(MIAMI)— The settlement announced today in Equality Florida v. Florida State Board of Education, which clarified the limited scope of Florida’s HB 1557, known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, is “a step in the right direction” for free expression in Florida schools, said PEN America. The writers and free speech organization expressed relief that the bill can no longer be used to subject students and teachers to the most extreme interpretations of its restrictions, while noting that the statute remaining in effect continues to harm Florida’s students.

“This is a step in the right direction, but the fight against this dangerous law continues– learning about diverse families should not be off-limits in Florida schools,” said Katie Blankenship, director of PEN America’s Florida office. “Thankfully, this settlement will bring books back to the shelves and restore open discourse on LGBTQ+ identity in our classrooms. But even with this victory and the clarification that the settlement provides, “Don’t Say Gay” continues to chill protected expression and prevent age-appropriate education on important topics, on the basis of partisan ideology.”

The Florida bill inspired similar legislation in other states.

The settlement will require the Florida Board of Education to instruct all Florida school districts that HB 1557 does not prohibit teachers and students from discussing LGBTQ+ identity, prevent anti-bullying measures, or disallow student groups supporting LGBTQ+ individuals. The agreement also clarifies that the law does not apply to library books that are not a part of classroom instruction or curricula, and makes clear that the law does not ban “literary references to a gay or transgender person or to a same-sex couple” in classroom material.

While the settlement helps prevent overbroad interpretations of the bill and may mitigate its chilling effect, HB 1557 remains the law in Florida, and much of its harmful content will continue intact. Specifically, the statute, combined with Florida Department of Education instruction and HB 1069 (passed into law in 2023), continue to prohibit instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity through the 12th grade. And while the settlement agreement ensures that the prohibitions against classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity through the third grade will be applied neutrally to both LGBTQ+ and heterosexual identities, the restrictions remain in place nonetheless.

The DeSantis administration has claimed the settlement as a victory, stating that the agreement will ensure that HB 1557 will remain in place to protect children from “radical gender and sexual ideology in the classroom.”

Blankenship said: “This celebration seems far-fetched considering that DeSantis’ flagship Stop WOKE legislation just suffered a devastating blow in the 11th Circuit.Court of Appeals and PEN America’s lawsuit to return books to the shelves in Escambia County also continues despite the state’s attempts to the contrary. DeSantis has himself admitted that book bans go too far. It seems that Florida is not in fact where ‘woke’ goes to die.”

PEN America has consistently spoken out against HB 1557 since it was introduced in 2022. Following its passage, PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel called the bill a “government diktat policing the speech of students and teachers in violation of the First Amendment” and identified it as “part of a wave of intrusive bills and laws that forcibly insert politics and ideology into realms that belong in the hands of educators, parents, and children.”

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect free expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at pen.org.

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], (201) 247-5057