Florida Gov. DeSantis has been caught lying about the family of a transgender student in order to promote his state’s Don’t Say Gay law.
In the signing ceremony for the Don’t Say Gay law last week, DeSantis related the story of January Littlejohn, a mother in Leon County. He said that “some people in the school had decided that the daughter was really a boy and not a girl, 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.”
Related: DeSantis’s press secretary says anyone who opposes Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill is a pedophile
The Don’t Say Gay law bans any discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in elementary school and requires that such discussions be “developmentally appropriate” in older grades, and it allows parents to sue if they feel their school violated the vague terms of the law.
Supporters of the Don’t Say Gay law use stories like this one to argue that schools are violating parents’ rights by teaching that LGBTQ people exist – which conservatives have been calling “grooming” – or by somehow forcing kids to be transgender. They argue that the law is required to stop schools from exposing children to ideas that their parents don’t agree with and they use stories like Littlejohn’s to show that this is a problem.
But there’s a problem with DeSantis’s story about Littlejohn: it isn’t true.
While there isn’t much public information about her case, emails that have been made public quite clearly show that Littlejohn, in fact, asked the school to use they/them pronouns for their non-binary child.
“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 wrote in an email obtained by CNN. “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 asked if she could share the email with other teachers.
In a later email, Littlejohn wrote: “Whatever you think is best or [redacted] can handle it herself.”
“This gender situation has thrown us for a loop. I sincerely appreciate your support. I’m going to let her take the lead on this,” she wrote in another email from the same day.
The emails contradict DeSantis’s assertion that the school forced the student to be a trans boy – the emails say they’re non-binary – or that the school did it “without telling the mother.”
But that hasn’t stopped him from bringing it up in multiple news conferences.
“To do these things behind the parents’ back and to say that the parents should be shut out,” he said earlier this week. “That is wrong.”
Littlejohn is a registered Republican and she eventually sued the school district in this case. She claims that school officials met with her child and created a Transgender/Gender Nonconforming Student Support Plan in accordance with district policy without consulting her. Leon County Schools, the district Littlejohn’s child is in, said that fewer than 10 students of the 33,000 in the district have such a support plan.
A spokesperson for the district said that they thought they were working “with clear communication” from Littlejohn, but then “outside entities became involved.” They say that the superintendent met with the family to discuss the support plan, which is still being worked on.
“We truly hope for a swift outcome in this case in order to allow the student to continue to succeed in school,” they said.
The “outside entities” they referred to include the Child & Parental Rights Campaign, an anti-transgender legal organization based in Georgia that’s representing Littlejohn in the lawsuit.
Littlejohn is not speaking to the press.
So while Littlejohn is at odds with her school district, DeSantis’s description of her situation is not true given the facts that are publicly available.
A spokesperson for DeSantis’s office said that DeSantis has not seen the email exchange and was basing his story on information he got from “news outlets.” It’s not clear which ones they were referring to.