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Florida teachers sue against law banning use of preferred pronouns in schools.
In Tallahassee, Florida, on Wednesday, a federal lawsuit was filed by three educators from the state over a new law that prohibits transgender or nonbinary public K-12 teachers from using their preferred pronouns. The law, which came into effect in July, states that teachers cannot use pronouns or titles that do not correspond with the student’s biological sex. Violators of the law may have their teaching certificate revoked or receive other penalties. The lawsuit is seeking to block this provision from being enforced.
The teachers argue that the law violates several federal statutes, including the Civil Rights Act, the First Amendment, the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and federal Title IX law, which prohibits sex-based discrimination in education programs or activities receiving federal financial assistance.
The plaintiffs are represented by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Southern Legal Counsel, and the law firm Altshuler Berzon.
In response to the discriminatory laws passed in Florida, the Southern Poverty Law Center issued a statement, expressing concern that many teachers have already left their profession and the state to avoid these laws that aim to marginalize LGBTQ+ individuals and erase their existence.
This lawsuit is the latest legal challenge against Florida and other Republican-led states that have implemented anti-LGBTQ laws, including measures that restrict discussions of sexual orientation or gender identity in schools.
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The plaintiffs in the lawsuit include Katie Wood, a high school teacher from Hillsborough County, a Lee County teacher using the pseudonym “Jane Doe,” and AV Schwandes, a former teacher at the Florida Virtual School who was terminated for using gender-neutral pronouns, which violated the law.
According to the complaint filed on Wednesday, the plaintiffs are current and former public school teachers in Florida who simply wanted to teach their subjects of expertise, such as math and science. However, the new law enacted earlier this year has forced one plaintiff out of their teaching career and poses a threat to the other plaintiffs, as well as other transgender and nonbinary teachers across the state of Florida.
The defendants in the lawsuit include the Florida Department of Education, members of its Education Practices Commission, the State Board of Education, the Florida Virtual School Board of Trustees, and the school boards for Lee and Hillsborough counties.
No comments were immediately provided by the spokespersons representing the defendants.
Wood, one of the plaintiffs, emphasized the importance of freedom of expression and protection against government intrusion on that expression. She stated that the supporters and enforcers of this law are attempting to silence her and erase her existence.
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‘Don’t Say Gay’ laws
Last year, Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida signed a bill into law that banned the discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in classroom curriculum. This legislation, often referred to as “Don’t Say Gay” laws, has been met with condemnation from LGBTQ+ advocates, civil rights organizations, and federal authorities, including the Biden administration. The Biden administration has vowed to reform Title IX, a law from 1972 that prohibits sex-based discrimination in schools receiving federal funding.
These laws have left students feeling confused and fearful about the future. For many students, schools provide the only space where they can openly discuss LGBTQ+ topics and feel part of the community.
Contributing: Zachary Schermele, Cady Stanton and Savannah Kuchar, USA TODAY