FFRF: Florida ‘Don’t Say Gay’ settlement a step in the right direction

A group of students underneath a giant pride flag

Photo by Mercedes Mehling on Unsplash

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is applauding the work of Florida educators, activists and legal advocates that led to the recent defanging of the state’s infamous “Don’t Say Gay” law.

“Don’t Say Gay,” which was first passed two years ago to national outrage, stated that discussions of “sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade three or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.” Since its introduction, opponents have noted that this vague language could, and likely would, effectively act as a total prohibition of any non-cisheteronormative expression of gender or sexual orientation in educational settings.

Many teachers in same-sex relationships and transgender teachers noted that as written, the law would prohibit them from sharing even the most benign details of their life or having family photos on their desk — a burden that would not be shared by their cisgender and heterosexual colleagues. Parents also expressed concern that the law would limit students’ ability to effectively socialize with their peers, as the law could easily be interpreted to make mentioning their parents or other family members impermissible. Since the law’s introduction, seven states have passed similar legislation explicitly censoring LGBTQIA-plus related discussions in the classroom, and nine others have passed laws restricting students’ access to knowledge about sexual orientation or gender identity.

Thanks to a multiple-year organizing campaign, the law has now been clarified to only prohibit discussions of gender identity and sexual orientation during instruction. This means that teachers are permitted to answer questions or display affirming materials in their classrooms, and students may openly discuss gender and sexuality in school-appropriate manners and forums, such as in the context of a Gay-Straight Alliance, or casual conversations with their peers.

“While this settlement doesn’t go far enough to protect the right to receive age-appropriate education regarding sexual orientation and gender identity, it is still a massive step in the right direction,” notes FFRF Equal Justice Works Fellow Kat Grant, whose legal fellowship focuses on the intersection of LGBTQIA-plus rights and state-church separation.

“Despite the massive legislative flood of the past two-plus years, this settlement shows that this fight does not end on governors’ desks,” they add. “Organizing on the state and local level is still critical if we are going to continue to effectively counteract the effects of the Christian nationalist movement.”

FFRF and its related lobbying arm, FFRF Action Fund, have been closely tracking the religious motivations of the anti LGBTQIA-plus movement for years.

“We have seen a massive increase in legislators inserting their anti-LGBTQIA-plus religious beliefs into laws in recent years,” comments FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Many kids who are not straight and/or cisgender already face intense stigma from their peers and family. Teachers are often a bastion of hope for them. This settlement will reopen doors for LGBTQIA-plus youth to receive life-saving support, and we are certain that we will see similar progress across the country in the coming months and years.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation serves as the nation’s largest association of freethinkers, with 40,000 members and several chapters across the country, and works as a state/church watchdog to safeguard the constitutional principle of separation between state and church.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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