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.
\u201cIn Orange County, school staff report that they\u2019ve been told to take down rainbow \u201csafe space\u201d stickers and LGBTQ elementary teachers have been told to remove pictures of their families from their desks.\n\nDon\u2019t Say LGBTQ goes into effect Friday. (1/4)\n\nhttps://t.co/eqJWVkt7Ps\u201d— Equality Florida (@Equality Florida) 1656443323
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.
\u201cFlorida will start the school year with a 9,000 teacher shortage, only 25% of 3rd graders reading proficient, lagging SAT scores + more.\n \nWhile schools suffer, DeSantis attacks LGBTQ kids and wants you to think your child's teacher is a groomer.\n \nWe deserve better than this.\u201d— Rep. Carlos G Smith (@Rep. Carlos G Smith) 1659451130
\u201cRemember: this guy wants to president. If you\u2019re gay you can\u2019t discuss your partner. Straight teachers can talk about their families. Gay teachers can\u2019t. And he\u2019s just warming up. THIS IS NOT A DRILL. \n#VoteBlueToSaveDemocracy \n#DeSantisDestroysFlorida \nhttps://t.co/lD7EKtSzzf\u201d— oxforduk (@oxforduk) 1659371911
\u201cWait, what? "Don't say Gay" law is creating confusion? Shocking. \u2014 A Florida school district now says LGBTQ teachers can put photos on their desk of their partners and talk about them in class as DeSantis' restrictions on teaching causes confusion https://t.co/UpsHTpa9Ms\u201d— Bruce Reyes-Chow \u262e\ufe0f \ud83d\udc1d \ud83d\udc11 (@Bruce Reyes-Chow \u262e\ufe0f \ud83d\udc1d \ud83d\udc11) 1659540121
\u201cFlorida has a 9,000 teacher and staff shortage emergency with ~2 weeks until the new school year.\n \nYet, Ron DeSantis prioritizes culture wars in the classroom rather than ensuring our schools are ready to teach our kids.\u201d— Charlie Crist (@Charlie Crist) 1659388500
\u201cLet me introduce you to the Nation\u2019s most bigoted governor\u2026\n\nFlorida teachers are being told they can't mention their same-sex partners because it could violate DeSantis' ban on LGBTQ discussions in schools https://t.co/AhZpmXbT2I\u201d— Mike (@Mike) 1659377796
\u201cSo if a single man teacher puts photos of girls hes dated on his desk and talks to the kids about them is that ok?A Florida school district now says LGBTQ teachers can put photos on their desk of their partners and talk about https://t.co/nQ9J0lCUG0 via @Yahoo\u201d— johnny costa (@johnny costa) 1659389789
\u201cMaking more legislation about what teachers can and can't do in the classroom is making your teacher shortage worse. Please stop. https://t.co/meF8n8emGn\u201d— Mrs. B. Hanley, M. Ed. (@Mrs. B. Hanley, M. Ed.) 1659442064
\u201chttps://t.co/ELr0SH0IEO\n\n@GovRonDeSantis \n\nName three ways you're not Hitler.\u201d— Tw1tterSucks (@Tw1tterSucks) 1659388040
\u201c\u201cTeachers in same-sex relationships can have photos of their partners in their classrooms but can\u2019t talk about them.\u201d\n\nHow ridiculous. What if kid\u2019s ask? Are teachers supposed to lie? \nFor \u2066DeSantis\u2069 lying is normal so teach children it\u2019s not wrong. https://t.co/3Vsh1UTjaR\u201d— Aleggra (@Aleggra) 1659382851
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.