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A federal lawsuit has been filed against Florida's law barring instruction on sexual orientation

Protests hold signs
News Service of Florida
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Protesters fought what critics call the "Don't Say Gay" bill during the legislative session.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, the State Board of Education, the state Department of Education and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran are named as defendants, along with the school boards in Manatee, Sarasota, Miami-Dade, St. Johns and Jackson counties.

Three days after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the measure, LGBTQ-advocacy groups, parents, students and a teacher filed a federal lawsuit Thursday challenging a new law that includes barring instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in early school grades.

The Manatee and Sarasota county school boards were among the defendants listed in the lawsuit.

Filed in the federal Northern District of Florida, the lawsuit seeks to block Florida from moving forward with the law, which is set to take effect in July. While DeSantis and Republican lawmakers describe the law as boosting parental rights, it has drawn national attention as critics dubbed it the “don’t say gay” bill.

DeSantis, the State Board of Education, the state Department of Education and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran are named as defendants, along with the school boards in Manatee, Sarasota, Miami-Dade, St. Johns and Jackson counties.

The challenge focuses on a part of the law (HB 1557) that would prohibit instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third-grade and require that such instruction in older grades is age-appropriate in accordance with state academic standards.

Lawyers for the opponents, including the LGBTQ-advocacy group Equality Florida, argue in the lawsuit that the measure is discriminatory and “aims at sexual orientations and gender identities that differ from heterosexual and cisgender identities.”

The 80-page complaint alleges that the law violates constitutional free-speech and equal-protection rights. Also, it contends that the law violates due-process rights because of “vagueness.”

“H.B. 1557 piles one violation on top of another. It offends principles of free speech and equal protection by seeking to censor discussions of sexual orientation or gender identity that recognize and respect LGBTQ people and their families. It offends due process by using broad and vague terms to define its prohibitions — thus inviting discriminatory enforcement and magnifying its chilling effect on speech. And it arises from discriminatory purposes and outdated sex-based stereotypes that offend deeply rooted constitutional and statutory requirements,” the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit points to other parts of Florida law that require a “uniform, safe, secure, efficient, and high quality system of education” that is “made available without discrimination” on the basis of factors like race, ethnicity, gender, religion or marital status. It also cited “inclusivity efforts” by local school districts that focused on LGBTQ students.

“H.B. 1557 seeks to undo all of this. Although it is formally entitled the ‘Parental Rights in Education Act,’ it is popularly and more accurately known as Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law,” the lawsuit said.

DeSantis and the bill’s Republican backers have vigorously defended the measure and disputed the “don’t say gay” moniker.

DeSantis has accused lawmakers who opposed the measure and other critics of mischaracterizing the bill by “sloganeering.” The governor also argued that the bill’s detractors “support having woke gender ideology” in early grades.

“I think that they’ve gone through sloganeering and all these things really out of desperation. Because they know they could never argue their position on the merits. They would … crumble, I think, under the weight of outrage from parents if they were actually standing on the wall and saying that they support those things,” DeSantis said Monday before signing the bill.

House Speaker Chris Sprowls, a Palm Harbor Republican who joined DeSantis for a bill-signing event, echoed the governor’s comments and took issue with objections to the bill by President Joe Biden’s administration and high-profile celebrities.

“This was super easy to figure out what this bill did. And yet, people lied about it. The media lied about it. Advocates lied about it. Whether it was in the White House press room, or whether it was last night (Sunday) at the Oscars, there were lies about it. And the governor’s right, they were intentional,” Sprowls said.