Authors of gay penguin book banned in Florida school sue over Don’t Say Gay law

A cover of the book And Tango Makes Three featuring two adult penguins leaning into each other with a baby chick nestled in between them

The authors of a children’s book about the true story of a same-sex penguin couple raising a baby chick are suing a Florida school district for banning the book under the state’s Don’t Say Gay law.

The award-winning children’s book, And Tango Makes Three, which features a same-sex penguin couple who adopt a chick together at New York City’s Central Park Zoo, was banned from Lake County School District in Florida earlier this year due to LGBTQ+ content.

The book was banned in accordance with the state’s widely-criticised Don’t Say Gay law, which prohibits classroom discussion of LGBTQ+ issues and has already led to censorship of school plays containing queer characters.

“We removed access to And Tango Makes Three for our kindergarten through third-grade students in alignment with Florida HB 1557, which prohibits classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity for those grade levels,” Sherri Owens, the Lake County Florida communications director, told Fox News Digital in January.

Now the authors of the book, Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, along with the families of several young students, are suing the school district and Florida’s board of education, arguing that the Don’t Say Gay restrictions violate their first amendment rights to free speech, the New York Times reported.

LGBTQ+ rights advocates gather around in protest of Ron DeSantis and the 'Don't Say Gay' bill in protest
Activists hold signs protesting Florida’s controversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill (Getty)

The lawsuit, filed on Tuesday (20 June), argues that the Lake County School District’s ban on And Tango Makes Three “cited no legitimate pedagogical reason for its decision”, and the book was pulled from shelves for “illegitimate, narrowly partisan and political reasons”.

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The lawsuit seeks to make the children’s book available again and describes it as telling “a true and heartwarming story, and it teaches students about animal behaviour, adoption, diversity among family structures, and responsible family values”.

It continues: “The authors wrote Tango to spread a message of tolerance and equal treatment.

“They have a sincere and strongly held desire to ensure that Tango is available to children learning about animal behavior, adoption, and family structures, whether similar to or different from their own – and the student plaintiffs wish to read Tango to learn about those very subjects.”

Richardson, who wrote the book about the penguin couple with his husband Parnell, told the New York Times: “Our book has been banned because Tango has two dads.”

He added that Tango is similarly age-appropriate to the children’s book Make Way for Ducklings, which follows a female duck and a male duck who look for a spot to raise their ducklings.

Richardson said: “Both show water birds becoming parents and caring for their young … There is no sexual implication or language in either, but only one has been banned.

“There is no substance to any claim that it’s harmful or inappropriate at any age for children to learn that we [LGBTQ+ people] exist.”

And Tango Makes Three was noted on freedom of expression group PEN America’s list of most-banned picture books of the last school year.

According to the organisation, there were at least 1,477 attempts to ban 874 individual book titles within the first half of the 2022-2023 school year, marking a nearly 30 per cent rise in attempted book bans from the previous year. 

PinkNews has contacted the Florida Department for Education for comment.