Here’s what teachers, students can expect under Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law

Teachers, parents ‘anxious’ about new law

News 6 spoke with complainants in a lawsuit challenging the recent Parental Rights in Education law, which is aimed at preventing sexually related topics from being taught in grades K - 3.

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Heading back to school is exciting for some, but others said this year is different, given the Parental Rights in Education law, deemed by critics the “Don’t Say Gay” law, is now in effect.

The head of the Orange County Teachers Union said as teachers head to school, many are still confused about what they can and can’t say in the classroom.

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Last week, Orange County Public Schools released guidelines from the state to offer some clarity.

Meanwhile, a group of parents and their children have sued several Florida school districts hoping to have the law, which prohibits the discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third-grade classrooms, struck down.


Jen Cousins is one of those parents.

“It’s a culture war that did not need to be invented,” Cousins told News 6.

“I was incredibly angry about it,” Cousins said. “Of all the things that are happening in our world right now, especially in the state of Florida, to be going after kids like this is just outrageous.”

The lawsuit is against Orange, Indian River, Duval, and Palm Beach counties and their school boards.


A lawsuit filed in federal court on behalf of students, parents and advocates for the LGBTQ community is seeking to have a judge declare Florida’s HB 1557 “Parental Rights in Education” law unconstitutional.

There is a family representing each district.

Cousins has children in elementary, middle and high schools in Orange County.

“The intent behind the bill was to keep queer kids in the closet,” Cousins said.

The law prohibits “classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade” and should be “age-appropriate” in older grades, according to the law.

Cousins has a 12-year-old who identifies as nonbinary and two other children going into first and third grades.


The Orange County School Board received pushback at its Tuesday meeting during public comment for something called “camp legal.”

Cousins believes the law would prevent her younger children from talking about their older sibling at school.

“Then somebody goes home and says, ‘Hey mom and dad, guess what so-and-so said at school today?’ The parent can come in now and try to sue the school because they don’t like that their kid was exposed to what my kid is,” Cousins said.

It’s not just families who are concerned.

Clinton McCracken has been an art teacher with Orange County Public Schools since 2001 and is the current president of the Orange County Classroom Teachers Association.

“It’s not an exaggeration to say that teachers are extremely anxious,” McCracken said.


From new education laws to enhancing school safety, it’s been a busy summer for districts across Central Florida as they prepare for the upcoming school year. Dr. Maria Vazquez, who will serve as the district’s first Hispanic superintendent, was unanimously selected by the Orange County School Board to succeed Dr. Barbara Jenkins.

“There’s a lot of anxiety because the laws were written so vaguely, and there’s so much unknown about exactly how they will be implemented,” McCracken said.

Just last week, Orange County released clarification from the state that teachers can, if they choose, still display safe space stickers and rainbow lanyards that show they are allies to the LGBTQ+ community.

The law restricts “instruction” on sexual orientation and gender identity, not mere discussion of those subjects, according to guidelines released by OCPS and disseminated to teachers during pre-planning.

Teachers are “free to respond if their students discuss … their identities or family life, provide grades and feedback if a student chooses ‘LGBTQ identity’ as an essay topic and answer questions about their families.”


Gay rights advocates sued Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday to block a new law that forbids classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade.

Based on these guidelines teachers can in fact “say gay,” but Cousins wonders how other districts will interpret the law.

Heather Wilke is the executive director of the Zebra Coalition, a network of organizations that provide services to LGBTQ+ youth, including mental health counseling.

Wilke wants students to know as they head back to school, they have support.

“I’m very concerned about how these students are going to feel about themselves. We’re very concerned about their mental health status,” Wilke said.

The Zebra Coalition started in 2010 and each year they have served about 400 young people through their programs.

They offer several services even down to laundry, showering and food for those who need it. For more information, click here.

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About the Author:

Emmy Award-winning reporter Louis Bolden joined the News 6 team in September of 2001 and hasn't gotten a moment's rest since. Louis has been a General Assignment Reporter for News 6 and Weekend Morning Anchor. He joined the Special Projects/Investigative Unit in 2014.