Transphobic hoax about litter boxes in schools for kids who ‘identify as cats’, debunked
For those who are not immersed in the toxic culture wars that have gripped the US over gender identity, the idea of teachers “putting litter boxes in the school bathrooms for the students who identify as cats” (or furries) might sound like something from a fever dream.
However, the urban myth come-internet hoax continues to hold weight for some parents, right-wing conspiracy theories and Republican lawmakers – despite there not being a shred of evidence to support it.
While it may seem hilarious that anyone would fall for such an outlandish rumour, often linked to the furry community, the pandemonium that has grown around it has real-life implications for trans people who are still fighting to have their identities recognised and treated with dignity.
For many anti-trans activists, the bizarre hoax justifies their belief that trans rights are a slippery slope to people identifying as animals, including cats, or other non-human things.
This in turn gives ground to conservative legislators that wider LGBTQ+ rights are dangerous and pose a threat to society, particularly children and young people.
The urban legend resurfaced once more this week in a seemingly now-deleted tweet by retired NFL head coach Tony Dungy.
Dungy, who has publicly shared his anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments, responded to a Daily Wire story about a Minnesota state legislator pushing for schools to provide students in grades four through 12 with access to period products.
He replied: “That’s nothing. Some school districts are putting litter boxes in the school bathrooms for the students who identify as cats. Very important to address every student’s needs.”
Where did the hoax come from?
It is difficult to substantiate where, exactly, the hoax first emerged.
Some historians date the urban myth as going back to the early 2000s, with a particular pick-up circulation in the 2010s when schools began to make accommodations for trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming students by providing unisex toilets.
Since then, the claim has taken on a life of its own and become a battleground of moral panic over identity politics.
Well-known figures such as Joe Rogan have continued to feed the hoax and give it legitimacy by discussing it as fact – rather than fiction.
Although even he eventually admitted it was total nonsense.
In an NBC news report of public statements published in October last year, it was stated at least 20 conservative candidates and elected officials claimed K-12 schools were placing litter boxes on campus or making other accommodations for students who identify as cats.
Each school district named by those 20 politicians said either to NBC News or in public statements that these claims were untrue.
There remains no evidence that any school has deployed litter boxes for students to use because they identify as cats.
However, there is one case of cat litter being used in American schools – but not for the reason conspiracy theorists would have you believe.
As Insider reports, in some Colorado schools teachers are asking parents to bring in buckets filled with cat litter to act as a toilet if children are trapped in their classrooms during an active shooter lockdown.
During shooter lockdowns, children are unable to leave their classroom until police have cleared every room in the building, which can take many hours. The school district has thus added cat litter and buckets to its supply lists so youngsters will be able to relieve themselves during such an emergency.