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Why some Republicans have made odd claims about school litter boxes

As too many Republicans and their allies push the school litter box myth, it's important to remember that while the claims are dumb, they're not benign.


In Minnesota’s gubernatorial race, former state Sen. Scott Jensen has taken some bizarre positions in recent months. We are, after all, talking about a Republican physician who has spoken out against Covid vaccines and condemned efforts to stop the spread of the virus. He also suggested that he’d support incarcerating Minnesota’s Democratic secretary of state over election-related conspiracy theories.

But it was two weeks ago when CNN ran a report about Jensen pushing a bizarre urban myth.

“But what about education?” Jensen said. “What are we doing to our kids? Why are we telling elementary kids that they get to choose their gender this week? 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.”

Putting aside broader questions about the degree to which we’ve “lost our minds,” Jensen’s claim was, and is, ridiculous: No one is putting litter boxes in schools because children identify as furries.

But the Minnesota Republican isn’t the only one who’s helped spread the myth. Also this month, GOP Rep. Lauren Boebert told an audience in her home state of Colorado that educators “are putting litter boxes in schools for people who identify as cats.” Around the same time, Ed Thelander, a Republican congressional candidate in Maine, touted the same myth. (He later acknowledged his mistake.)

Last week, Joe Rogan, a prominent podcast host, said he has an unidentified friend who’s married to a woman who works at an unidentified school that installed a litter box for a student who “identifies as an animal.”

Far too many Republicans and their allies on the right appear to have embraced this madness with a bit too much enthusiasm, but as NBC News reported, the myth appears to be entirely made up.

At least 20 conservative candidates and elected officials have claimed this year that K-12 schools are placing litter boxes on campus or making other accommodations for students who identify as cats, according to an NBC News review of public statements. Every school district that has been named by those 20 politicians said either to NBC News or in public statements that these claims are untrue. There is no evidence that any school has deployed litter boxes for students to use because they identify as cats.

It’s worth emphasizing that NBC News did identify one school district that kept cat litter on campuses for student use, but it’s a Colorado district — the same district where the Columbine massacre occurred — that approved the litter as part of “go buckets” to be used in the event of a school shooting.

At face value, this might seem like another example of folks on the right embracing yet another weird myth because it was circulated by Republicans who ought to know better. But as the NBC News report added, it’s important to acknowledge the motivation behind the nonsense.

As the number of people identifying as trans and nonbinary has increased in recent years, particularly among young people, so has the amount of anti-LGBTQ legislation from conservative politicians. The spread of rumors about litter boxes has grown alongside other extreme and baseless rhetoric accusing LGBTQ people and educators of “grooming” children through lessons and policies on gender and sexuality. Some politicians issued warnings about children acting as cats during debates regarding school policies related to transgender and nonbinary youth.

In other words, the litter box myth is dumb, but it’s not benign.