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Trump judge upholds Don’t Say Gay law because bullying is “a fact of life”

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For the second time, a Trump-appointed judge has upheld the legality of Florida’s Don’t Say Gay law.

Lambda Legal, the Southern Legal Counsel, and the Southern Poverty Law Center joined together with a group of LGBTQ students and their families to advocate for a preliminary injunction on H.B. 1557 – which prohibits K-3 teachers from talking about sexual orientation and gender identity issues with their students. The lawsuit argued that the law restricts free speech and encourages bullying.

But U.S. District Judge Wendy Berger dismissed their request.

“Plaintiffs have not directed this Court to any fact that would lead a reasonable person to believe that the law prohibits students from discussing their families and vacations at school or even on a school assignment,” Berger reportedly wrote in the decision, “or that it would prohibit a parent from attending a school function in a ‘pride’ t-shirt or generally discussing their family structure in front of other people.”

Lambda Legal staff attorney Kell Olson called Berger’s decision “wrong on the law and disrespectful to LGBTQ+ families and students.”

“H.B. 1557 suppresses wholesale the speech and identities of LGBTQ+ students and their families. It sends a message of shame and stigma that has no place in schools and puts LGBTQ+ students and families at risk,” Olson continued.

“The students and families at the heart of this case have experienced more bullying in the months since the law went into effect than ever before in their lives, but the court dismissed their experiences of bullying as ‘a fact of life.’ The court’s decision defies decades of precedent establishing schools’ constitutional obligations to protect student speech, and to protect students from targeted bullying and harassment based on who they are.”

Berger acknowledged some of the plaintiff’s bullying worries but said that “it is simply a fact of life that many middle school students will face the criticism and harsh judgment of their peers.”

“Indeed, middle school children bully and belittle their classmates for a whole host of reasons,” Berger continued, “all of which are unacceptable, and many of which have nothing to do with a classmate’s gender identity.”

A challenge to the Don’t Say Gay law was dismissed by another Trump-nominated judge, Allen Cothrel Winsor, in early October.

The Don’t Say Gay law, which went into effect on July 1, continues to make its mark on Florida schools.

Based on the law, the Florida Board of Education recently instituted a new rule that says any K-3 teacher who is found to have taught their students about LGBTQ issues can have their licenses suspended or revoked.

And in September, the Miami-Dade School Board voted against recognizing October as LGBTQ History Month over fears that it would violate the Don’t Say Gay law.

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