Florida Teens, Families Sue School Boards Over 'Don't Say Gay' Law: 'Forces Us to Self-Censor'

·3 min read
Revelers celebrate on 7th Avenue during the Tampa Pride Parade in the Ybor City neighborhood on March 26, 2022 in Tampa, Florida. The Tampa Pride was held in the wake of the passage of Florida's controversial "Don't Say Gay" Bill.
Revelers celebrate on 7th Avenue during the Tampa Pride Parade in the Ybor City neighborhood on March 26, 2022 in Tampa, Florida. The Tampa Pride was held in the wake of the passage of Florida's controversial "Don't Say Gay" Bill.

Octavio Jones/Getty

Florida's LGBTQ teens and parents are going after their school districts over the recently-enacted H.B. 1557, widely known as the "Don't Say Gay" bill.

The complaint argues that the legislation "effectively silences and erases LGBTQ+ students and families" by banning discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in grades K-3 and restricts those topics for students through 12th grade based on vague standards of what's appropriate.

"The law demands that school districts implement its terms, and it empowers any parent to directly sue the school district if they are dissatisfied with its implementation of the law," reads the lawsuit, which was filed by Lambda Legal, Southern Poverty Law Center, Southern Legal Counsel and private counsel Baker McKenzie.

RELATED: What to Know About Florida's Controversial New Bill Banning LGBTQ Topics in Schools

The lawsuit represents two Florida couples and their children, rising high school senior Will Larkins and the organization CenterLink, an international network of LGBTQ centers. It names school districts in the counties of Orange, Indian River, Duval and Palm Beach, which did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.

"I am concerned that this law will eviscerate any hope of healthy and important discussions about LGBTQ+ issues or historical events, which are already lacking in our schools," Larkins said in a statement. "Because of the vague language of the law, closed-minded parents are emboldened to become vigilantes to force their beliefs upon other people's children by suing the school district over anything they disagree with."

Revelers celebrate on the 7th Avenue during the Tampa Pride Parade in the Ybor City neighborhood on March 26, 2022 in Tampa, Florida. The Tampa Pride was held in the wake of the passage of Florida's controversial "Don't Say Gay" Bill.
Revelers celebrate on the 7th Avenue during the Tampa Pride Parade in the Ybor City neighborhood on March 26, 2022 in Tampa, Florida. The Tampa Pride was held in the wake of the passage of Florida's controversial "Don't Say Gay" Bill.

Octavio Jones/Getty

Fellow plaintiffs David Dinan and Vikranth Gongidi added: "We are deeply concerned about the negative effect that HB 1557 has upon our family. The law limits our speech and our expression. The law forces us to self-censor for fear of prompting responses from our children's teachers and classmates that would isolate our children and make them feel ashamed of their own family. It also causes irreparable harm to our children and to their development."

RELATED: Florida's First Openly Gay State Senator Speaks Out on 'Don't Say Gay' Bill

The suit argues: "This vigilante enforcement mechanism, combined with the law's intentionally vague and sweeping scope, invites parents who oppose any acknowledgment whatsoever of the existence of LGBTQ+ people to sue, resulting in schools acting aggressively to silence students, parents, and school personnel.

"The law, by design, chills speech and expression that have any connection, however remote, to sexual orientation or gender identity."

Ron DeSantis, governor of Florida, speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando, Florida, U.S., on Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022.
Ron DeSantis, governor of Florida, speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando, Florida, U.S., on Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022.

Tristan Wheelock/Bloomberg via Getty Ron DeSantis

The National Center for Lesbian Rights previously filed another lawsuit against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis shortly after he signed the bill into law in March.

RELATED: White House Describes Scene in Florida as 'Don't Say Gay' Bill Takes Effect: 'More Fearful and Less Free'

At the time of the signing, DeSantis, 43, said, "We will continue to recognize that in the state of Florida, parents have a fundamental role in the education, health care, and well-being of their children. We will not move from that," according to CNN.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, the first openly gay person in the position, previously denounced the bill after it took effect earlier this month.

RELATED VIDEO: In Concurring Opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas Writes Court 'Should Reconsider' Rulings Legalizing Gay Marriage and Birth Control

"This is not an issue of 'parents' rights.' This is discrimination, plain and simple," said Jean-Pierre, 47. "It's part of a disturbing and dangerous nationwide trend of right-wing politicians cynically targeting LGBTQI+ students, educators, and individuals to score political points."

President Joe Biden has also been urging Congress to pass the Equality Act, which will ensure "long overdue" civil rights protections for LGBTQ people.