TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Days after Florida’s controversial parental rights bill was signed into law, a federal lawsuit contesting it as discriminatory was filed in court. The lawsuit was signed onto by a teacher, parents and multiple LGBTQ+ advocacy groups including Equality Florida and National Center for Lesbian Rights, among others.
According to statements from Equality Florida in their announcement of signing on to the suit, they said they would be fulfilling promises they have made as an organization. The advocacy organization called the law “blatantly unconstitutional.”
“We made a promise to defend the rights of all students to have a healthy environment to learn and thrive and for all parents to know their families are included and respected Governor Ron DeSantis’ cruel ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law is meant to isolate, stigmatize, and erase LGBTQ families and our children,” Equality Florida said.
A previous release from the parents suing over the new law provided with a copy of the federal complaint challenging House Bill 1557 said the bill is an attempt by state lawmakers to “erase for an entire generation of Florida public school students the fact that LGBTQ people exist and have equal dignity.”
The law itself, titled Parental Rights in Education, is intended to empower the parents of students in kindergarten through third grade more control over how their children are educated and raised, as asserted by the lawmakers who support the bill, and Gov. DeSantis, who approved the measure.
Opponents of the bill who filed the lawsuit are represented by Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP, as well as lawyers from the NCLR. Gov. DeSantis, the Florida State Board of Education, the individual members of the state BOE, outgoing Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran and multiple school districts were named as defendants in the lawsuit, including the Manatee and Sarasota school districts.
In their complaint, they allege that “H.B. 1557 piles one violation on top of another. It offends principles of free speech and equal protection by seeking to censor discussions of sexual orientation or gender identity that recognize and respect LGBTQ people and their families.” The plaintiffs in the case say HB 1557 is a “grave abuse of power” and an effort to “control young minds through state censorship, and to demean LGBTQ lives by denying their reality.”
Part of the issues of the law, according to Equality Florida, are its “broad and vague terminology.” The organization lists multiple examples of situations that may occur after the bill’s passage, that would become problems due to its enforcement.
For example, can a student of two gay parents talk about their family or their parents’ marriage during a class debate about civics? Are teachers allowed to respond if students with gay parents discuss their family life in class? If so, what can they say? What can a teacher say to a student or a class if a student is being bullied in school because of their sexual orientation or gender identity? Does a school librarian have to remove every book with LGBTQ characters or references? If a kindergarten student draws a picture of their family for class, and that picture includes same-sex parents or a transgender sibling, is the teacher prohibited from hanging it on the wall alongside pictures by every other student? If a student writes an essay drawing on their LGBTQ experiences, is the teacher allowed to grade it—and, if so, must they refuse to provide any substantive feedback?Examples of potential situations at issue from HB 1557, according to Equality Florida and plaintiffs
While opponents of the law are not isolated, the law itself has numerous supporters, including federal lawmakers from Florida. U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, R-Fla., sent a letter to U.S. Dept. of Education leaders asking how they intended to carry out their “monitoring” of Florida’s education system, which the department announced in response to the bill’s passage.
The letter was co-signed by 10 Republican members of Florida’s Congressional Delegation.
Those suing state officials over the new Parental Rights in Education law say none of the questions are answered by the legislation, its analysis, nor its sponsors. They also say the law “places the Plaintiffs and countless others in danger. LGBTQ students already face disproportionality high risks to their mental and physical health. The law not only stigmatizes and silences those vulnerable students, exacerbating risks to their welfare, but also threatens school officials who foster a safe and inclusive environment for them.”