Monday, March 11, 2024

Victory in Florida: Lawsuit settlement guts harmful components of 'Don't Say Gay' law

Florida's 'Don't Say Gay' bill, a centerpiece of Ron DeSantis's so-called 'war on woke,' was gutted due to a settlement announced Monday evening. However, DeSantis is trying to deceive people by proclaiming victory.


 Students and teachers will be able to speak freely about sexual orientation and gender identity in Florida classrooms, provided it’s not part of instruction, under a settlement reached Monday between Florida education officials and civil rights attorneys who had challenged a state law which critics dubbed “Don’t Say Gay.” 

 The settlement clarifies what is allowed in Florida classrooms following passage two years ago of the law prohibiting instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in early grades. Opponents said the law had created confusion about whether teachers could identify themselves as LGBTQ or if they even could have rainbow stickers in classrooms. Other states used the Florida law as a template to pass prohibitions on classroom instruction on gender identity or sexual orientation. Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky and North Carolina are among the states with versions of the law. 

 Under the terms of the settlement, the Florida Board of Education will send instructions to every school district saying the Florida law doesn’t prohibit discussing LGBTQ people, nor prevent anti-bullying rules on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or disallow Gay-Straight Alliance groups. The settlement also spells out that the law is neutral — meaning what applies to LGBTQ people also applies to heterosexual people — and that it doesn’t apply to library books not being used in the classroom. 

 DeSantis quickly declared the settlement as a victory for his law, but don't be deceived. 

According to The Tampa Bay Times:

DeSantis and others who backed the legislation insisted repeatedly that they had no intention of stopping discussions about LGBTQ+ issues in schools. Their goal, they said, was to eliminate what they called gender ideology. They did not provide clear definitions, though, nor did they offer detailed guidelines explaining what is and is not allowed in classrooms. 

Some claimed that not providing clear definitions or guidelines was a deliberate intent of the law. While it didn't offer clear instructions, but the penalties for breaking it were made very clear. This caused a lot of fear and confusion:

The critics claimed the result was a chilling effect that led teachers to stop talking about children’s families, remove books relating to LGBTQ+ characters and themes from their shelves, and to pull back support for LGBTQ+ students. As part of their defense, lawyers for the state pushed back against the allegations that the law lacked clarity. The settlement, announced by lawyers for the plaintiffs, took those arguments and made them real.

 Equality Florida issued a statement which celebrated the settlement:

This agreement successfully dismantles the most harmful impacts of the law, ensuring it cannot be wielded as a tool of discrimination against LGBTQ+ students, educators, and families. The settlement secures several critical protections and clarifications, including:

 Free Expression Restored: Students and teachers can now speak and write freely about sexual orientation and gender identity in classroom participation and assignments. 

 Anti-Bullying Protections Strengthened: The settlement reinforces safeguards against bullying based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

 Gay-Straight Alliances Protected: GSAs are officially protected, providing students with essential support and advocacy spaces. 

Classroom References Clarified: The law cannot prohibit references to LGBTQ+ individuals, relationships, families, or topics in any educational or extracurricular context. 

Non-Discrimination Assured: Targeting LGBTQ+ persons, couples, families, or issues under the guise of this law is explicitly forbidden. 

Extracurricular Activities Protected: Participation in and support of LGBTQ+ student clubs and cultural presentations remain unaffected.

 Nadine Smith, Equality Florida’s Executive Director, ​also added

 “This settlement not only reaffirms the rights of LGBTQ+ students and educators to live and speak openly but also marks a significant step towards rectifying the damage inflicted by the ‘Don't Say Gay or Trans’ law. It's a testament to what we can achieve when we stand united against discrimination and for the dignity of all LGBTQ+ people in Florida. 

 This victory is more than a legal triumph; it's a beacon of hope and a reminder of the power of collective action. It demonstrates our ongoing commitment to a Florida where everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, can live authentically and without fear. 

 We extend our heartfelt thanks to our legal team at Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the brave parents and educators who served as plaintiffs, and all who have supported this cause. Your courage and unity have been instrumental in securing a more inclusive and just Florida.”