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How LGBTQ+ advocates secured a victory against Florida's 'don't say gay' law

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In a landmark legal victory, advocates dismantled Florida's 'don't say gay or trans' law, championing a more inclusive and accepting educational environment for LGBTQ+ students and families.

We took Florida to court and secured a victory for LGBTQ+ students and their parents. In a groundbreaking legal triumph, we challenged Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ controversial and discriminatory “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” law and forced a settlement that nullified the law’s most dangerous and discriminatory impacts and marked a significant step forward for the LGBTQ+ community in Florida.

Now, classrooms in Florida can be more inclusive and accepting for everyone.

Equality Florida, Family Equality, and more than a dozen courageous parents, students, and teachers represented by Roberta Kaplan at Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights reached a historic settlement agreement with the Florida State Board of Education, Florida Department of Education, and school districts.

The terms of the settlement make these protections crystal clear:

  • We CAN say “gay” and “trans” in the classroom.
  • We CAN protect LGBTQ+ students, teachers, and parents against discrimination.
  • We CAN have Gay-Straight Alliances in Florida schools.
  • We CAN have library books that include LGBTQ+ characters in school libraries.

The law, initially proposed under the guise of “parental rights,” aimed to restrict discussions surrounding sexual orientation and gender identity in schools. Students, parents, and educators argued that the legislation not only silenced LGBTQ+ voices but also hindered educators from providing much-needed support to students navigating their identity in a complex world. It also attempted to silence children with LGBTQ+ parents and LGBTQ+ teachers by not allowing them to speak about their families.

For LGBTQ+ families in Florida, this legal triumph brings a sense of relief and affirmation. It is not just about the right to “say gay or trans” but about creating an educational environment where compassion, understanding, and acceptance thrive. The “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” law attempted to censor their existence from the very spaces where children learn and grow.

By challenging this discriminatory legislation, families have reclaimed their right to be acknowledged and recognized, contributing to a more inclusive educational environment.

This legal victory carries profound implications for LGBTQ+ students and teachers. For students navigating their identity, the classroom can be both a sanctuary and a battleground. The “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” law casts a shadow over their experiences, potentially isolating them from crucial support systems.

The positive impact of this settlement extends beyond students, reaching those educators who previously felt restricted in creating an inclusive and welcoming atmosphere. By fostering open conversations, teachers can play a crucial role in breaking down stereotypes and dispelling myths, contributing to a more compassionate and understanding society.

One key component of welcoming compassion into the classroom lies in the power of visibility. When teachers are free to do what they do best — teach — the students ultimately benefit. Respecting all students, teachers, and families helps dismantle harmful stigmas and fosters an environment where everyone can thrive—most importantly, the children.

It’s essential to recognize that the fight for LGBTQ+ rights in education and beyond is far from over. While the legal victory in Florida is a significant milestone, similar battles are being waged in other states nationwide. The struggle for inclusivity remains an ongoing process that requires continuous advocacy and engagement. The triumph over the “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” law in Florida marks a pivotal moment in the movement for LGBTQ+ rights. Our human rights. Our American rights. And we’ll continue having the audacity to demand those rights.

As we celebrate this achievement, remember the resilience and courage of those who refused to be silenced. It reaffirms the importance of embracing audacity – the audacity to “say gay or trans” without fear of reprisal, the audacity to acknowledge the diversity of the human experience, and the audacity to foster compassion in the classroom. That audacity to speak up and challenge discriminatory laws is a beacon guiding us toward a future where every voice is heard and every identity is valued.

Jaymes Black is the President & CEO of Family Equality, Imani Rupert-Gordon is the Executive Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), and Nadine Smith is the Executive Director of Equality Florida.

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Views expressed in The Advocate’s opinion articles are those of the writers and do not necessarily represent the views of The Advocate or our parent company, equalpride

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