amended complaint, along with four other school boards and the Florida Department of Education.

Defendants also include members of the State Board of Education, who during an Oct. 19 meeting approved a rule to suspend or revoke the licenses of public primary school teachers if they engage in classroom instruction related to sexual orientation or gender identity. 

The board also voted to adopt a rule that prevents school districts from allowing transgender students to use facilities consistent with their gender identity unless all parents with children in the district are notified by mail and a copy of the policy is posted online.

The amended complaint also references a July memo sent to Florida school leaders in July from state Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. that instructs them to ignore federal guidance expanding Title IX protections for transgender students.

Diaz, who as a state senator last session voted to pass the “Don’t Say Gay” law, in the July memo said schools would risk violating state law if they followed the guidance, which seeks to broaden the definition of sex discrimination to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

Plaintiffs in the amended complaint argue that the law has made schools more hostile places for LGBTQ students, teachers and their families by stigmatizing their identities and marking them as “lesser.”

“It also creates and exacerbates environments where LGBTQ students are more likely to do poorly in school, experience bullying and harassment, and suffer higher risks to their mental and physical health,” the complaint states, citing recent studies on LGBTQ youth mental health from organizations including The Trevor Project and the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN).

The complaint alleges that the law violates the U.S. Constitution and Title IX, which prohibits educational institutions that receive federal funding from discriminating based on sex. Plaintiffs are seeking an injunction that permanently blocks the law’s enforcement, as well as a declaratory judgment that the “Don’t Say Gay” law violates federal law.

A similar case filed by a different group of Florida students, their families and multiple civil rights organizations was dismissed last month by a federal judge, who also ruled that the plaintiffs had not demonstrated exactly how they had been harmed by the new law.

An amended complaint must be filed by Nov. 3.

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