Federal Judge Upholds Transgender Hillsborough County Teacher’s Right to Use Preferred Pronouns at Work

Federal Judge Upholds Transgender Hillsborough County Teacher's Right to Use Preferred Pronouns at Work

NEW YORK, N.Y. A federal judge decided on Tuesday that a transgender Hillsborough County teacher can use her preferred pronouns at work, even though Florida law doesn’t allow it.

Katie Wood, a teacher at Ruskin’s Lennard High School, is suing the Florida Department of Education over a law that says people can’t use names that are different from the ones they were given at birth.

People who break the law could lose their teaching license or be suspended.

Based on Wood’s First Amendment claims, Obama-appointed Chief US District Judge Mark E. Walker wrote that she is “substantially likely” to win. He also issued a preliminary injunction that stops the state from enforcing the law against her while her case is being heard. The order only affects Wood and not the whole state.

He wrote, “Once more, the State of Florida has a First Amendment problem.” “These days, it’s happened so often that some might say you can set your clock by it. This time, the State of Florida says that if you want to teach in a public school, it has the full power to change who you are. So, the question this Court has to decide is whether the First Amendment lets the State tell public school teachers how to talk to their kids without any limits. The loud “no” is the answer.

Walkinger wrote that “Ms. Wood’s speech will continue to be chilled based on a state law that directly punishes her protected speech in violation of her First Amendment rights” if there wasn’t an order.

“In every part of her life,” Wood is known as “Ms. Wood,” and that’s how most of her kids address her. Court records say that her title and chosen pronouns were written on the whiteboard in class and on a pin on her lanyard.

Records show that Wood would correct any students who mistook her gender.

Walker’s decision is based on a 2022 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that sided with Joe Kennedy, a public school football coach who was fired for praying on the field.

According to Walker, Ms. Wood’s chosen pronouns and title are very personal to her, just like Coach Kennedy’s faith. In the same way that Coach Kennedy’s public prayers show that he is a religious man, Ms. Wood’s use of her chosen pronouns and title shows that she is a woman.

Walker said that Wood’s way of identifying is “as it is for every person” and that it comes from her personal identity, not her job as a public school teacher.

“Defendants have admitted that Ms. Wood’s speech goes against the State’s view on pronouns, but they have not shown any proof that Ms. Wood’s speech has made it harder for her to do her job as a teacher, for Lennard High School to run normally, or for the State to protect its interests as an employer,” Walker wrote.

Walker said that Wood’s job reviews at the high school have consistently shown that she is a “effective” teacher. He also said that Wood’s kids do better on tests than the average student in the district.

Walker wrote, “The State of Florida has clearly taken a stand on the use of pronouns that do not match the sex assigned at birth.” “And [the law] lets the government censor speech that goes against its views.”

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