US federal judge blocks Florida ban on use of personal pronouns by teachers News
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US federal judge blocks Florida ban on use of personal pronouns by teachers

US District Judge Mark Walker blocked the enforcement of a Florida law Wednesday that would have banned a transgender public school teacher from introducing themselves to students with their personal pronouns.

The law, which went into effect in 2023, bans public school employees or contractors from providing to students a “preferred personal title or pronouns if such personal title or pronouns do not correspond to his or her sex.”  The law was challenged by Katie Wood and AV Schwandes on First Amendment grounds as well as under Title VII, Title IX, and the Fourteenth Amendment. Wood and Schwandes had been told by school administrators that they could no longer introduce themselves to students using their personal pronouns. Wood is a transgender woman who uses she/her pronouns while Schawandes is non-binary and uses they/them pronouns. Schwandes was eventually fired after refusing to comply with the pronoun directive.

In their filings the teachers asked for preliminary injunctions against the law so they could continue to use their pronouns in introductions.

The court granted a preliminary injunction for Wood but found that Schwandes lacked standing to challenge the law on account of their firing. The injunction was limited to Wood’s case on the grounds that it wasn’t a facial challenge of the law. But Walker had harsh words for the Florida law, even citing American poet Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” while praising Wood’s assertion of her gender identity. Walker said:

In sharing her preferred title and pronouns, Ms. Wood celebrates herself and sings herself — not in a disruptive or coercive way, but in a way that subtly vindicates her identity, her dignity, and her humanity. [The Florida law] has silenced her and, by silencing her, forced her to inhabit an identity that is not her own. The State of Florida has not justified this grave restraint, and so the United States Constitution does not tolerate it. Ours is a Union of individuals, celebrating ourselves and singing ourselves and being ourselves without apology.

Walker ultimately found that Wood demonstrated a strong showing that she would prevail on the merits of the First Amendment claim in justifying the granting of the injunction.

While the law is intact throughout Florida the preliminary injunction will remain in place for Wood until the outcome of her case is decided later this year. The order comes after a settlement in a civil rights case over similar “don’t say gay” laws in the state of Florida and moves from other states to enact similar legislation.