Federal District Court Blocks Enforcement of Florida’s Discriminatory “Pronoun Ban” on First Amendment Grounds

On April 9, 2024, Chief Judge Mark Walker of the Northern District of Florida issued a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of a Florida law that prohibits teachers and other school personnel from “provid[ing]” any students with titles and pronouns like “Ms.” and “she/her” if those titles do not “correspond” to Florida’s definition of sex. Under that law, 10th-grade algebra teacher Katie Wood, a transgender woman, had been prevented from going by “Ms. Wood” and from using “she/her” pronouns in her classrooms; another teacher, AV Schwandes, was terminated for using the nonbinary title “Mx.” and “they/them” pronouns in theirs. Altshuler Berzon LLP, together with the Southern Poverty Law Center and Southern Legal Council, filed a lawsuit challenging the law for, among other things, violating the First Amendment, and sought preliminary injunctive relief. Holding that Ms. Wood was substantially likely to prevail on her First Amendment claim because it amounts to a restriction on personal speech with “no meaningful justification,” Judge Walker enjoined Ms. Wood’s school board, the Commissioner of the Florida Department of Education, and various other state officials from enforcing the challenged law against Ms. Wood. For now, Judge Walker has made clear that Ms. Wood is free to “vindicate[] her identity, her dignity, and her humanity” through the use of her preferred pronouns and titles; Florida may not, “by silencing her, force[] her to an inhabit an identity that is not her own.”