Republican candidates running in this year’s midterm elections can’t seem to quit repeating a debunked myth, rooted in anti-transgender animus, that schools have begun providing litter boxes to accommodate students who “identify” as cats.
In Colorado, GOP gubernatorial nominee Heidi Ganahl claimed students in public schools are dressing up as animals “all over Colorado and schools are tolerating it” during a live-streamed campaign speech on Sunday, Oct. 2.
Ganahl first made the claim on a Sept. 24 episode of the Jimmy Sengenberger Show, on talk radio station 710 KNUS, and has repeated it since.
When pressed for evidence of the claim, she told Denver-based FOX affiliate KDVR that it was happening in Jefferson County, the populous swing county in the Denver suburbs.
Asked for specific examples by Colorado Springs-based ABC affiliate KRDO, Ganahl said she had “many, many.”
Ganahl, like many other Republicans seeking office in this year’s midterm elections, has held up the litter boxes-in-schools myth to attack the public education system as falling sway to strange ideas and politically-motivated ideologies.
The claim that students accommodate students who identify as furries has been spreading across the country over the past year. It comes at the same time conservatives have begun attacking public schools for allegedly “indoctrinating” children into “woke” ideologies, including “critical race theory.”
Conservatives have also seized on Americans’ discomfort with a statistically small population of transgender-identifying youth, conflating it with the claim that schools are “indoctrinating” children in “gender ideology.”
Those are then linked with a right-wing caricature of the process that gender-nonconforming students undergo when questioning their identity, which are then linked to homophobic tropes invoking “furries,” a minority sub-culture of adults — some of whom are LGBTQ-identifying — interested in roleplaying as fictional non-human animal characters.
The logic goes as such: Public schools = bad, teachers = bad, gender-nonconforming kids = bad, LGBTQ = bad, furry subculture = kinda “gay,” and even if not true, close enough. That’s how you get to the kids using litter boxes in school myth.
Ganahl says this apparently rampant trend in Colorado demonstrates that schools are more concerned with pushing social agendas and not doing enough to teach basic skills like reading, writing, and arithmatic — a frequent complaint echoed by opponents of public schools.
Jefferson County school officials have pushed back against Ganahl’s claims, telling KDVR,“There are no litter boxes in our buildings and students are not allowed to come to school in costume. There are no furries or students identifying as such during the school day.”
According to Forbes magazine, the anti-school, anti-woke, and anti-LGBTQ Twitter account Libs of TikTok posted a video in January of a school board meeting in Michigan, during which a woman claimed “kids who identify as a cat or dog” can pee in litter boxes provided in school bathrooms.
Despite the school superintendent debunking the claim days later, the claim took off on social media, where it played perfectly into an environment in which conservatives largely embrace conspiracy theories, disdain facts provided by mainstream media outlets, and eagerly seek out caricatures of their opponents on the political Left.
It also matched nicely with the popular political “narrative” that schools are serving as left-wing indoctrination centers more than they are places of education.
Since then, the same myth has found traction among a subset of the population gullible enough to believe the claims in school districts in Iowa, Tennessee, Missouri, Michigan, North Dakota, Nebraska, and Wisconsin.
Mainstream media sources have been unable to find concrete evidence of such a trend in public schools.
A fact check by Rueters in July found there was “no evidence that U.S. schoolchildren are self-identifying as animals and disrupting classrooms.” An April fact check of a similar claim that a Wisconsin school district had introduced a “furry protocol” was also found to be “completely false.”
Independent fact checks by Politifact, USA Today, and The Associated Press have also failed to find evidence that schools are making such accommodations, although the claim continues to be circulated by right-wing sources on Twitter and Facebook.
Due to the frequency of this right-wing meme, Ganahl is not the only politician to echo the “litter box” myth.
In Minnesota, Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Jensen was filmed giving a speech at a sparsely attended campaign event in which he railed about education.
“What are we doing to our kids? Why are we telling elementary kids that they get to choose their gender this week?” Jensen asked, according to CNN. “Why do we have litter boxes in some of the school districts so kids can pee in them, because they identify as a furry? We’ve lost our minds. We’ve lost our minds.”
During a televised debate over a school funding bill earlier this year, Republican State Sen. Bruce Bostelman of Nebraska repeated the litter box claim — only to backtrack on his statement when confronted about it by The Associated Press.
Republican U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert — never one to shy away from engaging in the culture wars — raised the issue while speaking at a conference for Christian fundamentalists, as reported by the Colorado Times Recorder.
“I was in Michigan, and a man told me that his son got in trouble because he stepped on a furry’s tail in school,” Boebert said. “I said, ‘What’s a furry? I’ve never seen one.’ We got bears. We got wolves. Praise the Lord. Thanks, Boulder. We got eagles. What’s a furry? He said, ‘Well, it’s someone who thinks they’re a cat or a dog.’ I said, ‘Dear Lord, that sounds like an identity crisis.’ I think your son needs to go to school and identify as a trapper.”
Colorado Republican State House candidates Scott Bottoms made similar claims during a recent town hall event in which he attacked transgender identity, gender-affirming health care, and other “demonic” influences.
“They are allowing a child to identify as a cat and use a litter box in the girls’ bathroom,” Bottoms claimed, according to the Colorado Springs Indy. “That is grooming a child, that is developing this child. We don’t allow pets in school [and] if they really see this child as identifying as a pet, there’s a disconnect all the way across the board. And I believe that’s child abuse.”
In Texas, State House candidate Michelle Evans claimed in a tweet that cafeteria tables were being lowered in certain middle and high schools in Round Rock, Texas, to “allow ‘furries’ to more easily eat without utensils or their hands (ie, like a dog eats from a bowl),” reported Texas Monthly.
That myth, too, was debunked after the school district’s chief of public affairs and communications told the magazine, “This is not happening. Our tables don’t even have the option of lowering.”
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