Florida Teachers Fight Anti-LGBTQ Policies As the State Punishes Schools That Dare To Resist

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I strongly believe that any media outlets frequently covering the anti-LGBTQ policies running rampant across the U.S. must also couple that coverage with stories about resistance to those efforts. Resistance is happening in myriad ways, both in more systemic maneuvers such as utilizing the courts to challenge policies as well as in more community-driven approaches to direct action and protest. Yesterday, three teachers went the former path by filing a lawsuit against the state of Florida over its law which bans public school teachers from sharing preferred titles or pronouns with students.

The group of teachers, represented by the Southern Poverty Law Center, includes AV Vary, the nonbinary teacher at statewide online public school Florida Virtual School who was fired last month for using the honorific Mx. The complaint asserts that the pronouns law discriminates against transgender and nonbinary school employees and violates their constitutional rights

This move builds on some efforts already made by Florida teachers in response to the Ron DeSantis-led attacks on LGBTQ people, which has targeted education in particular. Teachers are losing jobs throughout the state as a direct result of these policies. While the conditions that have made this lawsuit necessary and urgent are disheartening and I wish these teachers didn’t have to fight for their right to be themselves in the workplace, there is a small bit of hope in the fact that some teachers are pushing back rather than getting out. There’s a massive teacher shortage in the state right now, and while I don’t fault anyone for leaving to find work in safer, more supportive states, it’s so important that there are some people staying and fighting the policies. The fact of the matter is not everyone can leave. While I understand the impulse behind campaigns outside of Florida to welcome teachers considering leaving, what teachers need in this state is actually more material support, more people willing to take a stand against these policies who are here and committed to staying here.

It’s not just teachers and school employees who are trying to fight these anti-LGBTQ policies; it’s the students, too. When the staff at a Florida high school ignored the state’s trans sports ban, hundreds of students walked out in support of the staff and the trans girl who was allowed by them to play on the girls’ volleyball team. And one walkout wasn’t enough; students did so twice. Despite these brave acts of solidarity on the part of the students, the Florida High School Athletic Association has hit the high school with a massive fine in what is the first instance of a school being penalized for not following the new state guidelines but sadly will likely not be the last. It sets a scary precedent and is likely intended to quell further resistance, which means it’s more important than ever to keep pushing back, to not give in to fear. The more schools that flout the rules, the more difficult they will become to enforce.

And unfortunately we can’t only think of these as problems facing public schools. They’re touching the entire education system here. Earlier this year, the state expanded its private school voucher program, which means more state funds are being funneled toward private schools, so curriculum and sports restrictions on schools that receive state funding can be enforced beyond public schools. We’ve also already seen how the voucher program actively harms LGBTQ students by allowing private schools that explicitly forbid queer and trans students to still receive state funding. And voucher programs, despite what proponents claim, do not actually help lower income students. So the impact of anti-LGBTQ education policies in the state are huge; LGBTQ students and educators face the possibility of punishment and reprimand for violating these state-enforced regulations in public and private schools, and pushback will have to come from both sectors.

All of DeSantis’ efforts to silence and oppressively legislate students and educators in the state are connected and should be confronted simultaneously. As he’s busy trying to get pro-Palestine groups on campuses shut down, we’re seeing ripple effects throughout the education system: A math tutor at an elite South Florida private school was fired due to posts on her personal social media account in support of Palestine, and then her kid was expelled from the school, too.

If you live outside of Florida, you might be wondering how this impacts you. Well, first of all, DeSantis’ policies have already started seeping into other states. Second of all, another Trump presidency could mean an expansion of a lot of these policies at the federal level. Third, we should all care about policies that impact LGBTQ people outside of our personal communities.

I spoke with Autostraddle writer and Florida educator Stef Rubino while writing this story, and they had some powerful words to share:

“People look at Florida and they think this problem will stay contained here. We’re seeing everything from attacks on curriculum to attacks on people’s identities to attacks on people speaking out against the genocide in Palestine here, but it’s spreading and will continue if we don’t change the way we’re fighting back against these injustices. Legislation and lawsuits can’t be the end of it. We have to stand up and do something in our everyday lives as well. And we need to get organized. Those of us on the left have very little chance of succeeding in the battle against these oppressive forces if we don’t actually come up with material strategies to make sure these things stop happening.”

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Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is the managing editor of Autostraddle and a lesbian writer of essays, short stories, and pop culture criticism living in Orlando. She is the assistant managing editor of TriQuarterly, and her short stories appear or are forthcoming in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Joyland, Catapult, The Offing, and more. Some of her pop culture writing can be found at The A.V. Club, Vulture, The Cut, and others. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram and learn more about her work on her website.

Kayla has written 859 articles for us.

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