Karine Jean-Pierre
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Florida Families Seek to Block 'Don't Say Gay' Law

Will Larkin and family

The plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging Florida’s “don’t say gay” law have requested a preliminary injunction blocking the law’s enforcement while their suit proceeds.

They filed a motion to that effect Friday in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida. It comes in the case of Cousins v. Orange County School Board, in which students, their families, and an association of LGBTQ+ community centers are represented by Lambda Legal, Southern Legal Counsel, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and private counsel Baker McKenzie.

The law, which was signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in March and took effect in July, restricts classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity. The plaintiffs in the suit, filed in July, say the law violates their free speech, due process, and equal protection rights under the U.S. Constitution.

House Bill 1557, titled Parental Rights in Education, “impermissibly chills the exercise of all Plaintiffs’ constitutionally protected speech and expression, based on content and viewpoint, and is overbroad, in violation of the First Amendment,” the motion reads.

It goes on to say the law “is unconstitutionally vague, as it infringes upon Plaintiffs’ constitutionally protected right to free speech and provides inadequate notice of the conduct it purports to prohibit, in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment” and that it “discriminates against Plaintiff students and parents on the basis of sex in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”

Without the preliminary injunction, “Plaintiffs and other similarly situated students and parents will be subjected to further loss of their constitutional rights,” the filing says. Such losses “far outweigh any marginal burden” on the defendants from delaying the law from taking effect, it continues. The defendants in the suit are the school boards of Orange, Indian River, Duval, and Palm Beach counties. Local school boards are in charge of carrying out the state law.

“We are asking the court to halt the damage this unconstitutional law is inflicting,” Kell Olson, staff attorney at Lambda Legal, said in a press release. “LGBTQ+ students and families have already been silenced, disciplined, and have censored themselves or their children to protect themselves under this sweeping law, and they should not have to continue under these conditions while the case proceeds.”

“Children and families are profoundly impacted each day this unconstitutional law is in effect,” added Bacardi Jackson, interim deputy legal director for the SPLC. “Educators are struggling to meet the needs of their LGBTQ+ and gender-nonconforming community and need relief from the law’s contradicting provisions against what they know to be just and fair. That is why we are urging the court to immediately halt implementation in our K-12 schools and classrooms.”

This is one of two suits that have been brought against the Florida law. The other one was filed March 31 by the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the firm of Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida on behalf of Equality Florida and Family Equality as well as students, parents, and a teacher. The defendants in that suit include DeSantis, the Florida State Board of Education, other state entities and officials, and several local school boards.

The plaintiffs in that suit are not seeking a preliminary injunction. The trial in the case is scheduled to start in February. The state has asked the court to dismiss the suit, but the court has not ruled on that yet.

Top photo: Lawsuit plaintiff Will Larkins (third from left) with their family. Courtesy Lambda Legal.

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