How an Urban Myth About School Litter Boxes Became a Republican Talking Point (2023)

At a Republican women's luncheon in Mesa County, Colorado last week, Rep. Lauren Boebert, a Republican from Colorado,warnedthat educators “put up cat boxes in schools for people who identify as cats.”

For a person not immersed in the culture, the gender identity wars have been foughtsubmerged school districtsacross the country, is the kind of statement that would ringstrange and confusing— and, by high-profile Republican members, authoritarian.

The week before, on September 29, Republican nominee for Minnesota governor Scott Jensen ran for officeaskedduring a campaign stop: "Why do we have litter boxes in some school districts that kids can pee in because they identify as furry?"

And during a legislative hearing last month in Tennessee, two Republican lawmakersdiscussedthe "growing crisis" of public schools providing litter boxes for children, which he says is happening statewide.

At least 20 Conservative candidates and elected officials have claimed this year that K-12 schools are putting litter boxes on campus or creating other housing for students who identify as cats, according to an NBC News review of public statements.

All of the school districts named by these 20 politicians have told NBC News or made public statements that these claims are untrue. There is no evidence that any school has installed litter boxes for students to use because they identify as cats.

But the claim has taken on a life of its own among a growing number of Republicans, influential conservatives and political commentators. In an episode of Spotify's The Joe Rogan Experience podcast this week, host Joe Rogan told former US Representative Tulsi Gabbard that a school where his friend's wife worked for a girl had a sandbox installed that identified as an animal. A clip of the discussion quickly started playing.circularTaking to social media, Rogan did not name the school and his publicist did not respond to a request for comment.

There's a real subculture of people known as furries, a community of kids and adults who play humanized animals.characters. But the vast majority of them still identify as human, while sometimes taking on animal personalities and engaging in short-term roleplay, according to furries and pundits, one of whom pointed out that there are no litter boxes at furry conventions. . Three school-age furries told NBC News that they sometimes dressed up at school and usually only wore part of their full costume, like a mask or paw-like gloves, but they had never heard of a furry wearing a litter . Crate.

That hasn't stopped such rumors from circulating on social media, where they have been repeated like a phone game, often with descriptions from friends of friends who have allegedly seen such things firsthand. And it hasn't stopped some politicians from taking up those claims and using them to alarm people that protecting LGBTQ students is going to lead there.

"What's most provocative about this hoax is how it becomes two key issues for conservatives: educational accommodation and gender nonconformity," said Joan Donovan, research director at the University of California, Harvard University's Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy and co-author from Meme Wars: The Untold Story of the Online Battles That Changed Democracy in America.

(Video) Republican Confronted Over Bogus School Litter Boxes Story

The rise in sandbox hype shows the power of false claims that are beginning to shape political discourse on social media. And it shows how quickly elements of truth can be twisted and mixed with outright discredited claims to create a viral narrative amplified by prominent politicians as well as large-audience commentators.

"It's only used to turn falsehoods into sensationalism and harm our community, particularly our transgender, non-binary and gender-biased youth," Nadine Bridges, executive director of One Colorado, an LGBTQ rights organization, said when asked about the Sandbox . Rumors "Why would you attack our most vulnerable to get your point across when the point is unfounded?"

NBC News found an example of a school district keeping kitty litter available for students on campus, but it had nothing to do with housing children who identify as animals.

In Colorado, Republican gubernatorial candidate Heidi Ganahl insisted on severalcurrent interviewsthat students would dress up and identify themselves as cats, disrupting classes, and that state schools tolerated this. some children, theyHam, communicated only in barks and whistles. His campaign declined to answer questions about Ganahl's claims, but inan interviewwith a local Fox affiliate, suggested that "that happens a lot" in Jefferson County.

The Jefferson County School District denied Ganahl's claims, saying its dress code forbids dressing up in school. The district where Columbine High School is located has filled classrooms with small amounts of kitty litter.since 2017, but as part of the "grab-and-go buckets," which hold emergency supplies in case students are locked in a classroom during a shooting. The bins also contain candy for diabetic students, a school schedule, flashlights, baby wipes and first aid supplies.

"This got out of hand because politicians just wanted to have one topic of conversation," said John McDonald, former director of campus security for Jefferson County Schools who is now a school security consultant.

The wave of misinformation reflects the dissatisfaction of many conservatives with the way the concepts and policies of thegender identitythey change quickly.

How an Urban Myth About School Litter Boxes Became a Republican Talking Point (1)

(Video) The Litter Box Lie That Swept the Nation

B. the number of people who identify as trans and non-binaryincreased in recent years, especially among young people, so has theScope of anti-LGBTQ legislationby conservative politicians. The spread of rumors about litter boxes is increasingalong with other extreme and unfounded rhetoricBlaming LGBTQ people and educators"Cleanliness"Children through lessons and policies on gender and sexuality.

Some politicians have warned of children acting like cats during debates on school policies related to transgender and non-binary youth.

Tim Kraayenbrink, a Republican senator from Iowa, said at a forum in May that local schools are required to put litter boxes in the bathroom for furry cats to use, while talking about schools allowing students to use the bathroom that suits them to use as a transgender gender identity. that latertold a local newspaperIt did not verify whether the claim was true and did not respond to a request for comment from NBC News.

Brendan Shea, a Republican and a member of the Ohio State Board of Education, submitted a motion last monthopposition decisionCivil rights protections for LGBTQ students. While defending the resolution at a public meeting, Shea saidsaying, "We literally have kids who think they are cats and dogs who use litter boxes in classrooms." Shea did not respond to requests for comment.

The frenzy over school sandboxes appears to have started with parents on social media, and one of the first schools to face the scam was in Canada last fall.

On October 19, 2021,Facebook-Post, the Prince Edward Island Branch of Public Schools said that for several months it "received calls, received emails and flagged numerous social media posts making sweeping claims about students identifying as cats. Many of these claims are that schools are putting up or are in the process of putting up sandboxes in schools."

"These and many other claims are simply false and cause undue stress to students and staff," school principal Norbert Carpenter said in the Post.

Within months, similar rumors were spreading across the US, where they quickly became fodder for the culture war.

In December 2021, conservative activist Lisa Hansen protested before a school boardmeetin Midland, Michigan that an anonymous school district had placed "a litter box for children who identify as cats" in a unisex bathroom as "part of the agenda being pushed." Hansen, who laterstarteda local group ofMoms for Liberty, a conservative activist groupShe did not respond to requests for comment.

(Video) Right-Wing Mom PANICS Over Litter Box In School Bathroom

On January 20, Meshawn Maddock, co-chair of the Michigan Republican Party, spread the rumor:determinationon Facebook that "kids who identify as 'Furries' get a litter box in the school litter box," with a link to a parent activist group. The next day, TikTok's popular conservative Libs Twitter accounttweeted the videoHansen at the school board meeting. The post quickly went viral, garnering almost 860,000 video views on Twitter.

As the video circulated, the Superintendent of Midland announced aExplanationto clarify that Hansen's claim was wrong. TikTok's Libs noticed so much at onceprotects the stern, but asked why no one said that at the school board meeting, where some people applauded after Hansen spoke. Maddock did not respond to requests for comment.

In April, three Republican lawmakers in Minnesota took turnsduring the ground debateThey discussed rumors they had heard about children identifying as cats at school, cutting holes in uniforms to make tails and possibly using litter boxes. Candidates for the school board came in that same monthArkansasjTennesseemade similar comments, and Jennifer Benson, a school board member in Fargo, North Dakota,calledAccording to a local news outlet, children carried leashes to school and used sandpits.

Catalina Lauf, Republican nominee for Congress in Illinois,tweetedthis month that schoolchildren in their state were using sandboxes.

"Many parents and teachers have privately confided in me how crazy this trend is," Lauf told NBC News in an email. He declined to connect NBC News to any parents or teachers he spoke to.

When asked by NBC News for evidence to back his claim, Lauf pointed to an anonymous far-right blog that claimed a student was allowed to wear a furry outfit at the school in Hinsdale, Illinois. The school district called the story "completely inaccurate" on that blog and not something it would allow.

In addition to Republican politicians and officials, many social media users have embraced the rumor, particularly on Facebook and TikTok.

Public posts on Facebook show variations of the claim appearing every day across the country, citing unidentified grandchildren or neighbors, from Florida to California. Some say the litter boxes are in schools' "transgender bathrooms." A post urging school districts to take action has been shared more than 31,000 times.

Meanwhile on TikTok, oneVideoThe statement that “kids are now requesting sandboxes at school” has garnered 3 million views on the platform. A response from another user asking schools to stop allowing furries in schools generated over 1 million views.

Furries are part of a subculture that has been established for decades. The fandom focuses on interest in anthropomorphism, or the human traits given to animals, according to Sharon Roberts, co-founder of a furry research group calledKraft.

(Video) Republican Embarrasses Herself Defending a Bill That Bans Furries

How an Urban Myth About School Litter Boxes Became a Republican Talking Point (2)

Roberts, an associate professor at Renison University College, which is affiliated with the University of Waterloo in Canada, said almost all furries retain a strong human personality and don't identify as animals.Surveys and research before the publication of Furscience also indicate thisthat the vast majority are LGBTQ and up to a third are transgender.

Roberts said that in her research career she had never heard of or seen a case where a furry animal wanted a litter box. Roberts also pointed out that the vast majority of the furry characters are wild or mythical animals that wouldn't use a litter box at all.

"I've studied more than 40,000 furries from 70 different countries over a decade," he said. "There's no such thing as a litter box at a furry convention."

NBC News spoke to three school-age furries who took to TikTok to share the experience of being a furry at school. NBC News agreed to keep their last names private for fear of harassment.

Olivia, 16, from California, said she's been part of the furry community for six years. "I don't go out with a fursuit tail, gloves, ears or heads on a normal day," he said in an email. She said as she pulled on part of her fur suit for school, "I don't act like an animal, and I don't think I am."

Dayna, 15, who lives in Canada, said she brings a mask and tail to school every day but only wears it during lunch and keeps it in her bag during class. "I like to bring them because it's a way to show off my creativity and something I can talk about with my friends. It actually made me some new friends at school," Dayna said in an email.

Kymera, 14, of Colorado, said being a fur animal is "just a hobby," much like having a pet.

(Video) What Men Get Wrong About Going Down on Women - April Macie

"I've never heard of a furry animal wanting to use a litter box," Kymera said. "These rumors put us at risk of being hurt or harassed."

This story first appeared

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