On Thursday, gay rights advocates filed a lawsuit against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to stop a new law that prohibits sexual orientation and gender identity instruction in kindergarten through third grade.
Florida and DeSantis, a potential Republican presidential candidate in 2024, have risen to the forefront of the country’s culture wars as a result of the law. Critics refer to it as the “Don’t Say Gay” law, claiming that its true purpose is to marginalize LGBTQ individuals and their families.
The National Center for Lesbian Rights, on behalf of Equality Florida and Family Equality, filed a lawsuit in federal court in Tallahassee, alleging that the law violates the First Amendment and other provisions of the United States Constitution.
“Our country has worked hard to keep its promise that everyone has the right to be treated with dignity under the law. That is especially true for LGBTQ Americans, who now have the constitutional right to identify openly as LGBTQ, marry, and have children,” according to Roberta Kaplan of Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP.
According to a press release announcing the lawsuit, the law intentionally uses broad terms and invites arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement, empowering parents to act as roving censors who can sue school boards for damages for any perceived violation.
“Classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity by school personnel or third parties may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3, or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards,” the law states. Parents would be able to sue school districts if they were violated.
On Thursday, U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona met with LGBTQ students and their families at an Orlando school to discuss how the legislation is affecting their lives in private. Cardona’s visit was one of several events hosted by the Biden administration on Thursday to show support for the LGBTQ community, including a presidential proclamation commemorating Transgender Day of Visibility.
DeSantis and other Republicans have defended the rules, claiming that children should learn about sexual orientation and gender identity from their parents rather than from schools.
When the governor signed it into law this week, he said, “We will make sure that parents can send their children to school to get an education, not an indoctrination.”
Many critics have claimed that the law’s language, particularly the phrases “classroom instruction” and “age appropriate,” could be interpreted so broadly that discussions in any grade could result in lawsuits, causing teachers to avoid the subjects entirely in the classroom.
The bill’s introduction in Florida’s Republican-controlled legislature this year sparked an outpouring of public outrage, with the White House, Hollywood celebrities, students, Democrats, and LGBTQ advocates all condemning the policy. Legal challenges have been expected.
According to the lawsuit, the law is unconstitutionally vague and discriminatory, and it infringes on free speech rights guaranteed by the First Amendment. The lawsuit also names Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran and other education officials as defendants, attempting to prevent the law from taking effect.
Dan and Brent VanTice, parents of two first-graders, said in a statement announcing the suit, “Our children have already told us that they are afraid that they will not be able to talk about their family at school.” “We are heartbroken that this law has already isolated and stigmatized our children.”
The law is politically motivated, according to Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association union, because elementary schools, particularly in kindergarten through third grade, do not teach about these subjects and have state curriculum standards guiding classroom lessons.
The law exacerbates DeSantis’s long-running feud with Democratic President Joe Biden, who tweeted after DeSantis signed the bill this week, “My Administration will continue to fight for dignity and opportunity for every student and family — in Florida and across the country.” Cardona has stated that his agency will be on the lookout for any resulting federal civil rights violations.