Parents, Advocacy groups sue to block Florida law before school starts back

Published: Jul. 26, 2022 at 11:55 AM EDT
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ORLANDO, Fla. (WCJB) - A lawsuit challenging Florida’s Parental Rights in Education law, also known as “Don’t Say Gay,” was filed by families represented by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Lambda Legal, Southern Legal Counsel, and private counsel Baker McKenzie.

House Bill 1557, introduced by state lawmakers Sen. Dennis Baxley of Ocala and Rep. Joe Harding of Williston, bans discussions of sexuality and gender identity in kindergarten through third-grade classrooms. The lawsuit argues the legislation effectively silences and erases LGBTQ+ students and families.

RELATED: Alachua County students protest so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill

The plaintiffs suing the state are Jennifer and Matt Cousins and their four school-aged children, David Dinan and Vikranth Reddy Gongidi and their two school-aged children, Winter Park High School rising senior Will Larkins, and Centerlink Inc.

“This law will prevent our two youngest children, rising first and third graders, from discussing their older non-binary sibling in the classroom for fear of their teacher or their school getting in trouble,” stated Jennifer and Matthew Cousins. “The law also robs them of the opportunity of discussing their family like other non-LGBTQ+ children. It’s heartbreaking to know that my children may be bullied because this law paints our family as shameful. Every child deserves the right to celebrate their family in the form that it exists.”

The case was filed in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida. The complaint asks the court to declare the law unconstitutional, prevent it from being enforced, and award plaintiffs’ costs, expenses, and attorneys’ fees.

Earlier this year, students across the state walked out in protest of the legislation which opponents call homophobic. A lawsuit was also filed by Equality Florida and Family Equality, also arguing the law violates the constitutionally protected rights of free speech, equal protection and due process of students and families.

RELATED: North Central Florida Republican Senator explains why she voted against the Parental Rights in Education bill

Proponents of the law including the bill sponsors argue it prevents children from being introduced to topics before they are ready and allows parents more say in what their children are taught. The bill also requires schools to notify parents if there is a “change in the student’s services or monitoring related to the student’s mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being and the school’s ability to provide a safe and supportive learning environment for the student.”

“You’re gonna withhold information about my student’s eating disorder, or the fact that my student is a bully or is being bullied in any of those cases... that is a blanket covered in Florida that a school district is not going to withhold anything they’re doing related to any of those issues from the parent,” said Harding during an interview in February.

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