Challenge to Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Law Thrown Out by Judge

Judge with gavel
Judge with gavel

A federal court in Florida dismissed a challenge to the state’s “don’t say gay” law last week, but left open the possibility the case could be refiled in the future.

In a 25-page opinion issued last Thursday, U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor, who was appointed to the bench by former President Donald Trump, found the plaintiffs Equality Florida, Family Equality, and a group of teachers, students, and parents had not established standing to file the case.

“The principal problem is that most of plaintiffs’ alleged harm is not plausibly tied to the law’s enforcement so much as the law’s very existence,” wrote Winsor, noting no injunction issued by a court could resolve that issue.

The ruling came in response to motions filed by Equality Florida and Family Equality requesting discovery in the case filed in April. The court had prevented discovery, or the process of gathering information in the case via deposition and examination of evidence, saying the plaintiffs had yet to show they had standing to file the case.

Winsor further wrote the plaintiffs could refile the suit at a later time, but must first meet additional thresholds.

“With or without the law, school districts direct teachers as to what they may and may not teach,” the judge wrote. “Plaintiffs do not allege otherwise; they do not assert, for example, that Florida’s public-school teachers may teach whatever lessons they wish. So to the extent plaintiffs allege that some teachers or others wish to provide ‘classroom instruction . . . on sexual orientation or gender identity’ to students ‘in kindergarten through grade 3,’ they would have to show (at a minimum) that without the law their individual school district would allow it. Yet plaintiffs offer no specific allegation that any teacher would be providing such classroom instruction absent HB 1577.”

The plaintiffs wrote in their suit that the new law “piles one (constitutional) violation on top of another” and “offends principles of free speech and equal protection by seeking to censor discussions of sexual orientation or gender identity that recognize and respect LGBTQ people and their families.”

The suit also said the law violated due process rights through the use of “broad and vague terms to define its prohibitions” and enabled “discriminatory enforcement and magnifying its chilling effect on speech.”

The state contended the law does not specifically target or display “animus” towards LGBTQ+ individuals.

“The bill reflects no governmental preference about what students should learn about sexual orientation and gender identity,” the state wrote in a motion to dismiss the case filed in June. “Those subjects must be taught appropriately and, for the youngest children, they may be taught by parents, not in public-school classroom settings. That is a legitimate (state) interest.”

The judge gave the groups 14 days to file a response to his decision.