Florida students and teachers allowed to discuss sexual orientation and gender identity under new agreement for ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida education officials and civil rights attorneys have reached a settlement over a controversial state law known as the “Don’t Say Gay” law, with both parties claiming victory.

The settlement, stemming from a law passed two years ago prohibiting instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in early grades, aims to clarify what is permitted in Florida classrooms. This law had caused uncertainty regarding whether teachers could openly identify as LGBTQ+ or display rainbow stickers in classrooms.

Challenging LGBTQ advocacy groups hailed the agreement as a “historic settlement” that eradicates the most discriminatory impacts.

Legal director Shannon Minter of the National Center for Lesbian Rights emphasized, “Today’s settlement upholds Florida’s students and teachers’ rights to discuss and learn about LGBTQ+ individuals, promoting free expression and inclusivity for LGBTQ+ students, families, and educators.”

However, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office spun the narrative differently, calling it a victory against activists attempting to prevent the spread of gender and sexual ideologies in public-school classrooms.

One notable outcome of the settlement is the dismissal of the case, as highlighted by the Governor’s General Counsel, Ryan Newman, stating, “We have vigorously defended the law against unwarranted attacks, ensuring its validity in court, despite public scrutiny by the media and other influential entities.”

Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Act

Signed by DeSantis in 2022, the Parental Rights in Education Act restricts classroom discussions on gender identity and sexual orientation, emphasizing parental involvement in such matters.

Republican lawmakers supported the law, contending that parents should address these topics with their children to shield them from inappropriate content.

Attempts by groups like Equality Florida and Family Equality to challenge the law in federal court were unsuccessful, despite opposition from parents, educators, and students.

The settlement, submitted to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, clarifies that the law permits discussion on LGBTQ topics and activities, as well as anti-bullying measures, while ensuring that the State Board of Education distributes the terms of the agreement to all school districts.

Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill: Further legislative action is anticipated following public criticism.

The law’s scope exempts books containing incidental LGBTQ+ references or same-sex couples, emphasizing that these do not constitute formal instruction on sexual identity or orientation. For instance, a math problem involving apples is not equivalent to teaching about apple farming.

Lead attorney Roberta Kaplan underscored the settlement’s core message, emphasizing equal educational rights for all American children within public schools.

U.S. states emulate Florida law

Several states, including Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, and North Carolina, have modeled laws prohibiting classroom instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation after Florida’s legislation.

Detractors of this law argue that it stifles classroom discourse, making teachers hesitant to mention their same-sex partners or display related content. Some instances involved the removal of LGBTQ+-themed books from classrooms and the exclusion of sexual orientation references in school activities.

In a notable incident, the Miami-Dade County School Board opted not to acknowledge LGBTQ History Month in 2022, a reversal from its stance in the previous year.

The legislation triggered legal disputes between DeSantis and Disney over Walt Disney World’s governing district in central Florida, with the company alleging retaliatory actions by DeSantis post the company’s opposition to the law. DeSantis leveraged this conflict during his 2024 GOP presidential nomination campaign, which he terminated earlier this year.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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