As the US heads to mid-term elections, cat-student claims keep coming

The urban myth that schools are encountering students who want to identify as cats, and then making special arrangements to accommodate for them, such as putting kitty litter trays in bathrooms, lowering cafe tables, or allowing holes to be cut in uniforms – is being told more and more often as the USA heads to their mid-term elections.

The persistent story has been claimed debunked many times, but it keeps popping up around the world.

In Australia News Corp publications and broadcasters have shared local versions of the story on at least three occasions, while in America’s it’s popped up everywhere from Minesota to Indiana, Nebraska, Ohio, Utah, Idaho, Michigan, Arkansas, Texas and more.

An investigation by NBC News in the USA has found that as politicians campaigned for the mid-term elections due to take place this week, Republican candidates claimed they knew of cat-identifying students in their local community on at least 20 separate occasions.

In October, conservative pundit Joe Rogan claimed on his podcast that he knew the rumour to be true, because a friend of his wife had encountered a cat-identifying student.

Speaking to former Presidental candidate Tulsi Gabbard, Rogan said “My friend, his wife is a schoolteacher, and she works at a school that had to install a litter box in the girl’s room because there is a girl who’s a furry, who identifies as an animal, and her mother badgered the school until they agreed to put a litter box in one of the stalls.”

“So this girl goes into the litter room or to the girl’s room and urinates or whatever — I don’t know if she poops in it, that’s pretty gross.” Rogan claimed.

The podcast host has now conceded there was no truth in his version of the story.

Rogan is far from alone in making the claim, and even though the story has been shown to be completely fake time and time again, aspiring politicians keep insisting it’s happening in their local neighbourhood.

On October 25th, just over a week after NBC published their investigation, Don Bolduc, a retired general and Republican New Hampshire Senatorial candidate listed cat identifying students as one of his top priorities should he be elected.

Bolduc claimed at least two schools he knew of where “fuzzies” were being allowed to engage in unhygienic behaviours while identifying as cats.

“We have a group called ‘the fuzzies’ now in our schools, who go to school and identify themselves as cats and lick themselves. This is true, I’ve been talking to teachers. I’ve been talking to many people,” Bolduc claimed during a campaign appearance.

Both schools immediately denied the claim, but one school superintendent has detailed that he had to give a local community member a tour of the school to convince them the hoax was not real.

When reporters challenged Bolduc on his claims, he responded by saying he was just sharing what he was being told by concerned citizens, before saying it was up to schools to prove to him that the claim was false.

The phenomenon has led to experts suggesting some of the reasons why the story keeps popping up, despite it being toughly debunked.

Writing in Psychology Today author Dan Mager shares that recent research has shown that repetitively repeating a statement will increase the likelihood that people will accept it as being true. The ‘illusory truth effect’ refers to a process where people begin to believe information if it is repeated often enough, even if there is evidence it is not true.

Ericka Menchen-Trevino, a professor at American University’s School of Communication, shared with The Guardian her thoughts on why parents were falling for the story and believing it to be true.

“This story put together a few things that some people already believe are true: that people’s assertions of identity, especially [for] children, are out of control, and that our schools are out of control for allowing it,” she said.

“It fits very well with some people’s prior beliefs, and they don’t need to fact-check [because] it’s right in line with what they believe.”

While Joan Donovan, research director for Harvard Kennedy’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, said the story was often repeated by politicians “because it allows [politicians] to dog-whistle their transphobia without having to say the quiet part out loud.”

In August, columnist Christopher Tremolglie who writes at The Washington Examiner overtly drew a line between the claim and the recognition and support for transgender youth.

Citing one of the examples claimed by Australian media outlets, the writer said action had to be taken.

“Human civilization has to put a halt to these destructive behaviors. The inmates cannot continue to run the asylum. At some point, even the wokest of the woke have to see the calamitous problems they have created.” Tremoglie said. The writer argued that transgender youth needed psychological help, not parades, inclusion in sports, or gender affirming health care.

Human Rights Watch have commented on the endless claims from across the USA, saying they are nothing but bizarre lies.

“This bizarre lie is meant to call into question school policies related to transgender and nonbinary youth, and the fact that extremist politicians are repeating it demonstrates their cravenness and the power of misinformation and propaganda driving anti-LGBTQ+ attacks.” the organisation said in a statement.

Graeme Watson 

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