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Groups Threaten Suit over Charlotte County Public Schools’ LGBTQ+ Book Ban Policy

CHARLOTTE COUNTY, Fla. — The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) sent a demand letter today on behalf of All Rainbow and Allied Youth (ARAY) and PFLAG Port Charlotte urging the School Board of Charlotte County and Superintendent Mark Vianello to end the district’s discriminatory ban on books with LGBTQ+ characters and content.

The policy prohibits all books with LGBTQ+ characters and themes in school libraries, curricula and classrooms, in violation of the First and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, the letter states. It even prohibits students from selecting materials containing LGBTQ+ characters or content for independent reading or class projects.

“All Charlotte County students deserve to be seen and represented in schools,” said ARAY President Hal Trejo. “We implore the district to reconsider its position and work with us to ensure all students are welcomed, safe, and valued.”

The district claims the book ban policy is required by a Florida law known as “Don’t Say Gay,” which bars “classroom instruction” on “gender identity and sexual orientation,” but the state attorney general has rejected the position that it applies to school libraries or requires removing books and classroom materials just because they include LGBTQ+ characters or themes.

Since the policy became public, ARAY and PFLAG Port Charlotte have made several attempts to work with the school district and explain how the policy goes far beyond the state’s “Don’t Say Gay” law. Yet, the district refuses to acknowledge any wrongdoing or take steps to eliminate the harmful impact of the policy on LGBTQ+ students and families who are already facing several other new state laws that target them.

“The district’s ban on LGBTQ+ content is precisely what the drafters of the “Don’t Say Gay” law and other harmful anti-LGBTQ+ laws wanted but knew they couldn’t legally require: to erase LGBTQ+ people from schools entirely,” said Sam Boyd, SPLC senior staff attorney. “This book ban is a clear violation of federal and state law and must end now.”

ARAY and PFLAG Port Charlotte are circulating a petition demanding that Charlotte County Public Schools immediately end the discriminatory book ban policy and reinstate all books that have been removed under the policy. The petition also calls for clear guidance regarding LGBTQ+ materials and the creation of policies and procedures to ensure the safety of LGBTQ+ students, faculty and staff.

“We need clarification in writing regarding Charlotte County's stand on book banning and censorship,” said Patrick Eaton, president of PFLAG Port Charlotte. “'Error on the side of caution' may suit the county, but this action harms families. Banning books with a wide brush shows a blatant disregard for the individuals and families affected, which includes LGBTQ+ people, and people of color, who are impacted when books concerning their histories and cultures are banned. Let's work together to protect teachers, students, and families during this time of censorship.”