Two LGBTQ rights advocacy groups, as well as students, parents and a teacher in Florida, filed a federal lawsuit Thursday, challenging the state’s new law banning certain instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in the classroom.
It’s the first legal challenge seeking to block implementation and enforcement of the law, which Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed on Monday. The controversial law, dubbed “Don’t Say Gay” by its opponents, is set to take effect in July.
DeSantis told reporters Thursday that he will defend the law “vigorously.”
The lawsuit calls the Florida law an “unlawful attempt to stigmatize, silence and erase LGBTQ people in Florida’s public schools.”
“It seeks to do so by imposing a sweeping, vague ban covering any instruction on ‘sexual orientation and gender identity,’ and by constructing a diffuse enforcement scheme designed to maximize the chilling effect of this prohibition,” the complaint reads.
According to the new “Parental Rights in Education” law in Florida, “classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”
Parents would be able to bring civil suits against a school district for any potential rule violation, under the new law.
During the bill signing Monday, DeSantis said that Florida recognizes that “parents have a fundamental role in the education, health care and well-being of their children.”
The plaintiffs in Thursday’s lawsuit include Equality Florida, an LGBTQ advocacy organization; Family Equality, a New York-based nonprofit; a 17-year-old sophomore in Palmetto, Florida, who identifies as gay; an 18-year-old senior in Osprey, Florida, who identifies as gay; the parent of a transgender fifth-grader in Florida; three same-sex couples living in Florida with young children; and a middle-school public teacher in Grand Ridge, Florida. The complaint was filed by Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP and the National Center for Lesbian Rights.
The plaintiffs say the new law violates the First and 14th Amendments, and Title IX protections.
“This effort to control young minds through state censorship – and to demean LGBTQ lives by denying their reality – is a grave abuse of power. The United States Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed that LGBTQ people and families are at home in our constitutional order. The State of Florida has no right to declare them outcasts, or to treat their allies as outlaws, by punishing schools where someone dares to affirm their identity and dignity,” according to the complaint.
Weighing in on the lawsuit Thursday, DeSantis said he doesn’t think that “any of the legal claims have merit.”
“These are policy decisions. I don’t think it’s anything that’s invoking First Amendment because schools, states and localities have the ability to set curriculum in public schools. We do that all the time. This is not new,” he said, also arguing that the law “does not regulate student speech.”
DeSantis’ communications director Taryn Fenske told CNN in a statement that “this calculated, politically motivated, virtue-signaling lawsuit is meritless, and we will defend the legality of parents to protect their young children from sexual content in Florida public schools.”
Proponents of the new law say it gives parents more oversight over what their children learn and discuss at school and argue that LGBTQ-related topics should be left for families to discuss in private. Opponents say the law will negatively affect an already marginalized community and also argue it would open educators up to an endless barrage of litigation.
This story has been updated with additional details Thursday.
CNN’s Devan Cole contributed to this report.