Transmissions: The litter box legend

  • by Gwendolyn Ann Smith
  • Wednesday October 19, 2022
Share this Post:
Illustration: Christine Smith
Illustration: Christine Smith

October is no stranger to urban legends, dating back at least to Washington Irving's 1819 Halloween favorite, "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." Of course, over the last several decades, the Halloween myth making has revolved around razor blades in the candy or apples — or unfounded fears of households handing out drugs to trick-or-treaters.

Yet there is another urban legend I want to discuss today. Initially making the rounds in Canada last October, this one has finally reached a fever pitch in the U.S. as it's turned into right-wing anti-trans fodder while the country veers into a contentious and vital midterm election.

It has been brought up by talk show hosts and podcasters, and even mentioned by both U.S. Congressmembers Lauren Boebert (R-Colorado) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Georgia). The latter claimed it was another example of "woke ideology," a term itself that's become a right-wing dog whistle.

I speak of the myth that litter boxes are being provided in schools for students who identify as furries.

For the uninitiated, furries are part of a long-standing fandom of anthropomorphic animal characters. Over the last couple decades, this fandom has grown, leading to large conventions and activities for those with fursonas, some of whom go so far as to wear full body fursuits. Think, for example, of the general look of animal-based sports mascots, or perhaps the characters from Walt Disney's 2016 "Zootopia" movie.

The large majority of furries, it is worth noting, do not "identify as animals." Rather, it is a hobby, a costume, and something those in the fandom enjoy being a part of. The bunny head can be safely stowed away in a box when not in use, and the rest of the outfit tucks into the closet.

It's also a popular subculture to mock, which plays into this urban legend. Its use in right-wing circles, however, has less to do with furries than it does with transgender people, even if there is often a fair amount of overlap between the two.

For a number of years, the right — and particularly right-leaning internet trolls and other provocateurs — latched onto "I identify as ___" phrasing as a way to mock transgender identities. When you see that language being used, however, it isn't typically from a transgender person, but from someone mocking a transgender person, coming up with lubricious examples such as, "I identify as an attack helicopter."

Or, in this case, the mockery is in identifying as an animal.

The urban myth is a simple one: in order to accommodate students who identify as furries, schools have set up litter boxes in school bathrooms. It's always presented as a "things have gone too far" tale, usually about a local school that is nearby, but not too close, lest anyone verify the story.

Yes, so far, no such story has proved to be true. The only reported example of anything that approaches reality comes from the Jefferson County Public School District in Colorado, where some classrooms had "go buckets" full of kitty litter — but rather than being a place for furry students, they were part of its school shooter protocols.

Jefferson County is also home to Columbine High School, where a 1999 school shooting left 12 students and one teacher dead, and the go buckets were for students who may need to relieve themselves should such a shooting happen again.

While school shootings remain an altogether too frequent occurrence, it's unlikely that the go bucket was the source of this myth, and certainly isn't a part of its continued staying power.

Over the last few years, the issues of trans rights in schools, particularly around restroom accommodation and sports participation, have become hot button topics. It is hardly a stretch to go from discussing the very real and very legitimate issue of providing safe, welcoming facilities for all students, trans and otherwise, and mocking those needs by discussing litter boxes for students who might identify as a cheetah or a husky or a cat.

It is, essentially, the same thing that came up during the battle for marriage equality as some conservatives, for example, opined on how it would lead to people marrying box turtles or other creatures. This, too, was proved to be ludicrous.

Much like then, the right doesn't have a legitimate argument against transgender people, other than diversion or scare tactics. Unlike the myth, there are real trans and nonbinary students out there who do need to use restrooms at schools and need to have appropriate facilities.

Restrooms seem to be a recurring theme in civil rights battles, from "white" and "colored" restrooms during segregation to fights for Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant restroom facilities. Without appropriate public restroom access, one's ability to take part in much of public life is reduced greatly.

A decade ago, it was the "transgender bathroom predator" that was the predominant urban legend, with many pushing the belief that allowing transgender people the ability to use a bathroom consistent with who they are would lead to an increase in "female identifying" men assaulting women in the bathroom.

That legend, too, seems to have the validity of litter boxes for furries or weddings for turtles, as the right continues to flail for a good reason to deny transgender people their rights.

By using this "schools are offering litter boxes to their furry-identifying students" myth, the right-wing is seeking to delegitimize a real need and do real harm to non-mythical students.

Let's not let them reduce our needs to the stupidest of urban legends.

Gwen Smith thanks the furries she consulted with before penning this column. You'll find her at

Help keep the Bay Area Reporter going in these tough times. To support local, independent, LGBTQ journalism, consider becoming a BAR member.