Trump-appointed judge scraps challenge to Don’t Say Gay law because bullying is ‘a fact of life’

A photo of a Pride parade showing flags with rainbow colours being held

Trump-appointed judge Wendy Berger has upheld Florida’s Don’t Say Gay law and claimed bullying is “a fact of life”.

A challenge was brought against the bill by a number of groups and individuals, claiming that the controversial law restricts free speech and encourages bullying.

In upholding the bill, which prohibits teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity in classrooms, Berger addressed plaintiffs’ concerns about the increase in bullying students have faced since the law came into effect.

“It is simply a fact of life that many middle school students will face the criticism and harsh judgment of their peers,” she said.

“Indeed, middle school children bully and belittle their classmates for a whole host of reasons, all of which are unacceptable, and many of which have nothing to do with a classmate’s gender identity.”

‘Shame and stigma’

The lawsuit was brought by a group of LGBTQ+ students and their families, Lambda Legal, the Southern Legal Counsel and the Southern Poverty Law Center – all of who advocated for a preliminary injunction on the law.

In justifying upholding the law Berger wrote in the decision that the plaintiffs lacked “any fact” that the bill restricts people to live their lives as they chose. 

Lambda Legal staff attorney Kell Olson said the decision to scrap their challenge was “wrong on the law and disrespectful to LGBTQ+ families and students”.

Countless LGBTQ+ groups and advocates denounced the rise in anti-LGBTQ+ legislation with Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law targetting inclusive education. (Getty)

Olson said the law “suppresses” the speech and identities of LGBTQ+ students and their families and it “sends a message of shame and stigma that has no place in schools and puts LGBTQ+ students and families at risk”.

“The students and families at the heart of this case have experienced more bullying in the months since the law went into effect than ever before in their lives, but the court dismissed their experiences of bullying as ‘a fact of life.’ 

“The court’s decision defies decades of precedent establishing schools’ constitutional obligations to protect student speech, and to protect students from targeted bullying and harassment based on who they are.”

What is the Don’t Say Gay bill?

The Don’t Say Gay Law [HB 1557], which came into effect on 1 July 2022, prohibits teaching about sexual orientation or gender identity in K-3 classrooms, and since coming into effect it has been slammed for the harm it is doing to queer children in the state.

This is the second time a Trump-appointed judge has upheld the criticised law following judge Allen Cothrel Winsor doing so at the start of this month. 

Due to the law, the Florida Board of Education has introduced a rule that states any K-3 teacher who teaches students about LGBTQ+ issues can have their license suspended or revoked. 

The law has also implemented guidance that has forced Sarasota County teachers in west-central Florida to out their students to family members if they come out as LGBTQ+. 

Recently Republicans have introduced a measure that would widen the scope of Florida’s much-criticised law to cover the entire US.