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Judge Dismisses Suit Against 'Don't Say Gay,' Scoffs at Bullying

David Dinan and Vikranth Gongidi with their children

Trump-appointed Judge Wendy Berger, in dismissing the suit brought by several Florida families, says bullying "is simply a fact of life."


A federal judge in Florida has dismissed a suit against the state's "don't say gay" law and refused to issue a preliminary injunction blocking its enforcement.

U.S. District Judge Wendy Berger, appointed to her position by Donald Trump, made her ruling Thursday, the Associated Press reports. She said those who brought the suit -- LGBTQ+ students and families, plus an association of LGBTQ+ community centers -- did not have legal standing to challenge the law. She also said that bullying in school, which the plaintiffs expressed concerns about, "is simply a fact of life."

Berger said the plaintiffs could file an amended version of the suit and gave them until November 3 to do so. A federal judge who had dismissed another suit against the law this month likewise said the plaintiffs in that action did not have standing and offered them a chance to file an amended suit.

The suit dismissed by Berger named as defendants several school districts, as school districts have the responsibility to enforce the "don't say gay" law, which restricts classroom instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity. The legislation, House Bill 1557, was signed into law by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis in March and went into effect July 1.

"Plaintiffs have not directed this Court to any fact that would lead a reasonable person to believe that the law prohibits students from discussing their families and vacations at school or even on a school assignment, or that it would prohibit a parent from attending a school function in a 'pride' t-shirt or generally discussing their family structure in front of other people," Berger wrote, according to the AP.

On concerns about bullying, she said, "It is simply a fact of life that many middle school students will face the criticism and harsh judgment of their peers."

"Indeed, middle school children bully and belittle their classmates for a whole host of reasons, all of which are unacceptable, and many of which have nothing to do with a classmate's gender identity," she continued.

The lawyers representing the families and community centers decried Berger's ruling. "The court's decision is wrong on the law and disrespectful to LGBTQ+ families and students. HB 1557 suppresses wholesale the speech and identities of LGBTQ+ students and their families," Kell Olson, staff attorney at Lambda Legal, said in a press release. "It sends a message of shame and stigma that has no place in schools and puts LGBTQ+ students and families at risk. The students and families at the heart of this case have experienced more bullying in the months since the law went into effect than ever before in their lives, but the court dismissed their experiences of bullying as 'a fact of life.' The court's decision defies decades of precedent establishing schools' constitutional obligations to protect student speech, and to protect students from targeted bullying and harassment based on who they are."

"Our plaintiffs, and other LGBTQ+ students and families throughout Florida, have experienced real harms caused by this law, which were not acknowledged by the Court," added Simone Chriss, director of the transgender rights initiative at Southern Legal Counsel. "This fight is not over -- it has just begun. Florida's LGBTQ+ students and families deserve better, and we will press forward to protect their rights."

"The court's order ignores the real harm this unconstitutional law causes to our plaintiffs, and LGBTQ+ students and families across Florida, every day that it remains in effect," said Scott McCoy, interim deputy legal director at the Southern Poverty Law Center. "The callous disregard towards increased bullying based on gender identity and the removal of anti-bullying guidance shows exactly why we must keep fighting."

"We very much look forward to continuing the fight against this unjust and dangerous law," said Angela Vigil, partner and executive director of pro bono practice at Baker McKenzie LLP. "We plan to show the court and the state the harm caused to children and families by this law is destructive in so many ways for education, community, families and, most importantly, children."

(Image above: The families who brought the suit include Vikranth Gongidi and David Dinan, shown with their children. Courtesy Lambda Legal.)

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Trudy Ring

Trudy Ring, The Advocate's copy chief, has spent much of her journalistic career covering the LGBT movement. When she's not fielding questions about grammar, spelling, and LGBT history, she's sharing movie trivia or classic rock lyrics.
Trudy Ring, The Advocate's copy chief, has spent much of her journalistic career covering the LGBT movement. When she's not fielding questions about grammar, spelling, and LGBT history, she's sharing movie trivia or classic rock lyrics.