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In Florida, it's now OK to 'say gay' in the classroom. But it can't be part of the instruction.

Many educators and activists are celebrating a settlement reached following a lawsuit over the state's 'Don't Say Gay' legislation. Some, however, say discussions are still shackled by the legislation. Gov. Ron DeSantis is also calling it a win, because it leaves the Parental Rights in Education bill in effect.

By Mary Rasura | Media Lab@FAU

Apr 16, 2024

It’s okay to say gay – again. 

LGBTQ+ activists and organizations are celebrating in Florida after settling a lawsuit against the now-infamous ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law.

“LGBTQ+ students and allies are breathing a sigh of relief today in response to the news that litigation has successfully mediated some of the most extreme aspects of Governor DeSantis’ ‘Don’t Say, Gay Bill,’” said Cameron Driggers, a University of Florida (UF) freshman and Executive Director of Youth Action Fund

Youth Action Fund is a nonprofit connecting student activists with financial support, and according to its website, is a “collective of Gen-Z activists fighting against the far-right culture war” in Florida.

“We knew all along that this legislation infringed on the civil liberties of students and teachers, and we look forward to future challenges to other pieces of authoritarian legislation,” Driggers said.

According to the Associated Press, a settlement was reached on March 11 between the state of Florida and civil rights attorneys regarding the legislation, officially named the Parental Rights in Education bill. The settlement states that teachers can discuss gender and sexuality in the classroom, provided it’s not part of instruction. 

"The most harmful impacts of the Don't Say Gay or Trans law were always a result of its ambiguity,”  Maxx Fenning, the Executive Director of PRISM and a UF senior, wrote in response to MediaLab. Fenning is local to South Florida. 

PRISM is a nonprofit focused on expanding access to LGBTQ-inclusive education and sexual health resources for South Florida youth. “This settlement is a godsend in providing clear guidance on what teachers and school districts can and cannot do under the law, meaning they no longer have to choose between supporting their students and potentially losing their jobs.”

Rand Hoch, president and founder of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council (PBCHRC), an LGBTQ+ rights political organization, agrees. 

“This is a huge victory for LGBTQ+ teachers, who can now openly live their authentic lives while doing their job. And it affects not only teachers, but everyone who works for the school districts statewide. Probably more importantly, it is a huge victory for Florida students, whether or not they’re LGBTQ+,” Hoch said. 

Michael Riordan is the Director of Media and Communications for Compass Community Center, the longest-standing LGBTQ+ Community Center in continuous operation in South Florida. Riordan echoes these sentiments. 

"We were both surprised and thrilled to learn of the settlement. The ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill is one of the most un-American, anti-free speech laws that we have experienced in decades. The Washington Post reported that hate crimes against LGBTQ+ people have quadrupled in states that have passed these hateful laws,” Riordan said.

She believes that the settlement will have a positive impact on Florida teachers and students and that creating safe spaces for LGBTQ+ youth benefits all youth. 

“There is still work to be done, but this is a tremendous win for all Floridians," Riordan said. 

Even though LGBTQ activists are calling it a win, so is Gov. Ron DeSantis. His office called it a major win because the law remains in effect. Thanks to the leadership of Governor DeSantis, the law remains in effect, and children will be protected from radical gender and sexual ideology in the classroom,” the governor's office said in a statement in March.

“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,” Ryan Newman, an attorney for the state of Florida, said in a statement released by the governor's office. “We are victorious, and Florida’s classrooms will remain a safe place under the Parental Rights in Education Act.”

One queer teacher at the Norton Museum of Art, who left teaching in Palm Beach County due to LGBTQ+ restrictive laws, doesn’t consider it a win. 

“While yes, it is good that it has been clarified that LGBTQ teachers can share that about themselves in the classroom and have posters on their wall and have safe space stickers or posters on their wall, which goes a long way in making a kid feel safe and validated,” said Emmy Kenny, who now teaches art at the Norton. “There are some instances where sexual orientation and gender identity should be included in classroom instruction, including AP Psychology courses or psychology courses where they're discussing human development, so there can be no inclusiveness in any curriculum still.”

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