A New Settlement Rolls Back Parts of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” Law

A settlement in a years-long lawsuit against Florida for its “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which passed in March 2022 and banned classroom discussions of sexuality and gender, has clarified that students and teachers can talk about LGBTQ+ topics in the classroom — as long as those discussions are not a part of the curriculum.

The LGBTQ+ advocacy groups Equality Florida and Family Equality originally filed suit against the Sunshine State over “Don’t Say Gay” in 2022, alleging that banning classroom discussions of sexuality and gender is unconstitutional and violates Title IX, a federal law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in education. Advocates worried that the law was written so vaguely that it could chill all discussion of LGBTQ+ topics in the classroom, a fear that became a reality when school districts began developing policies requiring teachers to out students to their parents, forcing teachers to take down rainbow “safe space” stickers, and more. While the settlement means that the law remains on the books, the agreement “effectively nullifies the most dangerous and discriminatory impacts,” according to a press release from Equality Florida.

Beyond clarifying that students and teachers can discuss sexual orientation and gender identity in the classroom, the settlement also protects Gay-Straight Alliances and other LGBTQ+ extracurriculars and strengthens anti-bullying protections, Equality Florida said. According to the Associated Press, the settlement also requires that the law apply equally to heterosexual people as it does to LGBTQ+ people, and it cannot be applied to library books not being used for instruction. The Florida Board of Education will provide instructions to school districts to clarify the boundaries of the law, per AP.

Nadine Smith, executive director at Equality Florida, said in a press release that the settlement “not only reaffirms the rights of LGBTQ+ students and educators to live and speak openly but also marks a significant step towards rectifying the damage inflicted by the ‘Don’t Say Gay or Trans’ law.”

“It’s a testament to what we can achieve when we stand united against discrimination and for the dignity of all LGBTQ+ people in Florida,” she said.

However, the settlement was also celebrated by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, whose office issued a statement Monday calling the agreement “a major win against the activists who sought to stop Florida’s efforts to keep radical gender and sexual ideology out of the classrooms of public-school children in kindergarten through third grade.”

“Today’s mutually agreed settlement ensures that the law will remain in effect and it is expected that the case will be dismissed by the Court imminently,” the statement says.

While the settlement might mitigate some of the harsher impacts of “Don’t Say Gay,” the impact of the law reaches far beyond the borders of Florida. The AP reported that Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, and North Carolina all modeled similar legislation on Florida’s. According to the Movement Advancement Project, seven states have enacted laws that explicitly censor discussions of LGBTQ+ people or issues in school curricula, and five states require parental notification of LGBTQ+ content in curricula, with the option for parents to opt their children out.

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