A Republican lawmaker in Illinois cited the myth that students are dressing up as animals and using litterboxes in school instead of toilets while ranting against a bill he opposed that had nothing to do with school policy.
At issue is Illinois H.B. 1596, which would update some language in state family law. This includes changing the phrase “he or she” (or sometimes even just “he”) to something like “the minor” or “they,” referring to parents instead of “mother” and “father” and siblings instead of “sister and “brother,” and updating references to other laws. The ACLU of Illinois has praised the bill, saying it’s a step towards meeting “the needs of the growing number of LGBTQ+ youth under [the Department of Children and Family Services’s] care.”
But one person really doesn’t like the bill: state Sen. Andrew Chesney (R), who argued that the bill would confuse children. The bill changes language in the state’s legal code, something that children are unlikely to read.
“Folks, if you want to know why kids are confused and why people do crazy stuff, this is exactly why,” he said during a floor debate last Thursday.
“Biological males cannot get Pap smears. It’s not possible. It is physically and anatomally [sic] impossible. It is not even following science,” he continued.
“Biological women cannot go get a prostate exam. It is not possible.”
He admitted that he believes that student-furries are using litterboxes in schools, a myth that school districts across the country – and in Canada – have had to spend the last several years combatting.
“We can do all the gender feel-good garbage, but this is why your kids are confused. This is why your kids are dressing up as furries and kitty litter is in their bathrooms,” he said as several members of the state house started laughing. “There are two genders! There are two genders possible! There’s not three, there’s not four, there’s two.”
Chesney’s claim about students identifying as cats and demanding litter boxes is a reference to a right-wing lie once shared by activist Lisa Hansen. Because Hansen opposed federal regulations allowing trans students to use school restrooms matching their gender identities, she claimed that students who identify as cats were allowed to use litter boxes in one school’s unisex restroom.
A Michigan school superintendent was forced to write an email to parents debunking the lie. Nevertheless, the lie has been repeated by right-wingers, including by Nebraska Sen. Bruce Bostelman (R). During a televised debate, Bostelman claimed that student “furries” were allowed to interact with teachers by meowing and barking. He also said that one student who was denied a litter box later defecated on a classroom floor. Bostelman later admitted that the story wasn’t true.
The urban legend gained steam in the lead-up to the 2022 midterm elections with Republican Colorado gubernatorial candidate Heidi Ganahl publishing a list of 30 schools that she accused of accommodating students “identifyng as cats.” Many of the schools released statements contradicting her claim.
Bret Miles, the executive director of the Colorado Association of School Executives, noted at the time, “This vicious rumor – it’s been debunked how many times already? Now it’s out there again, in our governor’s race…. School districts are spending time chasing down storylines that were purely for political gain. They have nothing to do with what kids are experiencing at school, and it’s shock and awe. It’s just incredibly frustrating.”
Another Colorado Republican – Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) – also said that schools are allowing kids who identify as cats to use litterboxes.
“Durango is doing this,” Boebert said. “This is how extreme it is.”
“No, we don’t provide litter boxes; our children use bathrooms,” a spokesperson for the Durango School District in Colorado said.