For Immediate Release: October 19, 2022
Brittany Link ; Communications Director
Joe Saunders; Senior Political Director
Florida Board of Education Passes New Sweeping Anti-LGBTQ Rules
New rules target school districts that have LGBTQ-Inclusive policies, teachers, and transgender youth
ORLANDO, FL -- Today, the Board of Education voted unanimously on new rules designed to intimidate school districts and teachers that affirm LGBTQ students — including expanding the enforcement of HB 1557, the Don’t Say LGBTQ law. One rule passed today threatens teachers with termination of both their job and education certificate if they are found to have engaged in “classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity”. As passed, the discriminatory Don’t Say LGBTQ law allows conservative parents to sue school districts but is silent regarding individual educators. Proponents of the Don’t Say LGBTQ law failed to heed the objections of Equality Florida and other civil rights groups who shared deep concern with the law’s vague and undefined reference to “classroom instruction”. The rule passed today does nothing to clarify what families teachers can acknowledge, what supports can be provided to LGBTQ students, or what speech is exempt from this categorical ban even as it threatens teachers' jobs and licenses.
“The Board of Education’s move to target individual teachers' jobs and licenses is another cruel attack from an administration that has spent months punching down at Florida’s LGBTQ youth and families,” said Joe Saunders, Equality Florida Senior Political Director. “Qualified, effective teachers are fleeing the profession in Florida thanks to the constant politicization of their roles and discrediting of their characters by the DeSantis Administration. Rather than help to clarify the Don’t Say LGBTQ laws scope, the Board of Education has taken this bigoted law to yet another extreme, threatening teachers if they dare to acknowledge LGBTQ families in the classroom. This escalation in deference to the far right agenda of the governor makes our schools less inclusive -- and less safe.”
The rule also directly contradicts recent interpretations of the Don’t Say LGBTQ law’s scope offered in a ruling from federal judge Allen Winsor. In his September 29 ruling granting the state’s motion to dismiss a case challenging the Don’t Say LGBTQ law, Judge Winsor repeatedly pointed to the responsibility of school districts to determine what teachers may or may not teach, writing "The law is enforced against school districts—not individual teachers. Fla. Stat. § 1001.42(8)(c)7.b.(I)-(II). With or without the law, school districts direct teachers as to what they may and may not teach."Today’s rule further shifts the burden of interpreting the vague and sweeping law to teachers.
Another rule passed today targets school districts with policies that allow transgender students safe access to bathrooms and locker rooms. While not denying those facilities to transgender and nonbinary students, the new rule requires school districts notify parents in the district if they have a policy allowing bathrooms or locker rooms to be separated on a basis "other than biological sex at birth."
“The Board of Education’s facilities separation rule does not and cannot prevent transgender students from accessing facilities aligned with their gender identity — we know Federal law and the constitution protect these rights. Florida school districts have been following federal law for more than a decade, establishing policies we know will continue to work long after this politically-motivated proposed rule. What it does do is attempt to bully and intimidate districts that are providing these accommodations. Ron DeSantis’ war on transgender Floridians must end. All students deserve access to school facilities that are inclusive and safe,” added Saunders.
Nearly 100 pro-equality advocates attended the Board of Education meeting today in Orlando, and over 1,000 people sent messages to board members in support of teachers, families, and LGBTQ students.
These rules come in the wake of other attacks on LGBTQ students by the Department of Education. Last year, the department acquiesced to DeSantis’ anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, scrubbing its website of anti-bullying resources aimed at improving the mental and physical health of LGBTQ students. Newly appointed Education Commission Manny Diaz, a former state senator who sponsored the Don’t Say LGBTQ law, wasted no time wielding the Department against LGBTQ students. In July he issued a memo instructing school districts to ignore Title IX nondiscrimination protections for transgender students, threatening costly penalties even though federal law and case law require accommodations for transgender youth.
The Board of Education is just one of a number of state agencies being weaponized against the LGBTQ community by Governor DeSantis and his administration. Florida’s Medicaid agency (the Agency for Health Care Administration) recently created a rule ending Medicaid coverage for gender-affirming care in the state. The Board of Medicine is currently undergoing a similar rulemaking process that could threaten the licenses of health care professionals for providing gender-affirming care to transgender youth. And in July, the governor weaponized the Department of Business and Professional Regulation against an LGBTQ-owned small business in Miami, threatening to strip the restaurant of its liquor license after they hosted a drag performance at their weekly Sunday Brunch.
Despite these new attacks by the DeSantis Administration, LGBTQ-inclusive school district policies are still supported by federal protections that exist to provide safe, welcoming spaces for all students. The Biden Administration has issued guidance instructing schools to comply with Title IX protections against discrimination on the basis of sex, which is inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity. School districts must continue supporting LGBTQ students, creating safe, inclusive environments, and implementing the bigoted Don’t Say LGBTQ law as narrowly as possible to mitigate the harms it is inflicting on students and families.
Equality Florida is the largest civil rights organization dedicated to securing full equality for Florida’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community. Through education, grassroots organizing, coalition building, and lobbying, we are changing Florida so that no one suffers harassment or discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.