A story Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has been telling to justify the state's new "don't say gay" law didn't happen quite the way he says.
DeSantis has said a mother in Leon County, Fla., was not consulted by her child's school district about the youth's plan for a social gender transition. But emails viewed by CNN, which are referenced in a lawsuit the mother has filed against the district, show there was extensive consultation, even if she was not satisfied with the outcome overall.
"We had a mother from Leon County, and her daughter was going to school and some people in the school had decided that the daughter was really a boy and not a girl," DeSantis said in a Tuesday news conference in Jasper, Fla. "So they changed the girl's name to a boy's name, had her dress like a boy and on doing all this stuff, without telling the mother or getting consent from the mother. First of all, they shouldn't be doing that at all. But to do these things behind the parents' back and to say that the parents should be shut out. That is wrong." The Republican governor, a possible GOP presidential nominee in 2024, told the same story in Palm Beach County last week.
The "don't say gay" legislation, which DeSantis signed into law last month, restricts classroom mentions of sexual orientation and gender identity and expands parents' ability to sue school districts, so there will likely be more suits like this.
But emails between the mother, January Littlejohn, and school officials show that she wasn't "shut out." Littlejohn emailed a teacher on August 27, 2020, saying, "This has been an incredibly difficult situation for our family and her father and I are trying to be as supportive as we can. She is currently identifying as non-binary. She would like to go by the new name [redacted] and prefers the pronouns they/them. We have not changed her name at home yet, but I told her if she wants to go by the name [redacted] with her teachers, I won't stop her." The teacher thanked her and asked if it was OK to share the information with other teachers, and Littlejohn said the teacher should use her own judgment.
Later the same day, Littlejohn emailed the teacher again. "This gender situation has thrown us for a loop," Littlejohn wrote. "I sincerely appreciate your support. I'm going to let her take the lead on this."
But about two months later, Littlejohn and her husband, Jeffrey, filed suit against the Leon County School Board plus the district's superintendent and assistant superintendent. The Littlejohns say school officials created a Transgender/Gender Nonconforming Student Support Plan for their child, including preferred pronouns and restrooms, and "expectations regarding rooming for any overnight trips." They claim that when they sought further information, district staffers refused to provide it.
The school district counters that claim. "From the moment Mrs. Littlejohn first emailed her child's teacher to inform our staff of the situation, this has been handled together in partnership with clear communication. We understand that outside entities have now become involved, but the family clearly instructed the school staff via email to allow their child to 'take the lead on this' and to do 'whatever you think is the best,'" Chris Petley, Leon County Schools communications coordinator, said in a statement to CNN. "Additionally, our superintendent met with the family and committed to amend any vague or unclear policy language -- of which we have created a committee and are working on currently. We truly hope for a swift outcome in this case in order to allow the student to continue to succeed in school."
The Littlejohns are represented by a lawyer from the Child & Parental Rights Campaign, which that has a mission to "defend parents' rights to shield their children from the impacts of gender identity ideology," as its website states. The couple's attorney declined to give an interview to CNN, and the Littlejohns did not respond to the network's request for comment.
A spokesperson for DeSantis told CNN the governor was not aware of the email exchanges but that news reports had shown the Leon County superintendent apologized to the family. Petley said that was a general apology "for everything the family was going through."
"The governor's office did not specifically respond to a question about the differences in what the mother's emails reveal and how the governor portrayed her story," CNN reports.
Leon Superintendent Rocky Hanna recently told Florida radio station WFSU that the portrayal is "just a lie," adding, "Unfortunately the governor is using [January Littlejohn] as a prop, she's using her child ... to promote an agenda on a national level, and it's just sad."