TALLAHASSEE — After a federal judge threw out an earlier attempt, students, parents and teachers have filed a revised lawsuit seeking to block a new Florida law that restricts classroom teaching about gender identity and sexual orientation.
The challenge, filed Thursday in the Northern District of Florida, alleges that the plaintiffs have suffered “concrete damages” from the law (HB 1557), which has fueled fierce debate in the Legislature this year and drawn national attention.
“They have been denied the equal educational opportunities they would like to receive, both in and out of the curriculum, and have been exposed to discriminatory educational environments that treat LGBTQ people and issues as something to be shunned and shunned, under the threat of discipline and responsibility. ,” the 60-page lawsuit says. “This type of blatantly discriminatory treatment has no place in a free democratic society and should not be allowed to stand.”
U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor dismissed an earlier version of the lawsuit on Sept. 29, finding the plaintiffs lacked standing. But Winsor said the plaintiffs may file a revised lawsuit.
The law prevents the teaching of gender identity and sexual orientation in kindergarten through third grade and requires such instruction to be “age-appropriate … consistent with state academic standards” in older grades.
Republican lawmakers called the measure the “Parental Rights in Education” bill. Opponents called it a “don’t say gay” law.
The revised lawsuit claims the measure violates constitutional due process, equal protection and First Amendment rights, along with the federal law known as Title IX, which prohibits sex-based discrimination in educational programs.
The plaintiffs are two students in Miami-Dade County and Manatee County schools, two lesbian couples with children in Miami-Dade County schools, a woman with children in Orange County schools and two teachers in Broward County and Pasco County schools. The defendants are the State Board of Education, the Florida Department of Education and school boards in Broward, Manatee, Miami-Dade, Orange and Pasco counties.
In his Sept. 29 ruling rejecting the earlier version, Winsor wrote that one factor in determining standing is whether a plaintiff can demonstrate a connection between “the claim and the resulting harm.”
“The main problem is that most of the plaintiffs’ alleged damages are not plausibly connected to the enforcement of the law, so much as to the very existence of the law,” Winsor wrote. “Plaintiffs argue that the passage of the law, the sentiment behind it, the motivations of lawmakers and the message the law conveys harms them. But no court order can undo any of that.”
But the revised version tries to connect the law with harm. As examples, it cited the Miami-Dade County School Board’s decision to reject a resolution designating October as LGBTQ History Month; said one of the student plaintiffs, identified by the initials MA, could not find a teacher willing to sponsor a Gay-Straight Alliance at a Manatee County school; and said Broward County schools removed LGBTQ-related books after receiving complaints from the conservative group Moms for Liberty.
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The lawsuit also cited the State Board of Education’s Oct. 19 decision to approve a rule that could result in teachers losing their licenses for violating the law.
“The intended impact of this law is clear,” the lawsuit states. “They seek to roll back the equal inclusion of LGBTQ people and issues in Florida’s schools and impede policies requiring equal treatment and support for LGBTQ students. Schools and educators, presented with vague bans under the threat of lawsuits, have been and will be frozen from discussing or even referring to LGBTQ people, and LGBTQ students have been and will be stigmatized, ostracized, and denied the educational opportunities that their non-LGBTQ peers have been and will be stigmatized . receive.”
While state attorneys have not filed a response to the revised lawsuit, they disputed in a June court filing that the Legislature “acted out of hostility toward LGBTQ individuals.”
“The bill does not reflect any government preference about what students should learn about sexual orientation and gender identity,” state attorneys wrote. “These subjects must be taught appropriately and for the youngest children they can be taught by parents, not in public school classrooms. That is a legitimate (state) interest.”
Students, parents and a nonprofit group filed a separate lawsuit against the law this summer in federal court in Orlando. U.S. District Judge Wendy Berger dismissed the case on Oct. 20 but, like Winsor, gave the plaintiffs a chance to file a revised version. The deadline for submission is Thursday.
Jim Saunders, News Service of Florida