This Florida Student is Taking Queer Education Into Their Own Hands
By James Factora - 7/27/2022
After their teacher said he didn't know what Stonewall is, Will Larkins decided to teach his U.S. history class himself.
Will Larkins, a rising senior and president and co-founder of his school’s Queer Student Union, expressed similar concerns about the bill’s impact on his life as a plaintiff of the suit. Larkins, who is nonbinary and uses they and he pronouns, went viral in April for a video of a Google Slides presentation about Stonewall that they presented to their history class. The complaint details that after the clip gained national attention, Larkins’ history teacher complained to administrators and placed him under “investigation” for his presentation. He was moved to a new history class, and his friend was also disciplined for filming his presentation.
Several queer families have filed a lawsuit this week against Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law, which effectively censors any mention of LGBTQ+ people in the classroom.
The plaintiffs — a group of parents, students, and members of Centerlink, a coalition of LGBTQ+ community centers across the country — filed the 53-page complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida on Monday. They allege that HB 1557, which is known colloquially as “Don’t Say Gay,” violates the First Amendment through overbreadth, effectively depriving people of freedom of speech and expression. They also allege that the law’s vagueness violates the Fourteenth Amendment, depriving plaintiffs of due process and equal protection before the law.
The document provides extensive examples of how HB 1557 has already harmed the plaintiffs, and will continue to do so if it is not enjoined. Jen and Matt Cousins and David Dinan and Vikranth Reddy, members of families who are plaintiffs in the case, described similar implications of the law. The Cousins’ 12-year-old child, named as S.C. in the suit, came out as nonbinary last year, and is an active member of a gay-straight alliance at their school, which the complaint describes as a “lifeline” that provides “provides a sense of belonging, community, and acceptance for S.C. and other LGBTQ+ students.”
The complaint states that HB 1557 attacks not just S.C. but the entire Cousins family, with S.C.’s younger siblings, who are in first and third grade, expressing fears that they will get in trouble for speaking about their sibling’s identity in class.
“All members of the family are proud of S.C. and wish to be able to speak openly and with love for S.C. in school, including by explaining S.C.’s non-binary identity to friends, classmates, teachers, and others,” the complaint reads. “The law paints their family as abnormal. The law shames, chills, and silences such communications; and it portrays S.C., a kind and thoughtful child, as someone who should be feared or ostracized.”
Dinan and Reddy, a married couple with two adopted children, also described fears of openly speaking about their partnership while being actively involved in their parent-teacher association. “From their experience at school board meetings, David and Vik know that some parents interpret discussions of ‘sexual orientation’ to include neutral acknowledgements of any person that is not heterosexual,” the complaint says, adding that mere mention of Reddy could cause his child or their teacher to be penalized.
According to the complaint, guidance issued by Orange County Public Schools (OCPS) has mandated that K-3 students are not allowed to browse or check out books that contain any mention of sexual orientation or gender identity, according to the complaint. Additionally, trainings for OCPS staff have recommended the removal of “safe space” stickers from K-3 classrooms “so that classroom instruction did not inadvertently occur on the prohibited content of sexual orientation or gender identity.” Teachers with same-sex partners have also reportedly been advised to remove photos of their partners or refrain from wearing clothing with affirming messages.
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