Four Florida school boards have been named in a second federal lawsuit that questions the constitutional validity of the state's "Don't Say Gay" law and the efforts of districts to comply with it.

Who Made The Complaint?

A group of plaintiffs, which includes a same-sex couple and their two children, an opposite-sex couple, and their four kids, among whom one is nonbinary - Will Larkins, made the complaint. Will Larkins is a gay and nonbinary rising senior at Winter Park High School in Orange County, Florida, and Centerlink, Inc. Centerlink, an organization supporting local LGBTQ+ individuals, filed the complaint in the Middle District of Florida U.S. District Court.

In the lawsuit, plaintiffs claim the "Parental Rights in Education" law, also known as the "Don't Say Gay" law by detractors, violates their First Amendment right to free speech. It also violates the right to expression, as well as their Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process and equal protection.

What Does The Law Say?

According to the law, sexual orientation or gender identity discussion is prohibited in grades K–3. They are limited to middle and high school students dependent on the subject matter being "age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate" — terms state education officials have not yet characterized. Parents have the legal right to file a lawsuit against a district if they are dissatisfied with how it is being applied, and mandates all school districts adhere to its requirements.

Each plaintiff contends the law has harmed them in some way, either by forcing same-sex couples to keep their relationship private to protect their children, or an overly litigious parent using the recognition of their family as a pretext to sue the school or attempt to have teachers fired. 

This is done by tolerating bullying of LGBTQ youth by making teachers and staff afraid to intervene because they may be accused of "grooming" or "indoctrinating" children. Also, it is done by preventing children from seeing their LGBTQ siblings as their family; or by grounding LGBTQ students like Larkins, for instance. He was transferred to another class after writing a presentation about the Stonewall Uprising.

"This breathtakingly broad law's aim and effect are to silence LGBTQ+ students and families, and the law's ambiguity heightens this chilling effect.” According to a statement from Kell Olson, a staff attorney with Lambda Legal, "The law encourages schools to aggressively control conversations that might trigger the type of ethical objection that arose to this law. This happens because it welcomes any parent unsatisfied with a school's censorship of LGBTQ-related lectures to sue the school district and gather attorney fees."

Tracy Pierce is the director of marketing communications at Duval County Public Schools. She stated via email that the municipality "will always take measures required to comply with Florida legislation.

"LGBTQ+ parents are finding it difficult to explain to their kids in a kind way why they won't be able to discuss with their families openly when they return to school in a few weeks.” Olson said schools have already eliminated anti-bullying training for K–12 teachers and removed books from the shelves. This discriminatory law endangers students and conveys shame and stigma that have no place in educational institutions.

Plaintiffs David Dinan and Vikranth Gongidi, a same-sex couple with two kids, said, "We are intensely worried about the negative impact that HB 1557 has upon our family… The law restricts our freedom of speech and expression. The law forces us to self-censor out of concern for the reactions of our children's classmates and educators, which could lead to our kids being excluded and ashamed of their families. Additionally, it harms our children's growth and development in an irreversible way.”

Is The Law Ambiguous?

Larkins continued, "I am worried that this law will destroy any chance of healthy and significant discussions about LGBTQ+ issues or historical events, which are already lacking in our schools. Due to the law's ambiguous language, rigid parents feel empowered to become vigilantes and impose their views on other people's children by suing the school district for any disagreements.”

Indian River County Schools added: "Our school district will proceed to provide the necessary support to pupils and staff to guarantee that no child is marginalized against. Also, all students are given equal opportunity to a high level of education". The four school districts being sued refused to comment on the lawsuit or discuss ongoing litigation.

Due to the "Don't Say Gay" law, the hard-won safeguards fought to establish in Florida school districts to protect LGBTQ+ students, like LGBTQ+ Critical Support Guides and anti-bullying regulations. “Inclusive materials are being forcibly removed as schools move toward censorship to avoid pricey legal challenges by anti-LGBTQ+ parents," added Chriss. "We will fight to make this injustice right, to correct this wrong, and to ensure that each pupil has access to an understanding and safe school climate."