Parents ask federal judge to block Florida schools from carrying out 'Don't Say Gay' law

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A group of parents, students and advocacy organizations is asking a federal judge to halt Florida school districts from enforcing the state’s contentious new law restricting how lessons on sexual identity and gender orientation are taught.

In a court filing Friday, the group requested a preliminary injunction, arguing that policies in Florida’s “Parental Rights in Education” law — branded by opponents as “Don’t Say Gay” — violate its First Amendment, due-process and equal-protection rights.

The group on Friday asked for a hearing in its pursuit of a preliminary injunction. Nothing has been scheduled as of Monday morning.

The law “was enacted with the purpose and effect of discriminating against LGBTQ+ students and students with LGBTQ+ family members, subjecting them to differential and adverse treatment, including through an invitation to arbitrary enforcement and a private right of action for hostile parents,” attorneys for the group wrote in the motion seeking an injunction.

The lawsuit was brought forward by two Florida couples and their children, an upcoming senior student and CenterLink, an association of LGBTQ centers, all represented by attorneys from Lambda Legal, the Southern Poverty Law Center and Southern Legal Counsel. By suing several school boards — Orange, Indian River, Duval and Palm Beach counties — the case signifies a new legal twist to the parental rights bill in challenging the local boards tasked with carrying out the legislation instead of the DeSantis administration.

Indian River and Orange counties declined to comment on the lawsuit while the other two counties did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The bill, FL H.B. 1557 (22R), prohibits teachers from leading classroom instruction on gender identity or sexual orientation for students in kindergarten through third grade. It also bans such lessons for older students unless they are “age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate.”

The most controversial education proposal that passed during the 2022 session, it additionally requires schools to notify parents if there is a change in services for a student or any additional monitoring for their “mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being” and creates an outlet for legal action if these rules are broken by school officials. That provision arose after some parents complained that schools helped their children transition to a different gender without their permission.

The group at the heart of the lawsuit contends that the legislation is discriminating against the LGBTQ community, arguing that they “already have been silenced and disciplined, have censored themselves or their children, and have lost access to library materials that acknowledge the existence of LGBTQ people.”

Further, they contend that the law is vague and susceptible to different interpretations, citing the term “classroom instruction,” which is causing schools to expand the scope to activity beyond lesson plans, instructions, or assignments.

In seeking to block enforcement, the lawsuit alleges that one student, who is non-binary, has been bulled about their gender identity “more intensely than ever in the past” and that other students have reported that they “are unsure if they can use their own pronouns or if they can report bullying based on their LGBTQ+ identity.”