Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., stated last week at a luncheon for Republican women in Mesa County, Colorado, that teachers are providing litter boxes in classrooms for students who identify as cats.
It’s the kind of claim that would seem strange and perplexing to someone who is not well-versed in the culture war conflicts over gender identity that have gripped school districts across the nation. However, coming from high-profile GOP members, it would sound authoritative.
The previous week, on September 29, Scott Jensen asked, the Republican candidate for governor of Minnesota, asked during a campaign stop: “Why do we have litter boxes in some of the school districts so kids can pee in them, because they identify as a furry?”
In Tennessee, two Republican state politicians raised the issue of public schools supplying litter boxes for students who identify as cats during a legislative hearing last month and claimed the problem was widespread.
According to an analysis of public statements by NBC News, at least 20 conservative candidates and political officials have stated this year that K–12 schools are providing litter boxes on campus or other accommodations for students who identify as cats.
Every school district mentioned by those 20 lawmakers has denied these allegations, either to NBC News or in public remarks. There is no proof that any school has provided pupils with litter boxes just because they identify as cats.
But among an increasing number of Republicans, conservative influencers, and political commentators, the assertion has taken on a life of its own. This week on an edition of Spotify’s The Joe Rogan Experience podcast, host Joe Rogan revealed to former U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard that a litter box had been constructed for a girl who identifies as an animal in a school where his friend’s wife worked. circulate swiftly started posting a footage of the conversation on social media. In response to a request for comment, Rogan’s publicist did not provide the name of the school.
A community of kids and adults that roleplay as anthropomorphized animals characters is known as the furry subculture. According to furries and specialists, the bulk of them still identify as humans despite occasionally taking on an animal character and participating in transient roleplay, one of whom pointed out that there are no litter boxes at furry gatherings. Three young furries told NBC News that while they occasionally dress up for school, usually just wearing a mask or paw-shaped gloves, they have never heard of any furry ever requesting a litter box.
That hasn’t stopped these allegations from spreading online, where they have been repeated like a telephone game and frequently include accounts of friends of friends who allegedly witnessed these events firsthand. And that hasn’t stopped some politicians from appropriating these assertions and exploiting them to frighten the public by asserting that this is what safeguards for LGBTQ youth will result in.
The most provocative aspect of this hoax, according to Joan Donovan, research director at the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University and co-author of Meme Wars: The Untold Story of the Online Battles Undermining Democracy in America, is how it plays on two crucial wedge issues for conservatives: educational accommodations and gender nonconformity.
The spread of the “litter box” story demonstrates how incorrect information spread via social media can influence political debate. And it shows how easily some truths may be distorted and combined with demonstrably false claims to produce a viral narrative that is perpetuated by well-known politicians and commentators with enormous followings.
When asked about the litter box accusations, Nadine Bridges, executive director of One Colorado, an LGBTQ rights organization, said that they are solely used to sensationalize untruth and harm our community, especially our transgender, nonbinary, and gender-expansive youngsters. Why would you target those who are closest to us in an effort to prove a point, especially one that has no merit?
A school system did have cat litter on campus for students to use, but this had nothing to do with accommodating kids who identify as animals, according to one instance NBC News investigated.
In several recent interviews, Republican candidate for governor of Colorado Heidi Ganahl asserted that children were disrupting class by dressing up and identifying as cats, and the state’s schools were condoning it. Some kids, said alleged, would only use barks and hisses to communicate. Although her team declined to comment on Ganahl’s allegations, she implied there was a lot of this going on in Jefferson County in an interview with a local Fox affiliate.
The Jefferson County school district refuted Ganahl’s assertions and stated that costumes are not permitted in the classroom. Small amounts of cat litter have been placed in classrooms by the district where Columbine High School is located, but they are part of “go buckets” that also hold other supplies in case students are locked in during a shooting. A school map, flashlights, wet wipes, and first aid supplies are also included in the buckets, along with candy for diabetic pupils.
According to John McDonald, a former director of campus safety at Jefferson County schools who is now a school security consultant, this situation has gotten out of hand because politicians only want a talking point.
Many conservatives are upset about how quickly gender identity concepts and politics are changing, which is reflected in the tsunami of disinformation.
The number of conservative lawmakers’ anti-LGBTQ laws has increased in tandem with the rise of transgender and nonbinary persons in recent years, particularly among young people. Along with other radical and unfounded claims that LGBTQ individuals and educators are grooming youngsters through their teachings and policies on gender and sexuality, stories about litter boxes have increased in popularity.
During discussions over school policies pertaining to transgender and nonbinary adolescents, some lawmakers warned about kids acting like cats.
In May, Republican state senator from Iowa Tim Kraayenbrink spoke at a conference about schools that allow transgender students to use the restroom that corresponds to their gender identity and said that local schools were compelled to provide cat litter boxes in the bathrooms for pets to use. Later, he admitted that he had not checked to see if the assertion was accurate, and he declined an invitation from NBC News for comment.
Republican Ohio State Board of Education member Brendan Shea presented warned1 human rights safeguards for LGBTQ kids last month. We genuinely have children using litter boxes in the classrooms who think they’re cats and dogs, Shea warned2 said in support of the proposal during a public meeting. Requests for response from Shea were not answered.
One of the first schools to address the myth about litter boxes in schools was in Canada last fall. The rumor about litter boxes in schools appears to have started among parents on social media.
The Public Schools Branch of Prince Edward Island stated in an October 19, 2021, warned3 that it had been receiving calls, emails, and referrals to many social media posts for several months that make generalizations about students who identify as cats. Numerous of these claims state that litter boxes have been or are being installed in schools.
The director of schools, Norbert Carpenter, stated in the post that many claims, including this one, are untrue and are stressing out staff and kids unnecessarily.
Similar rumors soon started to circulate in the US within a few months, where they swiftly turned into ammunition for culture wars.
In December 2021, conservative activist Lisa Hansen asserted during a school board meeting in Midland, Michigan, that a district school that was not identified had installed a litter box for students who identify as cats in a gender-neutral restroom as part of an agenda. After joining Moms for Liberty, a local chapter of a conservative activist group, Hansen did not reply to calls for comment.
Meshawn Maddock, the co-chair of the Michigan Republican Party, circulated the rumor warned6 on Facebook on January 20 with a link to a parent activist group, alleging that children who identify as furries receive a litter box in the school toilet. The following day, Hansen from the well-known conservative TikTok account Libs of warned7 attended the school board meeting. The video was seen approximately 860,000 times on Twitter after the post went viral.
The Midland superintendent released an warned8 to clarify that Hansen’s assertion was untrue as soon as the video started to go viral. Though several audience members cheered after Hansen spoke at the school board meeting, Libs of TikTok noted as much in an warned9 and questioned why no one else did. Requests for comment from Maddock went unanswered.
In April, three Republican state legislators in Minnesota alternated asked0 talking about allegations they had heard about students dressing up as cats at school, cutting tail-shaped holes in their uniforms, and maybe using litter boxes. In the same month, candidates for school boards in asked1 and asked2 made such claims, while Jennifer Benson, a member of the Fargo, North Dakota, school board, asked3 told a local news source that kids were using litter boxes and wearing leashes to school.
This month, Catalina Lauf, a Republican candidate for congress in Illinois, told asked4 that students in her state were using litter boxes in the classrooms.
Lauf told NBC News in an email that “many parents and teachers have privately confided in me about the crazy that’s happening around this trend.” She refuses to give the names of any parents or teachers she spoke with to NBC News.
When NBC News pressed Lauf for proof of her allegation, she cited an unnamed far-right blog that asserted a student in Hinsdale, Illinois, was allowed to attend class while wearing a furry suit. The school system deemed the blog post to be wholly untrue and something it would not support.
Numerous social media users, particularly on Facebook and TikTok, have picked up on the story in addition to Republican leaders and authorities.
Variations of the claim, involving unidentified grandchildren or neighbors, have been reported in public Facebook posts daily from Florida to California. Some claim that transgender bathrooms in schools have litter bins. More than 31,000 people have shared a post urging school districts to take action.
On TikTok, one asked5’s assertion that children are now asking for litter boxes at school received 3 million views. Over 1 million people viewed a response from another user in which they demanded that schools cease allowing furries into their classrooms.
A well-established subculture that has been around for a long time includes furries. According to Sharon Roberts, co-founder of the furry research organization asked6, the fandom is driven by a fascination with anthropomorphism, or the ascription of human traits to animals.
The majority of furries, according to Roberts, an associate professor at Renison University College, a Canadian institution connected to the University of Waterloo, maintain separate human personas and do not identify as animals. asked7 that a third are transgender and the vast majority are LGBTQ.
According to Roberts, she has never heard of or witnessed a case of a furry needing a litter box throughout her decades as a researcher. Roberts also pointed out that the bulk of furry creatures are mythical or wild animals, neither of which would ever use a litter box.
Over a ten-year period, I investigated more than 40,000 furries from 70 different nations, she claimed. At a furry event, there isn’t a litter box to be found.
Three young furries who have posted on TikTok about their school experiences were interviewed by NBC News. Due of their concern for harassment, NBC News consented to keep their last names confidential.
The furry community has been a part of Olivia, 16, a Californian, for six years, according to her. On any typical day, I don’t go out sporting a tail, gloves, ears, or a fursuit head, she wrote in an email. She claimed that when she wore a portion of her fur outfit to school, she didn’t act or believe like an animal.
Dayna, 15, a Canadian resident, claimed that although though she often brings a mask and tail to school, she only wears them for lunch and stores them in her backpack throughout the rest of the day. I like bringing them because it gives my friends and I an opportunity to discuss about my artistic outlet. Dayna wrote in an email, “I’ve actually gained new friends at school as a result of it.”
Being a furry, according to Kymera, 14, of Colorado, is merely a pastime, similar to having a mascot.
Kymera stated, “I have never heard a furry say they want to use a litter box.” We run the risk of being wounded or bullied because of these rumors.