Advocating for Classroom Inclusion: Navigating Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay and Trans” Settlement

While the recent settlement in Florida put limits on their infamous "Don't Say Gay and Trans" law, the journey toward complete inclusion in the classroom continues. Here's what you need to know.

Updated March 2024

Restoring compassion to the classroom

Families scored a big win with the resolution of the lawsuit against Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay and Trans” law (H.B. 1557). This settlement is a crucial step forward, but our journey for complete inclusion continues. Use this guide to learn how you can maximize the benefit of this historic settlement in your school.

This guide is intended for parents, guardians, and community members in Florida. However, if you’re living in a state with similar laws, you might find the steps below helpful for demonstrating to your schools that LGBTQ+ people and topics can be discussed in the classroom, even when direct instruction is banned.

Advocating for inclusion

In the wake of this settlement and other developments related to LGBTQ+ inclusion in schools, many educators might not know what they are or are not allowed to say. As parents and advocates, we can help navigate these uncertainties by kickstarting conversations about the specifics of the settlement and its implication for classroom practices. To advocate for inclusion in the classroom, parents and guardians can…

Ensure that the settlement reaches educators’ hands

Don’t assume all school leaders will have a copy of the settlement. Instead, provide them with direct access to the terms and conditions outlined in the settlement so they can gain a clearer understanding of the boundaries and allowances regarding LGBTQ+ discussions and materials within the classroom.

Initiate conversations about inclusion

Proactively engage with educators to discuss how LGBTQ+ inclusion could benefit the school. This may involve clarifying misconceptions, addressing concerns, and brainstorming strategies for fostering inclusive learning environments that align with the principles outlined in the settlement. Generally, the best way to kickstart this conversation is by requesting a meeting with the school principal to discuss how the school plans to engage LGBTQ+ students and families in the coming year.

Push back against misinformation

Be prepared to hear a lot of misinformation about what H.B. 1557 covers. Even before this settlement, there were many misunderstandings about the law. Now, educators and fellow community members may be even more confused. They may tell you that a book or movie needs to be removed from the classroom because it features an LGBTQ+ character or that children cannot discuss their LGBTQ+ family members. In fact, the settlement explicitly states that these are not covered under H.B. 1557. If the school makes these decisions, they are either confused or trying to mislead you. 

When this happens, be ready to provide copies of and links to text of the settlement to others, so they can see for themselves what is permissible.

Support student advocacy

Encourage students to advocate for LGBTQ+ inclusion within their schools by providing the resources necessary to organize awareness campaigns, events, or initiatives. Support student-led initiatives to create inclusive spaces, such as establishing gender-inclusive dress codes, implementing LGBTQ+ History Month celebrations, or hosting pride events. Make sure that students know that under this new settlement, none of these things are banned by H.B. 1557.

Advocate for your rights

Ultimately, it might not be possible to convince your school to stick to the terms of the settlement. Schools that continue to take an overly broad stance by banning certain conversations or materials featuring LGBTQ+ people may be creating a hostile environment for students and parents. In these cases, you may consider filing a Title IX claim with the federal government, with additional support from the settlement to show that the school district was not merely following state law. Explore our guide to Title IX for support on when and how to file these claims.

Creating safe spaces

The settlement offers clarity regarding the allowance for discussions about LGBTQ+ people in both extracurricular and classroom activities. This means that teachers and students can openly address LGBTQ+ topics in discussions, assignments, and school-sponsored clubs without fear of reprisal or censorship. To support the creation of safe spaces at school, parents and guardians can…

Start Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) clubs

Utilize the settlement to encourage and support forming GSA clubs within the school. These clubs provide a safe space for LGBTQ+ students and allies to unite, offer support, and promote inclusivity within the school community. Work with school administrators and interested students to establish and maintain these clubs, ensuring they have equal access to school resources and support. See this ACLU guide on starting a GSA for more information.

Did you know?

The Equal Access Act reinforces the right of students to establish and participate in clubs, including those focused on LGBTQ+ issues, on the same basis as other non-curricular clubs. This federal law prohibits public schools that receive federal funding from discriminating against student-led clubs based on their religious, political, or philosophical viewpoints, ensuring that LGBTQ+ clubs have equal access to school facilities and resources. Learn more about how the Equal Access Act protects GSAs or file a complaint on the Department of Education’s website.

Encourage LGBTQ+ inclusion in after-school activities

If you are coaching a school team or helping with the production of a school play, you can support youth with safe and inclusive messaging. Under the settlement, youth and school staff should not be censored in their conversations about LGBTQ+ topics in these extracurricular activities. Youth should be able to do presentations, perform plays, and create works of art with LGBTQ+ characters.

Empower youth to discuss LGBTQ+ topics in schoolwork

Remind students that their voices and perspectives are valuable in contributing to a more inclusive learning environment. Students can choose to do reports on famous LGBTQ+ figures, share personal stories about themselves and family members, or lead classroom discussions about LGBTQ+ issues. Remember that according to the settlement, H.B. 1557 does not prohibit these discussions.

Providing inclusive resources

The settlement presents an opportunity to advocate for inclusive books and resources in schools. Parents, guardians, and advocates can use this framework to push for diverse and representative literature that reflects the LGBTQ+ community. To push for inclusive resources within the classroom, parents and guardians can…

Advocate for diverse classroom materials and library books

Use the settlement to push for classroom materials and library books with LGBTQ+ characters and themes. Cite the settlement as evidence that school districts are allowed to provide materials that promote acceptance and understanding of LGBTQ+ identities. If schools lack funds or access to these kinds of books, GLSEN’s Rainbow Library sends free LGBTQIA+ books and ebooks to schools in Florida.

Ask for robust anti-bullying policies

School districts are legally obligated to keep schools free from bullying, harassment, and discrimination. The settlement clarifies that nothing in H.B. 1557 exempts schools from meeting these obligations. Schools should outline their specific policies for protecting LGBTQ+ people from facing bullying, harassment, and discrimination with the understanding that nothing in H.B. 1557 prevents such anti-bullying efforts. If LGBTQ+ people are facing bullying, harassment, and discrimination in your school, you should file a Title IX complaint.

Highlight the importance of LGBTQ+ competency training

Emphasize the need for professional development programs that provide educators and school staff with the knowledge, skills, and tools necessary to support LGBTQ+ youth and families in schools. Be sure to highlight the difference between instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation (which is banned under H.B. 1557) and comprehensive LGBTQ+ competency training focusing on fostering inclusive environments, supporting diverse identities, and addressing the unique needs of LGBTQ+ students and families. Cite research and best practices demonstrating the positive impact of LGBTQ+ competency training on school climate, student well-being, and academic achievement, underscoring the importance of investing in such initiatives.

You’re not alone

At first glance, navigating the advocacy steps outlined in this guide may feel overwhelming. But you’re not alone. If you’re looking for additional resources or support on this advocacy journey, explore Equality Florida’s Safe and Healthy Schools project.

Protecting LGBTQ Students: 5 Tips for Effective Advocacy in Your School District

Looking for support on your family’s school journey?

Family Equality hosts a virtual peer resource group every month for LGBTQ+ parents navigating school-related challenges! Register today to receive log-in information.

Nikhil Vashee

Nikhil Vashee (They/Them)

Director of Education Law and Policy, Senior Policy Counsel

Nikhil Vashee (they/them) is currently the Director of Education Law and Policy, Senior Policy Counsel for Family Equality. In this role, they promote policy solutions at the local, state, and federal levels to ensure LGBTQ+ families’ access to quality education in a supportive environment. They also oversee litigation, amicus curiae briefs, and other legal efforts to combat discrimination against LGBTQ+ families in education.

This information was prepared and distributed by Family Equality. |

Family Equality exists to create a world where everyone can experience the unconditional love, safety, and belonging of family. Our mission is to ensure that everyone has the freedom to find, form, and sustain their families by advancing equality for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) community.