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FAMU LGBTQ Student Group Worries About Funding Cut Amidst DeSantis’ DEI Legislation

An LGBTQ Florida A&M University law student organization says it’s concerned that the historically Black institution’s administration is not safeguarding free speech rights.

While FAMU’s primary campus is in Tallahassee, its law school is in Orlando. And each 12 months for approaching a decade, the Stonewall LGBTQ+ Law Student Association says it’s received university funding to take part in a neighborhood Pride parade.

But not this 12 months.

“Florida A&M has an obligation to guard its students’ free speech rights,” the coed organization wrote in a letter last month to college President Larry Robinson. “Denying Stonewall funding to take part in the Pride Parade due to its support for LGBTQ+ rights would breach this duty.”

And members say that is exactly what’s happened. While they were in a position to raise some funds and take part in the Oct. 21 Orlando Pride parade, not enough to take part in the “sponsorship walk,” which they are saying significantly limited the group’s ability to do community outreach.

“So if anyone is fascinated with coming to the College of Law, they’ve the understanding that it’s a supportive place throughout the university system,” said Joi Cardwell, a bunch board member, on the importance of the event. “[It’s] a showing of unity and variety inside our own student body. It shows the presence of our college.”

Senate Bill 266

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida also signed off on the letter. Jerry Edwards, a staff attorney for the advocacy organization, said the situation represented the primary case he knows of a brand new Florida anti-diversity, equity, and inclusion law potentially affecting a student group.

As a governor and a presidential candidate, DeSantis has railed against diversity, equity, and inclusion — or DEI — programs and pointed to policies he’s pushed combating them.

Senate Bill 266 is certainly one of those policies.

When signing it into law earlier within the 12 months, DeSantis said DEI really should stand for “discrimination, exclusion, and indoctrination.”

“This has mainly been used as a veneer to impose an ideological agenda, and that’s fallacious,” he said.

The law, which went into effect July 1, bans DEI funding at state colleges and universities, though the Florida Board of Governors hasn’t yet passed any rules or regulations for it yet.

“In my mind, I believe the university is doing their best to abide by a law that shouldn’t be very clear,” Edwards said. “I could see why they might think that they don’t seem to be allowed to fund something like this based off of SB 266. Whether universities or Florida law ought to be saying that a student group mustn’t be funded because of their viewpoints is in my mind a special query.”

Then the First Amendment comes into play, he said.

“The First Amendment doesn’t tolerate, even in funding, decisions that punish groups for his or her viewpoints,” Edwards said.

There may be a carve-out within the law that claims those restrictions don’t apply to student organizations, but only when “student fees” are in play.

The Stonewall LGBTQ+ Law Student Association members said the cash got here from a university LGBTQ initiative, and that they weren’t told why the funding stopped. However the timing is of note.

“Curiously, Florida A&M’s abrupt about-face on funding occurred within the wake of the passage of Florida Senate Bill 266 (2023) and its provision banning the funding of diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives,” the group said within the letter.

In response to media requests from the USA TODAY NETWORK-Florida, FAMU spokesperson Andrew Skerritt wrote Wednesday morning, “We’re working on a response. It’s forthcoming.”

It didn’t come by the requested time.

Senate Bill 266 challenged: Professors, students ask judge to temporarily block DeSantis’ DEI funding ban

President Robinson’s contract prolonged: FAMU trustees OK President Robinson’s contract extension, above average evaluation, bonus

‘Isolated and stigmatized’

It also comes at a time, members wrote, when “LGBTQ+ rights are under attack across the state.”

Lately, DeSantis and legislative Republicans have passed a slew of laws targeting the LGBTQ community.

Members said the university’s decision made them feel unsupported. And, without that support, they warned LGBTQ

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