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LGBTQ+ Groups & Florida Families Sue Over “Don’t Say Gay” Law

Gov. Ron DeSantis and a gavel.

Lambda Legal, Southern Poverty Law Center, and others filed a suit against what they say is Florida's harmful anti-LGBTQ+ law.

Another lawsuit has been filed against Florida's "don't say gay" law.

Lambda Legal joined the Southern Poverty Law Center, Southern Legal Counsel, and private attorney Baker McKenzie to file a federal lawsuit challenging the law on Monday.

By prohibiting sexual orientation and gender identity discussions from kindergarten through third grade and imposing undefined standards for appropriateness for students through graduation, the suit claims, Florida's law silences and erases LGBTQ+ families and students. The suit also takes issue with the fact that any parent dissatisfied with a school district's law implementation can sue the district over it.

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the bill into law in March. It went into effect on July 1.

"We are deeply concerned about the negative effect that [law] has upon our family," plaintiffs David Dinan and Vikranth Gongidi said in a press release announcing the lawsuit. "The law limits our speech and our expression. The law forces us to self-censor for fear of prompting responses from our children's teachers and classmates that would isolate our children and make them feel ashamed of their own family. It also causes irreparable harm to our children and to their development."

Plaintiff Will Larkins spoke out in a statement regarding his concerns.

"I am concerned that this law will eviscerate any hope of healthy and important discussions about LGBTQ+ issues or historical events, which are already lacking in our schools," Larkins said. "Because of the vague language of the law, closed-minded parents are emboldened to become vigilantes to force their beliefs upon other people's children by suing the school district over anything they disagree with."

According to Lambda Legal's Kell Olson, one of the attorneys in the case, the court needs to act quickly because the school year is about to begin.

"The law has caused schools to eliminate anti-bullying guidance, pull books off shelves, and leave teachers in an impossible position, afraid to set the expectation as they have for ages that all students and families are respected at school," Olson told The Advocate.

Throughout the case, he says he's confident they can demonstrate to the court his plaintiffs' struggles to navigate simple, everyday stories that might not be allowed under the law.

Among the families that are involved in the lawsuit, he says, are a pair of gay dads with kids in the third and fourth grades who are eager to tell their friends about their summer vacations when they return to school. But instead, they had to discuss why the kids might not want to discuss at school their trip abroad or the Pride celebration they participated in.

So while the kids are excited, their "dads are left in the position, knowing more about the law than the kids do, of struggling with how to talk with [the kids] gently about why they might not be able to talk about [their summer]," Olson said.

The law "tells all children that there are certain subjects about which they cannot learn, and it tells all people that LGBTQ+-identifying people are not human beings worthy of acknowledgment and discussion," the suit states. "It interferes with the ability of LGBTQ+ students to obtain affirming support services in school, undermines protections from bullying based on their identities and the structure of their families, and deprives them of literature and resources vital to their development, education, and mental health."

The message that this law gives kids in the classroom has the practical effect of harming them, according to Olson.

He says the law is putting educators in the position of contributing to the injury inflicted on children, "sending that really silencing, shameful kind of messaging that we have seen time and time again against gay people, against trans people, and it's playing out, again, as it was intended to with this harmful law."

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