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FL School District Clarifies Whether LGBTQ+ Teachers Can Be Fired For 'Family Photo On Their Desk'

FL School District Clarifies Whether LGBTQ+ Teachers Can Be Fired For 'Family Photo On Their Desk'
aul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Since long before it was ever signed into law, legal experts and activists have been warning about the lack of clarity in Florida's so-called "Don't Say Gay" legislation and the potential legal jeopardy it presents for LGBTQ+ people and allies.

Case in point?

A Florida school district had to clarify LGBTQ+ teachers having a "family photo on their desk" is not a violation of the legislation and hence cause for being fired.

According to reporting by Insider, the school district in Orange County where Orlando is located released a memo Monday clarifying policies following months of controversy and confusion over how the new legislation will be enforced.

The memo is a reversal of comments the school district's spokesperson made to The Washington Post over the weekend, as well as guidance district staff and teachers' union representatives say they were given in a private meeting about the new law in June.

Staff and union reps say they were told at that meeting rainbow-printed articles like clothing, stickers and lanyards distributed by the school last year would be banned and the displaying of family photos by LGBTQ+ staff members was warned against.

Adding to the confusion was a memo from Florida Commissioner of Education Manny Diaz Jr. just last week which instructed Florida schools to ignore Biden Administration guidance regarding the enforcement of federal Title IX protections for LGBTQ+ students and called the guidance illegal, unenforceable and an "attempt to impose a sexual ideology on Florida schools."

Citing a motion to dismiss filed in June in an ongoing lawsuit seeking to invalidate the law, the Orange County schools' memo read in part:

"'There is no merit, for example, to the suggestion that the statute restricts gay and transgender teachers from 'put[ting] a family photo on their desk' or 'refer[ring] to themselves and their spouse (and their own children).'"

It went on to say:

"The Bill restricts 'instruction' on sexual orientation and gender identity, not mere discussion of those subjects."

That, however, is entirely false.

The law, officially called the Parental Rights in Education Act, explicitly includes among its requirements:

"prohibiting classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in certain grade levels or in a specified manner."

It also forbids "instruction" on "sexual orientation or gender identity" in kindergarten through third grade, "or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate."

But the bill does not define what constitutes discussion or instruction, nor does it define any of its terms leaving them entirely open to interpretation by school officials, state and local governments and parents who are empowered by the law to sue school districts and staff members for perceived violations of the legislation without burden of proof.

On Twitter, the new memo only fueled anger toward Florida's virulently anti-LGBTQ+ governor Ron DeSantis and frustrations with the new law he championed.

In warning about the vagueness of the Parental Rights in Education Act, many legal experts have speculated the lack of clarity may be a purposeful attempt by DeSantis and his administration to sow confusion and incite lawsuits by anti-LGBTQ+ parents and staff.

In the case of sowing confusion at least, it has worked handily.

Other counties in Florida, including Palm Beach and Miami-Dade, are embroiled in similar controversies rising from confusion over issues like textbooks and how to teach about certain historical figures with LGBTQ+ identities.