Metro Weekly

Florida County Reverses Ban on Gay Penguin Children’s Book

Lake County Schools is no longer banning "And Tango Makes Three" following guidance from state education officials.

The cover of “And Tango Makes Three” – Photo: Simon & Schuster.

A Florida school district has reversed its ban on a children’s book based on a true story about a male penguin couple that adopted an egg and raised the chick that hatched from it. Censors had flagged the book for violating the state’s “Don’t Say Gay” law.

Lake County Schools and officials with the Florida Department of Education subsequently asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit, brought by the authors of And Tango Makes Three and the parents of five school-age children, who alleged that the ban infringed on their First Amendment rights.

According to Popular Information, the book was removed from library shelves because the penguin couple was the same sex. Under the “Don’t Say Gay” law, officially known as the “Parental Rights in Education” law, classroom instruction and sexual instruction dealing with LGBTQ-related issues are banned in grades K-12.

Although the book does not contain any sexual content, supporters of the law argued that any book that addresses sexual orientation or gender identity, or paints same-sex parenthood in a positive light, is inappropriate for elementary school students who are too young to understand such concepts.

But Lake County Schools and the Florida Department of Education argued, in a court filing, that the lawsuit is moot, since age restrictions on And Tango Makes Three have been lifted.

The defendants claim that a memo from the education department clarified that the “Don’t Say Gay” law only applies to classroom instruction and not school libraries — although an expanded version of the law does make it easier to demand that books be removed from school library shelves for “age-inappropriate” content.

“The Court lacks jurisdiction both because this case is moot and because plaintiffs never had standing in the first place,” the defendants said in their motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

On Monday, Lake County Schools and Florida education officials asked U.S. District Judge Brian Davis, of the Middle District of Florida, to postpone any further discovery until he rules on whether to dismiss the case.

Davis previously refused to issue a preliminary injunction that would have blocked the school district from censoring And Tango Makes Three while the court decided the case on its merits.

Based on a true story, And Tango Makes Three is about a pair of male penguins who were devoted to each other at the Central Park Zoo in New York. A zookeeper who saw them building a nest and trying to incubate an egg-shaped rock gave them an egg from a different penguin pair with two eggs after they were having difficulty hatching more than one egg at a time. The chick that hatched from the live egg and was raised by the same-sex penguin couple was named Tango.

The book is among the 100 most “challenged” books of the past decade, according to statistics from the American Library Association, which tracks efforts to censor or ban literary works in schools and public libraries.

Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, spearheaded by Gov. Ron DeSantis, has been a source of contention between conservatives who champion it as a necessary measure and liberals who claim it censors or erases LGBTQ-related topics based on moral judgments that homosexuality and gender nonconformity are wrong.

Lake County officials cited the law to justify banning two other books with LGBTQ characters — A Day with Marlon Bundo, a story about a rabbit who falls in love with another male rabbit, and In Our Mothers’ House, a book about a family being headed by a lesbian couple.

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