Far-right groups sue over transgender-inclusive school policies in Virginia and Florida

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Anti-LGBTQ groups are claiming that schools are violating the rights of teachers and parents.

The Alliance Defending Freedom and the Child and Parental Rights Campaign, two anti-LGBTQ legal advocacy groups, have filed lawsuits against school districts over their policies affirming transgender students and advising against the outing of LGBTQ students to their families.

The Alliance Defending Freedom, a group the Southern Poverty Law Center designates an anti-LGBTQ hate group, is behind an effort to stop the public school district in Loudoun County, Virginia, from implementing a policy that school staff must use the preferred names and correct pronouns for transgender students.

The group represented Tanner Cross, a physical education teacher at Leesburg Elementary School in the Loudon County School District, after he was placed on leave in May after he made comments at a school board meeting opposing the policy. The Alliance Defending Freedom argued on his behalf when he sued the district in June, and Cross was ultimately reinstated as a teacher. On Monday, the district officially settled with Cross and agreed to pay some of his legal fees.

But other claims continue in the case, which may result in a judge halting the policy. In August, the group filed a request to amend its complaint to include two other teachers, Kim Wright and Monica Gill, and to call for an injunction against the requirement that school staff use the correct names and pronouns of students. The Alliance Defending Freedom said that now that the policy had been approved by the school board, the teachers' rights to freedom of speech and freedom of religious exercise were being violated.

On Monday, a Virginia judge postponed a decision regarding an injunction, saying it might be made after the holidays.

The Alliance Defending Freedom is one of a number of groups pushing to pass anti-trans bills, particularly those that target transgender youth. It's included in a list of "leading national partners" of Promise to America's Children, a coalition of groups that oppose gender-affirming care for transgender youth, transgender kids' inclusion in sports, and any kind of LGBTQ content in schools. The coalition offers model legislation for lawmakers to use in crafting bills that support its views.

On Tuesday, the Tallahassee Democrat reported that a lawsuit taking aim at LGBTQ-affirming school policies was filed by lawyers from the Child and Parental Rights Campaign in October.

The group notes on its website, "Child & Parental Rights Campaign, Inc. was founded to respond to a radical new ideology overtaking families and threatening the well-being of children and the fundamental right of parents to direct the care, education, and upbringing of their children. Children are being led to believe a powerful untruth about their bodies – that they could be 'born in the wrong body.'"

It is suing to force the Leon County Schools in Florida to alter its guidance on LGBTQ matters, which has been removed from the school district's website and which said that students whom teachers or school administrators have reason to believe may be LGBTQ should not be outed to their families.

"Outing a student, especially to parents, can be very dangerous to the students [sic] health and well-being. Some students are not able to be out at home because their parents are unaccepting of LGBTQ+ people out. As many as 40% of homeless youth are LGBTQ+, many of whom have been rejected by their families for being LGBTQ+. Outing students to their parents can literally make them homeless," the former guidance said.

The Child and Parental Rights Campaign said the guidance is a violation of the Florida "Parental Bill of Rights," a law that went into effect in July. The law stops state and government institutions from "infringing upon the fundamental right of a parent to direct the upbringing, education, health care, and mental health of his or her minor child without demonstrating a compelling state interest for such actions."

According to its lawsuit, the Leon County Schools got involved in discussions about a child's gender identity without the approval of the child's parents: Although the student wanted to use they/them pronouns, it claims, the parents wanted to use pronouns indicating the gender their child was assigned at birth. However, according to emails obtained by the Tallahassee Democrat between a teacher and the student's mother, they agreed to let the child "take the lead on this," as the mother put it.

The president, founder, and general counsel for the Child and Parental Rights Campaign, Vernadette Broyles, has advocated for anti-trans legislation before. She spoke at an event organized by the right-wing Eagle Forum in March 2020 and called on conservatives to push for so-called "Vulnerable Child Protection Acts"; bills with similar names have since been introduced in Alabama, South Dakota, and South Carolina aimed at stopping trans youth from accessing hormone treatments and puberty blockers. Arkansas passed such a law this year, but a federal judge has stopped it from going into effect pending litigation.

These lawsuits are moving forward as parents and Republican political leaders attack LGBTQ content in school curriculums and schools grapple with the numerous anti-trans laws passed this year, including trans sports bans that were enacted in nine states. In some cases, Republican politicians have used these efforts to score points with their base, as Glenn Youngkin did during his successful campaign for governor of Virginia when he defended Cross after the teacher refused to comply with the Loudoun County School Board's proposed policy.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.