The LGBTQ+ organization was denied university funds to participate in the 2023 Orlando Pride Parade and had to secure private funding.
ORLANDO — On Friday, October 20, 2023, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida and the Stonewall LGBTQ+ Law Student Association (Stonewall) at Florida A&M University College of Law (FAMU) sent a letter to the university president outlining the First Amendment concerns resulting from the university’s denial of funding. On September 12, 2023, FAMU denied funding for Stonewall’s participation in the upcoming “Come Out with Pride” Orlando’s Pride Parade to be held on October 21, 2023. Without university funding, members had to raise private funds to be able to participate in the parade.
In the letter, the ACLU of Florida and Stonewall raised concerns that the withholding of funding may threaten students’ freedom of expression. Denying Stonewall funding limits its ability to engage in community outreach for College of Law recruitment, legal clinic awareness, and overall goodwill within Orlando and its capacity to advocate and educate on matters of LGBTQ+ health, discrimination, and other legal issues affecting the community. This change in financial support occurred in the wake of the passage of Florida Senate Bill 266, a harmful education law signed by Governor DeSantis in May 2023 that bans the funding of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives.
“Pride celebrations are essential to the LGBTQ+ community: creating space for support, honoring the LGBTQ+ rights movement, and increasing awareness of LGBTQ+ individuals and their experiences,” Samantha Past, LGBTQ+ Rights legal fellow of the ACLU of Florida, responded. “Without university support, LGBTQ+ members of Florida A&M may feel isolated and stigmatized, particularly at a time when LGBTQ+ rights are under attack across the state.”
“Florida universities have an obligation to protect their students’ free speech rights. Denying Stonewall funding because of its support for LGBTQ+ rights does very much the opposite,” said Jerry Edwards, staff attorney of the ACLU of Florida. “Surrendering to calls for censorship undermines free speech and our democracy.”
“We are concerned that FAMU might be a cautionary tale, and we might begin to see similar restrictions to other campus organizations across the state,” said Megan Collins, President of the Stonewall LGBTQ+ Law Association at FAMU. “In light of the state’s consistent efforts to undermine and censor DEI initiatives, state universities might be forced to suppress free speech on campus grounds to protect their state funding.”
The ACLU of Florida plans to review FAMU’s response to the letter and investigate additional reports from other universities that may also be denying student organizations funding based on their viewpoints.
A copy of the letter can be found here.