LGBTQ Advocates Discuss Legal Successes and Challenges for Gay, Transgender Youth
A continuing legal education program presented by the LGBTQ Law Section in June updated members on the new Florida law prohibiting classroom instruction on issues of gender identity and sexual orientation in Grades K to 3. House Bill 1575 was successfully dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by opponents.
Kate Doniger of Kaplan Hecker & Fink and Shannon Minter of the National Center for Lesbian Rights presented the program. Doniger and her firm are at the center of many civil rights cases involving LGBTQ clients, including the United States v Windsor, which overturned the Federal Defense of Marriage Act in 2013.
Her firm is challenging Florida’s HB 1575, which goes into effect July 1. She explained that the new law has two parts. First, it prohibits education and discussion of sexual orientation in Grades K-3. Second, the law empowers parents to sue school districts for damages if they think the law has been violated.
Strides and Setbacks
Shannon Minter, who identifies as a transgender man, detailed the recent strides in legal rights for gay and transgender youth. Between 1987 and 1997, several anti-discrimination laws passed on the local and state levels across the country in response to the AIDS epidemic.
In the late 1990s and 2000s, several states mandated abstinence-only education. Minter and his colleagues successfully argued that the laws were unconstitutional on the grounds of equal protection. After such court victories, many states such as Utah immediately rescinded abstinence-only state laws.
He says this Florida bill is the first significant loss of those rights in 20 years. “This law is dangerous, insidious and shocking.”
“They have no shame about attacking our communities,” Doniger said.
Minter agrees that proponents know they are singling out same sex families. “No one is going to say you can’t talk about straight families in school. We know this is a targeted attack.”
The chilling effect is already apparent in Florida even before the law takes effect, Doniger said. School administrators reprimanded a teacher for acknowledging Lesbian Visibility Day and censored a gay high school class president’s graduation speech.
Jackie Drohan, chair of the New York State Bar Association Task Force on the Treatment of Transgender Youth in Sports, says efforts are already underway to pass a federal law similar to the new Florida law.
“Efforts to enshrine these values in federal law are already in play, and the record amounts of money raised by Florida Governor DeSantis for a potential 2024 presidential run should not be ignored,” she says. “These statutes make life more difficult for teachers and potentially unbearable for a community of kids already at high risk.”
Legal Challenge to Florida HB 1575
The high school senior who was not allowed to speak about his sexual orientation in his graduation speech is one of three student plaintiffs Doniger represents in her challenge of HB 1575. Plaintiffs also include three gay couples, two teachers, the mother of a 5th grade transgender child and two straight mothers.