Florida parents bring first challenge to bill opponents dub 'Don't Say Gay'

by Reuters
Friday, 1 April 2022 14:53 GMT

Hillsborough High School students protest a Republican-backed bill dubbed the "Don't Say Gay" that would prohibit classroom discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity, a measure Democrats denounced as being anti-LGBTQ, in Tampa, Florida, U.S., March 3, 2022. REUTERS/Octavio Jones

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The 'Don't Say Gay' bill bans classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity for many young students

* Parents, students, advocacy group say law violates Constitutional rights

* They seek court order blocking enforcement

March 31 - Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and other state officials were hit with a lawsuit on Thursday challenging a recently adopted law that bans classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity for many young students.

In a complaint filed Thursday in Tallahassee federal court, students, parents, a teacher and advocacy group Equality Florida called the Republican-backed law, dubbed the "don't say gay" bill by opponents, "offensive and unconstitutional" and asked the court to block its enforcement.

“Florida would deny to an entire generation that LGBTQ people exist and have equal dignity,” the plaintiffs said. “This effort to control young minds through state censorship - and to demean LGBTQ lives by denying their reality - is a grave abuse of power.”

“This calculated, politically motivated, virtue-signaling lawsuit is meritless, and we will defend the legality of parents to protect their young children from sexual content in Florida public schools,” said Taryn Fenske, a spokeswoman for DeSantis.

The bill was signed by DeSantis here on Tuesday and is set to take effect in July. It bars classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity for children in kindergarten through third grade, or from about ages 5-9, in public schools.

It also prohibits such teaching that “is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate” for students in other grades. Parents will be allowed to sue school districts they believe to be in violation.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit said the law runs afoul of students’ First Amendment right to receive information and ideas. They also said the law is unconstitutionally vague, failing to define what discussion is and is not allowed in schools, and that it will have the effect of discriminating against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) students.

“Presented with vague prohibitions under the threat of litigation, schools and educators will be chilled from discussing or even referencing LGBTQ people, and LGBTQ students will be stigmatized, ostracized and denied the educational opportunities that their non-LGBTQ peers receive,” the complaint said.

DeSantis, who is seeking reelection this year and is widely expected to be a candidate for president in 2024, has joined other Republicans nationwide in calling for parents to have more control of what young children learn in school. The new law has drawn harsh criticism, including from Democratic President Joe Biden, who has called it “hateful.”

This article has been updated with a comment from Gov. DeSantis’ office.

(Reporting by Brendan Pierson)