Updated: Feb 7
I sit down with January Littlejohn, a parental rights advocate and mental health professional. In 2021, she filed a lawsuit against her daughter’s Florida school district after school officials met with her 13-year-old daughter—without Littlejohn’s consent—to discuss a six-page “gender support” plan.
“It wasn’t just changing names and pronouns. They asked her which restroom she preferred to use. They asked her which sex she preferred to room with on overnight field trips. And then they did something particularly egregious. They said, ‘How should we refer to you when we speak to your parents? Should we use your birth name and pronouns?’ to effectively deceive us that the meeting had ever taken place,” Littlejohn says.
Gender activism has overtaken schools, popular culture, psychological associations, and pediatric medicine, and many vulnerable teenagers—often with complex mental health issues—are being misdiagnosed and given hormones and surgeries that cause permanent, irreversible changes to their bodies, Littlejohn argues.
“They say that these puberty blockers are reversible. That is a lie,” Littlejohn says. “We are seeing the negative side effects…This is not a pause button. This is a fast train toward becoming a medical patient for life.”
In this episode, Littlejohn breaks down the red flags parents should be on the lookout for, how parents can protect their children, and what they can do if their child comes home one day and says they want to change their name and pronouns.
“How are these children going to feel when they reach the age of adulthood, their brains finally mature, and they realize what’s been done to their bodies? And they realize the people that were supposed to protect them and love them the most allowed this to happen?”
January Littlejohn, it’s such a pleasure to have you on American Thought Leaders.
Thank you for having me.
January, we’re going to talk about this incredible journey you’ve been on. Before we go there, you actually have a background in mental health and I want to get you to tell me about that. How is it that you came to be in this position today?
Sure. I’m actually a licensed mental health counselor in the state of Florida. I’m not currently practicing. But when I was practicing I had started out as a substance abuse counselor working with adolescents. And then I moved to a university position where I created and ran a program for college students with ADHD. So, I’ve always worked with adolescent populations. I’ve been very interested in brain-based behavior, and how the brain impacts learning. All of those types of things really interested me when I was practicing.
Why don’t you tell me the story of what happened to your daughter and your interactions with her?
Ironically, I was specialized in ADHD, and my daughter was also diagnosed with ADHD. It was a struggle for her to fit in in school, especially. When she went to middle school, she found this friend group that she matriculated to that accepted her and we were thrilled initially. Then, we started to see some warning signs that maybe this wasn’t a healthy place for her to be.
Fast forward to the spring of 2020, our daughter out of the blue expressed to us that she was confused about her sex. This was after three of her friends in her in-person friend group at school had also started identifying as transgender. When a child makes this pronouncement, especially out of the blue back in 2020, there wasn’t a lot of information. So, we were really struggling, especially since she had never expressed any kind of gender confusion leading up to this announcement.
We were soliciting help from a mental health professional and really just trying to get to the root of her issue, because like so many other of these kids that fall into this ideology, she also had co-occurring mental health issues like anxiety, plus she’s ADHD. She’s also gifted which kind of brings into this situation where her giftedness puts her intelligence really high, but with her ADHD keeps her emotional intelligence and maturity low. For some of these kids, until their brain matures, it almost reads like spectrum behavior, like children with autism. This is not uncommon when you have co-occurring giftedness and ADHD. And with my background, I knew all of this.
And so, we embraced her quirkiness, and we allowed her to dress how she wanted. She’s very artistic as many of these kids are. When this happened, she immediately, like many of these kids, wanted a name change, a change in pronouns. At the time, she was identifying as non-binary. We were still trying to grasp what that even was, because in my clinical training, of course I knew what transgender was. I knew what gender dysphoria was, which is a mental health diagnosis, but it is very rare. And you certainly weren’t hearing about these clusters of friends. For me, when she would come home and say these things, in my mind I was thinking, “Statistically, this is impossible.”
The other thing that I saw as a precursor and a lot of parents that I’ve spoken to see as well is you’ve got 10 and 11-year-olds coming out as bisexual and pansexual when they’ve had zero experience in terms of dating, relationships, never even held someone’s hand, and much less been kissed. But yet, they are identifying in these sexualities that they don’t fully understand. And that really becomes a gateway into these identities.
We told our daughter with the help of the therapist and the suggestion of the therapist that we’re not going to affirm this identity, because this was happening very quickly. It was escalating very quickly and we were concerned, because her mental health was getting worse. We told the school that we were not affirming at home, but we felt like we couldn’t stop her from going by a nickname. Honestly, that’s what I thought it would be treated as—John goes to school and wants to be called Johnny.
Several weeks later my daughter got into the car after school and said, “Mom, I had a meeting today with school officials and they asked me which restroom I wanted to use.” I was immediately taken aback. First of all, I didn’t know why they would be having a meeting with my child without telling me, because my daughter with her ADHD has a 504 plan on file. I had been present and involved at every 504 plan meeting. I knew by law they could not even implement a 504 plan without my signature and being there, because she’s a minor.
Very briefly for those that might not know, what is a 504 plan?
A 504 plan is that by law children that have learning disabilities or diagnosis, and they are afforded accommodations under the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). That dictated what accommodations she was privy to, to help her be successful in school. I immediately emailed the guidance counselor whom I knew and said, “I have great concerns that my daughter’s telling me she had a meeting that I wasn’t aware of, and you asked her which restroom she wanted to use.” It did not even occur to me why would they be asking her that.
There are no non-binary bathrooms. There are male bathrooms, female bathrooms, and then unisex bathrooms. This didn’t even register in my brain. I was called back by both the guidance counselor and the assistant principal and was told that by law my daughter was now protected from me, her parent, under a non-discrimination law, and they could not give me any information about the meeting that had taken place with my 13-year-old child.
How did you respond to that?
I was irate. I was confused because I’m a very involved parent. I was Volunteer of the Year at this middle school. I wasn’t a stranger parent where they weren’t really sure about the dynamic of our family or our relationship. I was up at this school running their coffee room. I ran their Red, White and Blue day. There was no reason for them to have not contacted me and included me in this meeting.
They told me that my only recourse at this point was to go speak with the assistant superintendent at the district, which I did immediately. You have to remember this was fall of 2020. This is at the height of COVID. A lot of schools didn’t even reopen in other states. And so, we were grateful on the one hand that our children were able to go back to school in person, but we were not allowed on campus. All of this communication was done either via email or by phone.
Just to give you an idea of how long this took, the violation occurred when school had started, but we did not get a meeting with the principal until the end of October. We were shown the transgender or gender non-conforming support plan that they had completed with our 13-year-old daughter behind closed doors without our notification or consent.
It was done with a school counselor, the assistant principal, and a social worker I had never met. You have three adults in a room with a 13-year-old child. And then, they put the burden of whether or not my parental rights would be respected and whether or not my husband and I would be invited to attend this meeting on our child. She was the sole determiner.
In this support plan, it wasn’t just changing names and pronouns. They asked her which restroom she preferred to use. They asked her which sex she preferred to room with on overnight field trips. And then, they did something particularly egregious. They said, “How should we refer to you when we speak to your parents? Should we use your birth name and pronouns?” to effectively deceive us that the meeting had ever taken place.
Our situation is by far not an isolated case, where parents may have not even known their child was experiencing confusion. Everybody at the school, staff, teachers, students, counselors, would know this child has assumed a different identity, may be using opposite sex facilities, putting that child’s safety and the safety of others at risk, and the parents would be the only ones not in the know.
I also want to clarify, when you say the violation, what do you exactly mean by that?
It was a violation of our parental rights. It is our constitutional right to direct the upbringing of our child, which includes mental health and medical decisions. This process was them sitting down and going through these questions with our child, which is called social transitioning. This is actually a psychosocial medical intervention that schools are grossly unqualified to be doing, especially without parental involvement. Because many of these children have co-occurring issues like previous trauma, eating disorders, anxiety, depression, ADHD, and autism. When they are meeting with these children, a lot of those co-occurring issues are going unexplored and unresolved, because the parents are unaware that their child is struggling.
What do you think about the fact that you have this very unique background, compared to the general population, which would allow you to assess this in a way that a lot of parents simply could not?
I don’t really have an answer to that other than I’m grateful. I’m grateful that I have this background, because I know how mental health counseling works. I know what ethical treatment looks like. I know that when you provide counseling to a minor child, the parents are still in charge of that child. They are to direct the upbringing. It is not my job to take that child and keep secrets from their parents. That is not in the best interest of a child or the parent-child relationship.
Activism has infiltrated the schools. When they socially transition these children, they are putting them along a pathway. Social transition is the first step toward medical transition. When parents really discover what gender affirming care is, that we are essentially giving children experimental puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones which will eventually sterilize them, parents are horrified that schools would be taking them along this pathway. And this is not a neutral intervention they’re doing. They are celebrating these kids.
My daughter had a lot of positive reinforcement for this identity. She wasn’t celebrated in this manner when she was identifying as a girl. It was only when she came out with this false identity that she was told she was brave, getting all kinds of attention, getting a private meeting where she gets to decide whether or not mom or dad are included. That’s an incredible amount of power and a burden to be putting on a child.
But what it really is doing is it’s creating a huge wedge between the parent and child relationship. There is no other circumstance in school where they are doing this. There really is not, because research has shown us that parental involvement is one of the best significant factors in successful student outcomes. Why would we suddenly forget this knowledge and assume all parents to be the enemy or a danger to their child, but only in this one area?
You just blew my mind earlier, because I didn’t fully grasp that social transitioning or this affirming behavior is actually a medical intervention in itself. I’m even getting shivers just thinking about that, because this is clearly being applied all over the place by people who have no idea what they’re doing.
Right. What it is really doing is concretizing this idea in a child’s mind. “Yes, I was born in the wrong body. This is the right path forward.” What it is really doing, which is very tragic for me as a mental health professional to see, is that many of these kids have a deep self-loathing. And so, when you are affirming this transgender identity, what you’re really affirming and confirming in the child’s mind is this self-hatred. It’s causing a lot of these children to look at their bodies as just parts, and it’s encouraging them to disassociate from their body parts.
For instance, a lot of these teenage girls are at the cusp of puberty and already feeling uncomfortable in their bodies, which we all went through. This is a normal process of going through adolescence. But instead of being told that, they’re being told, “If you’re uncomfortable with your breasts it’s because you’re probably transgender and you can just cut them off.” They use euphemisms like top surgery, which is really a double mastectomy. They’re glossing over what these severe, very serious surgical interventions are, and treating them as if they are just very simple procedures that you can have done if you don’t like a specific body part.
I’ve looked at the data and there is an explosion of children going to these pediatric gender clinics. What do you make of that?
It’s really frightening because we have ignored a mental health issue. These children and adults struggling with confusion over their sex, they deserve compassion, but they also deserve ethical evidence-based treatment. What we have seen is activism infiltrate not just our schools but our psychological associations and our medicine. We’re going to see a huge population of people who have been affirmed, medicalized, and then come to the realization when their brains fully develop that this did not fix their pain, and that this was not the root cause of their issue.
This is why you are seeing the UK, Finland, Sweden actually do a proper assessment of the evidence being used to justify these radical interventions. They are reversing course, and they are saying, “The risk outweighs the benefit. We don’t have all the data to be affirming all of these individuals and putting them on a pathway to being a patient for life.” Think about that. A child who is 9 or 10 years old, you are putting on this medical pathway. Because they start the child on puberty blockers around 10 or stage 2 of puberty, when the secondary sex characteristics are just starting. But stopping that process has never been done before on this scale.
What we’re finding in just the preliminary research being done is you’re also stopping bone development. We’re seeing bone density loss in these children and adolescents. We may be stopping brain development, because there’s all kinds of things that happen during adolescence with our brain going through puberty. That process itself is not fully understood. Why would we think that we would understand the process of completely halting it and then automatically putting these children on cross-sex hormones? They call it a pause button. That is a lie. They say that these puberty blockers are reversible. That is a lie.
The reason we know these are lies is because we are now seeing the negative side effects. This is not a pause button; this is a fast train toward become a medical patient for life. How can you claim that children can consent to this? It’s all based on self-ID. We don’t have a test like in diabetes or any other kind of medical diagnosis where we are given medication. There is no blood test to determine which child will desist and which will persist in their gender dysphoria. We’re basing this on a feeling the child has. We’re taking a mental health diagnosis and we are trying to alter their body before their brain is even fully developed to fix what’s in their mind.
This is all being done in the context of being in a time where a lot of people are actually confused about identity. I don’t want to call it an epidemic, but there’s a lot of that from what I understand.
Absolutely. And this is nothing new. Adolescents are known for having an identity crisis and not knowing who they are and exploring and trying on different hobbies and clothing styles and personas and rebelling against their parents. They’re trying to find who they are and where they fit into society. That is nothing new. What’s new is we have taken a mental health diagnosis, we’ve normalized it, and we’re medicalizing children. How can you say that a child can consent to their sterilization at age 11? How can you say that a child can consent to the loss of future sexual function?
What’s going to happen? This is what keeps me up at night, how are these children going to feel when they reach the age of adulthood, their brains finally mature and they realize what’s been done to their bodies and they realize that people that were supposed to protect them and loved them the most allowed this to happen? Honestly, I don’t put the blame on the parents.
A lot of these parents are being told that if you don’t affirm your child in this transgender identity, regardless of how long they have felt this way, how old they are, or of other comorbid issues such as trauma, if you don’t affirm your child, they will commit suicide. Not that it’s a risk factor, because it is. That is a concern, but how do we not know that the suicidal ideation comes from the root causes and the co-occurring issues versus not affirming? Parents are not being given all the treatment options available.
How can you really give informed consent to an experimental treatment when you’re not being given the whole picture? They are not told that the majority of these children will desist if you give them a loving, supportive, neutral environment. Without socially or medically transitioning your child, most of them will desist. They will outgrow and resolve their distress with or without psychotherapy. It really depends upon the child.
I’m not oversimplifying this, because a lot of these kids really are in true distress, but they have misdiagnosed their pain. They think gender identity is the answer, and in fact, many times they are being led to believe that gender identity is the solution. What child or teen who’s in real distress wouldn’t grab a hold of that? A solution is being offered to them that says, “That person that you hate, that was bullied, that was sexually assaulted or molested, you can leave that all behind. Now, you’re this new person.”
They’re being given a solution that’s not real. No matter what these children or teens or adults do to their physical bodies, you cannot change your sex. Your DNA will stay the same. Many of these kids are spiraling because it puts these kids at war with their bodies. It’s a war they’re never going to win. You can’t outrun biological truth.
That’s what a lot of people that are detransitioning are saying. They’re saying, “We were pushed along a path, a medical pathway. Our underlying issues were not explored. No one tried to stop me. No one said, ‘Wait a second, let’s explore why you are rejecting your femaleness. Let’s explore why you think becoming a boy is going to solve your distress.'” No one stopped them and they have to come to that realization on their own that it did not fix their internal pain.
Many of them are now detransitioning and left with permanent, irreversible changes to their bodies like hair loss, vaginal atrophy, and permanent voice changes. Many of them through breast binding have deformed breasts or they went through with the double mastectomy, so they no longer have breasts. We’re going to see real people that have gone through these pathways and you’re going to see the scars of it. It’s going to be very evident.
And it already is. In Europe this is being addressed. There’s multiple lawsuits against the Tavistock clinic in the UK that was shut down because of doing very similar things to what you’re describing.
That’s exactly right. Keira Bell was an incredibly brave detransitioned woman who took it upon herself to sue Tavistock. What they did that the U.S. had not done, until Florida just started to take these steps, was to do a proper evaluation of the medical evidence and research being used to justify these treatments. People that were raising the alarm bells here in the U.S. like Dr. Michael Laidlaw, Dr. William Malone, even Dr. Paul McHugh who shut down the first transgender clinic at Johns Hopkins, were all silenced, called transphobic, and told to go away.
SEGM tried to have just a table of information. SEGM is the Society for Evidence-Based Gender Medicine who believe that watchful waiting is the path, and a treatment option. They were told by American Academy of Pediatrics that they were not allowed to have a table. When you are not even allowing this conversation and this debate to happen for something as significant as sterilizing children, chemically castrating them and taking away their future sexual function, that is no longer medicine, that is ideology.
There is this other element you mentioned earlier in our discussion that it was statistically impossible to have this cluster of gender dysphoric girls in your school, extremely unlikely. There is this element of social contagion that’s been discussed, which I know you’ve been thinking about a lot.
Absolutely. What you have happening is the normalization of transgender identities, and again, I firmly believe that these people struggling deserve compassion. They should never be discriminated against for any reason. Nobody should. But when you normalize a mental health issue, then you introduce ideology into the school system. It’s really been infiltrating our culture now for a very long time. The year 2015 was really a tipping point where the activism that had been focused on getting gay marriage legalized switched to transgender activism.
What you started to see in the school systems are activist groups implementing guides into public schools, and private schools in some circumstances all over our country, under the guise of how to best supporting your LGBTQ youth. They would throw around the suicide statistics, they would talk about the homeless population, and how these children are at risk. They would put these guides into place in the schools. They called them guides in the state of Florida for a very specific reason.
If it’s a policy, it has to go through the school board. When it goes through the school board, it goes through the light of day where parents then are made aware and can comment and give their input into that policy. If it’s a guide, it doesn’t have to go through the school board, but you can still treat it as policy. You can still train all of the teachers, the staff, and everybody from the guidance counselor to the cafeteria worker.
What we saw in Florida was these guides were in place that were directing the schools to cut parents out of these gender support plans being done. In fact, it is so bad that the American School Counselor Association, if you look at any of their conferences, they over and over direct them to cut parents out, that parent permission is not necessary, and that it’s very damaging to a child to not affirm, which I would argue the opposite.
Not only that, these activist organizations were instructing school counselors to not put the gender support plans in the student’s cumulative file. Put them somewhere else so that if a parent asked for the child’s records, like through FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act), that gender support plan would not be in that child’s file, so the parent would still be in the dark.
As you’re discussing this, it just strikes me that there are situations where children need to be removed from parents or parents might not be notified initially when children are moved away. And that’s in a situation where there is abuse, right?
Is this that parents who disagree and have a different perspective or are looking at other information are basically being treated as abusers?
They’re being treated that way, aren’t they? Because if you are stating in these guides or as your policy that outing a child to their parents may lead to abuse, you can’t assume that before you have that evidence.
All teachers and even myself as a counselor in the state of Florida and in most states are mandatory reporters. If you have any suspicion that there is abuse or neglect happening with a child, you are mandated to report that to DCF, Department of Children and Families, or you will lose your license. This is no different. We already had that law in place. Why did they still feel the need to cut parents out?
Going back to the social transition, this is so critically important, because even though we now have further protections in the state of Florida, there are many states that don’t. Look at Virginia. Look at what is happening in Virginia. Thank God we have a surgeon general here in Florida who understands this issue, and has looked at the evidence and looked at the research.
He came out last March or April of 2022 and said to not socially transition these children, and to not medically transition these children, because the majority of them will desist. And when you socially transition a child, you make it then statistically less likely that they will desist. Isn’t that what we would want? It’s what we wanted 20 years ago when I was doing my clinical work. You wanted that child to reintegrate with their body as they are.
Let’s take eating disorders for instance. We don’t affirm an anorexic in her distorted view of her body. Even if she says, “If you don’t let me ta