LGBTQ Agenda: Bonta joins AGs in 14 states and DC to file briefs opposing Florida's 'Don't Say Gay' law

  • by Eric Burkett, Assistant Editor
  • Tuesday August 16, 2022
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California Attorney General Rob Bonta has joined his counterparts in 14 other states and the District of Columbia to file a brief opposing Florida's "Don't Say Gay" law. Photo: Courtesy AG's office
California Attorney General Rob Bonta has joined his counterparts in 14 other states and the District of Columbia to file a brief opposing Florida's "Don't Say Gay" law. Photo: Courtesy AG's office

Joining the attorneys general of 14 other states and Washington, D.C., California Attorney General Rob Bonta has signed onto an amicus brief in a lawsuit opposing Florida's notorious House Bill 1557 — the "Don't Say Gay" bill — which became law March 28 and went into effect July 1.

Three days after Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) signed the legislation, several groups, including San Francisco-based National Center for Lesbian Rights, filed suit against the state of Florida. The challenge is being led by Equality Florida, an LGBTQ civil rights advocacy group in the Sunshine State. Litigants include several private citizens including families of Florida schoolchildren.

The case, Equality Florida v. Florida State Board of Education, is being heard in federal court. The attorneys general brief urges the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida to allow the plaintiffs' challenge to the law to move forward and highlights the states' interest in standing up for the rights of LGBTQ+ Americans nationwide.

The amicus brief was filed August 3.

Florida's new law bans classroom discussion or teaching of sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten up until third grade. It also bans similar discussions "in all other grades unless the discussion meets or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students," according to the text of the law which does not, however, define what is age- or developmentally appropriate.

In what the law's opponents say is a clear effort to stifle opposition, the law also opens up schools and teachers to potential lawsuits.

"A parent of a student may bring an action against a school district to obtain a declaratory judgment that a school district procedure or practice violates this paragraph and seek injunctive relief," the law reads. "A court may award damages and shall award reasonable attorney fees and court costs to a parent who receives declaratory or injunctive relief."

Bonta said California would not tolerate attacks on the LGBTQ community.

"Make no mistake: DeSantis' 'Don't Say Gay' law is an unlawful attempt to stigmatize, silence, and erase LGBTQ+ students from Florida's public schools," said Bonta in an August 4 statement. "Rather than creating a nurturing, safe environment, Florida's law simply punishes children and their families for who they are. In California, we're not going to ignore discrimination and attacks on the LGBTQ+ community. We urge the court to affirm the rights and dignities of all of our children and allow this lawsuit to move forward."

In addition to California and Washington, D.C., the other participating states are Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, and Oregon.

One particular aspect of the law the attorneys general raise is the impact of its enforcement on states beyond Florida. According to the brief, "the Act directly implicates Amici States' interest in protecting at-risk youth who will be placed in Florida pursuant to the Interstate Compact for the Placement of Children."

All 50 states participate in the compact, which establishes guidelines of obligations toward children who are wards of the state as they are relocated to other states. In their brief, amici states argue "those children who identify as LGBTQ will be stigmatized by Florida's new law. LGBTQ youth from Florida may also be placed in Amici States under the ICPC, leaving schools and social services agencies in Amici States to address the negative impacts of Florida's law."

Because of the discriminatory nature of Florida's legislation, the AGs argue, amici states could find themselves shouldering even more of the burden of additional health care, particularly for mental health.

"... because the Act stigmatizes and harms LGBTQ people in Amici States, those individuals may require additional mental health services," the brief states.

The potential impact on the children California sends to placements in other states, including Florida, is immense. Because the decisions about placement are made at the county level, the state does not have a say over where kids are sent, or under what social conditions they might be living.

California Department of Social Services "is the single state agency responsible for the oversight of the counties' administration of child welfare?programs but?does not have case-carrying responsibilities," stated Theresa Mier, public affairs and outreach officer for CDSS.

"The majority of youth in out-of-state placements are placed with relatives or prospective adoptive families, or are young adults going to college," Mier wrote in an email to the Bay Area Reporter. "When placing foster youth, counties seek the safest and least restrictive family setting possible that promotes normal childhood experiences. The focus is on the connection to family, meeting individual youth needs, and the ability of the caregiver or family to meet those needs."

And then there are other costs. Because of the high rates of poverty among LGBTQ Americans — 22% of LGBTQ people in the United States live in poverty, according to the Williams Institute, an LGBTQ think tank at UCLA School of Law — state programs like Medicaid may incur even greater costs as a result "of addressing the significant mental health consequences stemming from the Act."

The AGs have been extremely critical of HB 1557. Besides concerns about the impact it will have on other states, they are particularly troubled about the atmosphere of intimidation and fear it fosters among Florida's LGBTQ community.

"This extreme, discriminatory law poses a serious threat to LGBTQ+ students who are particularly vulnerable to being harmed by discrimination," stated the Minnesota attorney general's office in a news release.

New Jersey's acting AG, Matthew Platkin, called the statute unconstitutional and harmful to people beyond Florida.

"In New Jersey, we are deeply committed to protecting LGBTQ individuals from discrimination and to celebrating the important contributions they make to our communities," Platkin stated in a release. "Sadly, Florida has taken the opposite approach. The 'Don't Say Gay' law is plainly unconstitutional, and it will stigmatize and harm countless LGBTQ youth in Florida and beyond. That's why I am proud to stand alongside 15 other attorneys general in supporting the legal challenge to this profoundly misguided law."

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, who is a lesbian, stated that the law undermines the classroom as a place where learning should be available to everyone.

"Florida's hate-fueled law is the censorship of LGBTQ+ issues at a time when school communities should be creating an educational environment that is inclusive of everyone," stated Healey. "With my colleagues across the country, we are asking the court to put an end to this radical policy and protect LGBTQ+ young people and their families from further harm."

After Equality Florida filed its lawsuit in March, DeSantis stated that the state would "defend this law vigorously."

LGBTQ Agenda is an online column that appears weekly. Got a tip on queer news? Contact Eric Burkett at e.burkett@ebar.com

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