‘Don’t Say Gay’ Settlement in Florida Has Both Sides Claiming Victory

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‘Don’t Say Gay’ Settlement in Florida Has Both Sides Claiming Victory

The Parental Rights in Education Act remains on the books after the settlement, which clarifies the legislation’s language and reach.

AJ McDougall

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis

Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

A two-year legal battle over Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law ended on Monday with the announcement of a settlement that will see the legislation clarified, restoring teachers and students’ ability to freely discuss topics related to gender and sexuality in the classroom.

The Parental Rights in Education Act will remain on the books, but the Florida Board of Education must spell out to all 67 of its districts that it does not ban the “mere discussion” of LGBTQ+ people or issues, either directly in the classroom or in literature kept in schools. It also does not prohibit student-run LGBTQ+ groups, plays or musicals with LGBTQ+ themes or characters, or instruction on anti-bullying measures.

Both Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), who signed the legislation into law in 2022, and the 19 plaintiffs, a coalition of parents, students, and LGBTQ+ advocacy groups, claimed victory in the case.

DeSantis’ office framed it as a “major win” for his administration, saying in a news release that “the law remains in effect, and children will be protected from radical gender and sexual ideology in the classroom.”

“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,” state general counsel Ryan Newman added. “We are victorious, and Florida’s classrooms will remain a safe place under the Parental Rights in Education Act.”

There was just as much jubilation on the other side. Equality Florida, an organization involved in the lawsuit, said in a press release that the settlement “effectively nullifies the most dangerous and discriminatory impacts of Florida’s controversial “Don’t Say Gay Law,” and makes clear that the law must be applied neutrally and is no license to discriminate against or erase LGBTQ+ families.”

The advocacy group’s executive director, Nadine Smith, characterized it as “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” after 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.”

Roberta Kaplan, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, said in her own statement, “Simply put, the State of Florida has now made it clear that L.G.B.T.Q.+ kids, parents and teachers in Florida can, in fact, say that they are gay.”

Even before it was signed by DeSantis, critics lashed out at the legislation as vaguely worded and overbroad, fearing that it would lead to retaliation against educators who failed to err on the side of caution. In its initial form, the act banned the discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through the third grade.

It was later expanded to include classrooms up to the eighth grade and, within a year, the state brought it into high school classrooms.

DeSantis and his allies have repeatedly insisted that they are only seeking to counter “woke” and “radical” ideology from infiltrating classrooms, framing the measure as a common-sense reaction to political correctness gone mad. But its chilling effect was palpable, and the plaintiffs emphasized on Monday that an early victory was preferable to allowing the lawsuit to wind its way through the courts.

“I’m excited about it,” parent and plaintiff Cecile Houry told the South Florida Sun Sentinel. “It’s been a couple of years, and every day, every month, every year that goes by, there are damages to children, to families and teachers. This is a great resolution.”

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