Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis is no ally of the LGBTQ+ community. DeSantis recently signed the hateful, discriminatory “Don't Say Gay” bill into law (while surrounded by young children, but I digress) effective July 1. DeSantis, and the Republicans who bolstered the bill up to his desk, have continued to allege it’s not about being anti-queer, but about being appropriate with minors. Now, we know children are exposed to cisgender, heterosexual norms essentially from birth, and this includes norms in the classroom—whether it’s concerning history lessons, pronouns, or even teachers talking about their families. It’s only when a teacher references their same-sex partner, for example, or the role of LGBTQ+ activists in a historical movement comes up, that conservatives get outraged.
DeSantis has referenced January Littlejohn, a resident of Leon County, Florida, to defend why he needed to sign hate into law. DeSantis has claimed that Littlejohn was not appropriately consulted about a public school’s approach to gender-affirming care for her child, including their name and pronouns. According to CNN, however, emails from public records suggest DeSantis’ presentation of the situation is far from the full story.
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Before we get into the email conversation as reported by CNN, let’s review some of how DeSantis has presented this situation. At a recent press conference, for example, DeSantis referred to a mother from the county who said her child was attending school and experiencing “some people” at the school changing their child’s name and clothing without telling the mother or getting her consent.
"First of all, they shouldn't be doing that at all,” DeSantis said. “But to do these things behind the parents' back and to say that the parents should be shut out. That is wrong.”
The clothing allegation is notably weird, but it’s actually wonderful for a school to be supportive of a child’s name and pronouns. No need to have a parent give consent in order to have their child be treated with affirmation and respect in the classroom…. Because children are actually their own people, not just little dolls and pets for parents to project their entire being onto.
But, again, this doesn’t even seem to be the full story. According to emails obtained by CNN, Littlejohn reached out to the school back in 2020 and let a teacher know her child wanted to use different pronouns. In the email, Littlejohn said she was not trying to prevent her child from using different pronouns or a different name.
In the email to the teacher, Littlejohn stressed that it’s been a “difficult” situation but that both parents are trying to be as “supportive” as they can. Littlejohn went on to detail their child’s gender identity and pronouns and shared that while they aren’t using their updated name at home, they gave her permission to use her updated name while at school.
When the teacher asked if parents wanted them to share the child’s updates with other teachers, Littlejohn noted again it was a difficult and confusing situation, but that the teacher could do what they thought was “best” or the child could decide themselves.
Littlejohn shared in another email with the same teacher that the situation has “thrown us for a loop” and expressed sincere appreciation for the teacher’s support. They added, “I'm going to let  take the lead on this."
Nice. While I raise my eyebrows at any parent or guardian who isn't using a child’s name or pronouns as requested at home, this parent certainly doesn’t seem against the school being supportive, and that is definitely more than many other folks can say.
According to CNN, however, about two months after these emails happened, Littlejohn and her husband filed a lawsuit against the school board over how the school handled their child’s gender identity. The parents claimed officials at the school created a student support plan with their child which includes things like their new pronouns, bathroom usage, and “expectations” for overnight trip housing. Again, sounds reasonable and affirming. But Littlejohn says the school denied parents access to these meetings. They’ve since hired legal representation from Child & Parental Rights Campaign, which seems to exist to do exactly what its name implies.
And for the school district? In a statement to CNN, the district communications coordinator Chris Petley said that “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.” They went on to claim the superintendent did meet with the family and pledged to amend any “vague or unclear” policy language.
In the very big picture, this all comes down to the conservative rallying cry about parental “rights.” Whether it’s trying to get books by and about LGBTQ+ people pulled from school libraries and classrooms, trying to bar youth from accessing potentially life-saving gender-affirming health care, or trans youth being able to play sports, the real rationale from Republicans is to stomp out LGBTQ+ youth by allowing their parents to effectively keep them in the closet as long as possible, or punish and control them if they dare to step out.
The role of teachers is not to appease parents. Teachers do not exist to parrot what parents or guardians say in the home. Teachers (and other staff at schools) should prioritize the comfort and safety of the student, period, especially when we know gender-affirming actions like respecting names and pronouns can significantly improve a young person’s mental health.
Republicans like to stir controversy by talking about gender-affirming health care as simply surgeries, but that’s far from the case. In fact, many medical professionals agree that (especially for younger ages) gender-affirming health care can be as simple as honoring a child’s pronouns or name. Nothing irreversible about that, and yet conservatives can’t agree to that, either, because suddenly it’s all about the “rights” of parents.
It’s almost as if Republicans don’t see minors as people unless they’re trying to marry them. Funny how that works.