You can now say—but not teach—gay in Florida classrooms

Opponents of the Parental Rights in Education Act signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in 2022 greeted the ruling as a victory for LGTBQ students and the wider community.

LGBTQ issues—namely, sexual orientation and gender identity—may be discussed but not taught in Florida classrooms, according to a settlement reached Monday over the state’s controversial “Don’t Say Gay” law.

Opponents of the Parental Rights in Education Act signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in 2022 greeted the outcome as a victory for LGTBQ students and the wider community.

“Florida has already endured nearly two years of book banning, educators leaving the profession, and safe space stickers being ripped off of classroom windows in the wake of this law cynically targeting the LGBTQ+ community,” Nadine Smith, director of Equality Florida, said in a statement. “This settlement is a giant step toward repairing the immense damage these laws and the dangerous political rhetoric has inflicted on our families, our schools, and our state.”

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Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office also called the settlement “a major win” in an aggressively worded statement that accused the plaintiffs and the media of lying about the intent of the law. Instruction about sexual orientation or gender identity remains banned in K–3 classrooms, the state noted.

“We fought hard to ensure this law couldn’t be maligned in court, as it was in the public arena by the media and large corporate actors,” Flordia’s General Counsel Ryan Newman said in a statement. “We are victorious, and Florida’s classrooms will remain a safe place under the Parental Rights in Education Act.”

So where do LGBTQ issues stand in Florida classrooms?

The settlement clarifies that the law doe not prohibit “references to LGBTQ+ persons, couples, families, or issues, including: in literature, in classroom discussion (such as student-to-student speech or teachers responding to students’ questions), in students’ academic work product or teachers’ review of the same,” according to Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP, the legal team for advocates who sued the state.

Teachers can also identify as same-sex and mention transgender spouses or partners.

According to the attorneys, the agreement also specifies that the “Don’t Say Gay” law:

  • Requires neutrality and prohibits “classroom instruction” on the subjects of sexual orientation or gender identity, whether the subject addresses heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, cisgender identities, transgender identities, or otherwise. “It would violate the law, then, to instruct that heterosexuality is superior to other sexualities, or that cisgender identities are superior to transgender identities,” the legal team said.
  • Does not ban instruction or intervention against bullying on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity
  • Does not prohibit safe space stickers or safe space areas for the benefit of LGBTQ+ persons.
  • Does not bar Gay-Straight Alliances or book fairs that include LGBTQ+-focused books, musicals or plays with LGBTQ+ references or characters.
  • Does not apply to library books, so long as those books are not being used in the classroom to instruct on the subjects of sexual orientation or gender identity.

“This decision blocks prejudice from reaching schools and allows LGBTQ+ students, families, and teachers to bring their whole selves to class each day,” said Jaymes Black, president and CEO of Family Equality, another plaintiff. “For students to reach their potential, schools must be places where a child’s life is welcome in discussions and is fully seen. Allowing students to talk about their families and themselves is critical.”

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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