Transgender Hillsborough teacher can use preferred pronouns, federal judge says

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In April, a federal judge ruled that a transgender Hillsborough County teacher can use her preferred pronouns. The teacher considers this a win in a state that some may consider hostile to LGBTQ educators.

Katie Wood has been teaching in her hometown of Ruskin for the last 3 years.

“I went to college at USF, got my degree in math education, and I actually started teaching at my high school, Lennard High School, shoutout, that I graduated from.”

Wood is a transgender women, and says she felt singled out after a 2023 Florida law.

“Me, and my faculty and staff – we were told by new Hillsborough County policy and law that transgender teachers were unable to go by their ‘incorrect’ pronouns, meaning that I won’t be able to call myself she/her.”

She was given the option to use the titles Mr., Coach, or teacher. None of which fit for her.

“And even kids don’t even understand the nuances of that. So they’re like ‘teacher? What? What? Yes you’re teacher that’s what you’re here for’ and it was just many kids being like, what does that even mean?’

So in December 2023 she sued. Wood and her lawyers said the law violates her first amendment rights and went against a federal civil rights law.  She said it was a long fight, and even considered leaving the state – but didn’t.

“If I can stay and fight the good fight, I have the responsibility to do that.”

And she scored a victory. Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker said the law violates Wood’s First Amendment right.

“We won our preliminary injunction, meaning for the duration of the case. What was it- a couple weeks ago I’m now able to go back to being Ms. Wood and calling myself she her.”

The decision does not apply statewide. Last month, the State appealed the ruling. A member of Wood’s legal team says the appeal is expected to be heard in the second half of the year.

 

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