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Cousins et al. v. The School Board of Orange County et al.

The state of Florida in 2022 enacted House Bill 1557, commonly referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” law, which bans discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in grades K-3 and restricts such discussions for students through grade 12 based on undefined standards of appropriateness. The law, which took effect July 1, 2022, also gives any parent the legal power to sue districts they believe are violating its terms.

On behalf of seven students and their parents, as well as CenterLink Inc., a nonprofit LGBTQ advocacy organization based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the Southern Poverty Law Center and co-counsel challenged the constitutionality of the law in a federal lawsuit against school districts in Orange, Indian River, Duval and Palm Beach counties.

The suit argues that the law violates the right to free speech and expression protected by the First Amendment and that it violates the due process clause of the 14th Amendment, as well as the amendment’s guarantee of equal protection under the law.

The plaintiffs argue that the law silences LGBTQ students and families, shames and stigmatizes them, restricts their ability to access life-saving information and creates a climate of bigotry in schools.

“I am concerned that this law will eviscerate any hope of healthy and important discussions about LGBTQ+ issues or historical events, which are already lacking in our schools,” said plaintiff Will Larkins, a rising senior at Winter Park High School in Orange County. “Because of the vague language of the law, closed-minded parents are emboldened to become vigilantes to force their beliefs upon other people’s children by suing the school district over anything they disagree with.”