Civil rights challenge to Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law reaches settlement News
Michael Rivera, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Civil rights challenge to Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law reaches settlement

Florida education officials and civil rights attorneys reached a settlement on Monday over the state law dubbed “Don’t Say Gay.”

The parties came to an agreement after two years of litigation and an appeal to the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. This agreement paves the way for students and teachers in Florida classrooms to openly discuss sexual orientation and gender identity, albeit mostly outside of formal instruction. Both sides celebrate this development as a substantial compromise, highlighting its impact on the education system.

The law firm for the plaintiffs, Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP, released a statement that said:

The settlement restores the ability of students, teachers, and others in Florida schools to speak and write freely about sexual orientation and gender identity in their class participation and schoolwork. We cannot overemphasize our gratitude for the courage of our clients—the nineteen plaintiffs who stood up against prejudice and hate, even within their own local communities.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis announced the settlement as a “major win against the activists who sought to stop Florida’s efforts to keep radical gender and sexual ideology out of the classrooms of public-school children in kindergarten through third grade (5- to 9-year-olds).”  After the agreement, Florida General Counsel Ryan Newman said, “We fought hard to ensure this law couldn’t be maligned in court, as it was in the public arena by the media and large corporate actors.”

While the law remains in effect, its interpretation has been significantly altered. The law now clearly states that discussions related to sexual orientation and gender identity are permissible in educational settings. An example of the compromise in the settlement states, “the statute [may] restrict the use of books to instruct students on the concepts of sexual orientation or gender identity…but may not [restrict] mere ‘literary’ references to a gay or transgender person or same-sex couple.” It also allows teachers to refer openly to their same-sex partners and have a family photo on their desk.

The Florida “Don’t Say Gay” law, officially the Parental Rights in Education Act (House Bill 1557), still has specific provisions that regulate and restrict discussions related to sexual orientation and gender identity. The law applies primarily to classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties, not to after-school clubs and activities. Discussions on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards. Legal consequences do hold, and the law allows parents on both sides of the spectrum of belief to sue districts if violations occur.