Republican senator Bruce Bostelman has apologised over claims that schools put litter boxes in bathrooms to accommodate students who “dress up as animals”.
The conservative lawmaker took to the state Senate floor on Monday (28 March) and said he was “shocked” when he heard that students were allegedly dressing as animals while attending school.
He said these students, who he referred to as “furries”, will “dress up as animals – cats and dogs – during the school day” and will “meow” or “bark” to “interact” with their teachers. Bostelman alleged schools were accommodating these students by putting “litter boxes in schools for these children to use”.
“I even heard from one person here recently [who] said that a student identified as a cat and wanted a litter box, and the school didn’t provide the litter box so the student went and defecated on the floor,” Bostelman claimed.
The Republican said the practice wasn’t sanitary and alleged it was “very disruptive to the school system”.
A floor speech from Nebraska State Senator Bruce Bostelman that “is about something called furries.”
Just gonna leave this here: pic.twitter.com/drn6jUgCXf
— Jon Kipper (@jonnykip21) March 28, 2022
However, Bostelman soon backtracked on his remarks after quickly fact-checking the claims with senator Lynne Walz, who leads the legislature’s education committee, and found there had been no incidents of schools putting litter boxes in restrooms for students.
Bostelman’s remarks drew swift criticism online, causing the senator to issue a grovelling apology. He claimed he just wanted to “address” the issue “quickly” just in case it was actually real, the Associated Press reported.
“It was just something I felt that if this really was happening, we needed to address it and address it quickly,” Bostelman said.
Several school officials in Nebraska have denied the accusations that there are litter boxes on school grounds for students who identify as animals to use.
One school superintendent told the Nebraska Examiner that it was a “ridiculous” issue while another described it as “an ugly rumour”.
A spokeswoman for another school district said she was unaware of any requests for litter boxes in the school or incidents involving furries.
Bostelman isn’t the only lawmaker to claim that students are identifying as animals. Last year, Arkansas representative Mary Bentley claimed, while pushing an anti-trans bill, that students “in school now” don’t “identify as a boy or a girl but as a cat, as a furry”.
School districts across the US have been plagued by similar rumours, which have been denied and outright debunked by school officials.
In January, Michael Sharrow, the superintendent of Midland Public Schools in Michigan, spoke out after a concerned member of the public claimed that litter boxes had been placed in “unisex bathrooms” for students “who identify as cats”.
Sharrow said it was a “source of disappointment” that it was even necessary for him to publicly deny the claims, and he emphatically declared that there had “never been litter boxes” within the schools.
Similar rumours spread in Iowa last month, forcing a superintendent to send a letter to parents dispelling the rumour.
A post on Facebook claimed that “middle school kids” who “identify as cats” were attending schools within the Carroll Community School District, the Iowa Capital Dispatch reported. The social media post claimed “some schools are also allowing litter boxes”.
Carroll Community School District superintendent Casey Berlau said in a note to parents that staff aren’t “encouraging or accommodating anyone behaving or identifying as a cat or any other animal”.
Phil Roeder, a spokesperson for the Des Moines Public Schools, told the outlet that they are aware of the claims. But Roeder said the schools have “real education issues to deal with here”, and “litter box rumour control isn’t one of them”.
According to the International Anthropomorphic Research Project (IARP), the furry fandom experience has been severely socially stigmatised in part because of the “visually unique nature of furries in conjunction with the incendiary, sensationalist media portrayals”.
The group’s public information hub, Furscience, explained these portrayals cast furries and the fandom as a “deviant sexual fetish”, and many within the community “fear discrimination and violence” as a result.
However, in reality, the IARP explained the furry community is about “friendship and community” more than anything else.
This was recently highlighted after the furry community came together to help a library system that was denied vital funding unless it removed LGBT+ books from shelves.
Soatok, a member of the furry community, decided to take action after seeing a tweet about how a Mississippi mayor withheld $110,000 in funding until “homosexual materials” were removed from the Madison Country Library System.
He called on the furry community to donate to the library’s fundraising campaign and “tell their mayor to f**k off”. Soak added the fundraising goal was “within the reach of the amounts raised by furries for charities at conventions all the time”.