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Scapegoating the Furries
The story that Republican candidate for governor Heidi Ganahl tells is that “kids are identifying as cats” (and other animals) “all over Colorado,” that this interferes with “teaching basics,” and it is part of a “woke ideology” “infiltrat[ing] our schools” that drove Ganahl to move across the state. Further, Ganahl says, kids “identifying” as animals in school is an aspect of the “politicization of the classroom” that is “distracting educators from addressing the shocking decline in our academic achievement here.”
Mandy Connell said in the context of her conversation with Ganahl about the topic that these children are “hissing, barking and trying to bite other children.” So they are a serious menace, according to this story.
Others have claimed (completely without evidence) that schools keep litter boxes for use by these “furry” children.
Conservative fears about “furry” children in schools clearly stem from antipathy to transgender people (although Ganahl has not said as much). Matt Walsh’s anti-trans film What Is a Woman features a segment in which a family therapist claims:
So now we are seeing kids that are identifying as animals going to school, and they are purring instead of answering questions, and they meow, and the teachers are not allowed to question it, because it’s considered a queer identity.
The Real Story
The actual story is that a few children are wearing things like cat ears and even cat tails to school, and they generally are not being disruptive while doing so nor bothering other children (remembering that generalities may admit exceptions). This is not happening “all over Colorado” nor “infiltrating” the schools, nor is it interfering with academics, nor are schools tolerating disruptive behavior by these children. Conservatives are the ones “politicizing” the schools over this issue, promoting a moral panic about it, and at times bullying children over totally innocent and innocuous behavior. In other words, Ganahl’s anti-furry campaign is a case of classic scapegoating. And it is despicable.
Reviewing the Facts
The grain of truth to Ganahl’s claims is that some children really are wearing things like cat ears to Colorado schools. And there is some overlap between “furry” culture more broadly and transgenderism. Heidi Beedle, the reporter for the leftward Colorado Times-Recorder who first wrote about Ganahl’s claims on the topic, has addressed this second point (as I’ve discussed).
Regarding the first point, that some children are wearing cat ears and the like, we now have three sources of good evidence (that I know about).
First, one Jefferson County school recently changed its dress code to disallow “costume attire” (as I’ve discussed).
Callie Berkson, spokeswoman for Mesa County Valley School District, said in a statement that educators there had seen some students wearing things like headbands with cat ears on them that are “indicative of a trend which has commonly been referred to as ‘furries.’” But she said it has been present in schools, and in Colorado, for years and is not an issue in the district.
“The District, as well as each individual school, has guidelines dealing with standards of decency, safety, and cleanliness,” she wrote in an email. “Should the behavior of this trend become disrupting to the school environment, we would take appropriate action in addressing the situation.”
Third, Rylee Dunn writes about the issue for the Arvada Press, which is part of Colorado Community Media. Dunn writes, “A Colorado Community Media search of TikTok found numerous posts where purported students in the state recorded videos of classmates.” Note that “numerous” here is in the context of a state with nearly 900,000 students as of 2021–22, so we are talking about a minuscule fraction of the total student body.
Dunn also writes:
Several middle-school-aged students at one Jefferson County school who were interviewed for this story said “between 10 and 20” students occasionally dressed up in animal accessories at their school. The students said kids were wearing animal-themed accessories, such as headbands or tails.
The students said the accessories were not disruptive to their learning, as the students who dress up were not allowed to wear the accessories in a classroom setting.
The students added that few students wear such items to school and do it only occasionally.
A Campaign of Harassment Targeting Children
Dunn’s story makes clear that the real victims here are the (very few) kids who wear cat ears and the like, and their harassers are the very conservatives Ganahl is promoting.
The moral panic about kids “identifying” as cats (i.e., wearing cat ears or the like) spread in Colorado through the Facebook group Jeffco Kids First (referring to Jefferson County), of which Ganahl is a member and public cheerleader.
As Dunn Writes, Lindsay Datko posted to the group:
If any of your kids would be willing to record anonymous audio of their experiences with furries hissing, barking, clawing, chasing, and how it affects their school day, please send to me or let me know ASAP!
An editor for Dunn’s publication added this note: “Lindsay Datko contacted Colorado Community Media after publication to clarify that she was seeking testimony from kids about their experiences through their parents.”
While principals can act to minimize distractions at schools, like placing restrictions on disruptive attire, the tactics of Jeffco Kids First amount to an attack on children, School Board President Stephanie Schooley told Colorado Community Media.
“What I want is for people to stop demonizing our kids,” Schooley said. “That’s what I feel like has been happening, that in objecting to and playing some of these identity politics, our kids hear this language . . . and they don’t understand why people hate them for who they are, for how they were born and who they’ve become. They don’t understand and that is, psychologically, so very damaging. It makes my heart hurt.”
Partly in response to their parents’ hyperventilating moral panic, some children of conservative families filmed allegedly “furry” students without their knowledge or permission, and publicly posted the video. “Some posts contained threats against the students being filmed,” Dunn writes, such as the hashtag “#killfurrys.” “Other posts harshly mocked the students,” Dunn writes. Some “TikTok posts showed kids who described being bullied for wearing furry costumes or being associated with furries,” Dunn writes. Students that Dunn interviewed “described feeling stressed and fearful of other bullying, especially online.” “Every student and parent interviewed for this story asked to be anonymous because they fear retaliation,” Dunn writes.
In other words, the bullies here are precisely (some of) the conservative parents of Jeffco Kids First and (some of) their children (possibly as well as other children), and the victims of the bullying are the children wearing cat ears and the like. And Ganahl has publicly and vociferously taken the side of the bullies.
Boebert Joins In
In a move that surprises no one, Representative Lauren Boebert joined in the moral panic over “furries.” As Sharon Sullivan writes for the Times-Recorder, Boebert “mentioned she received a call last week from a father whose kid was in trouble at school because he ‘stepped on a furry.’” Boebert repeated the well-worn and thoroughly debunked lie that “they are putting litter boxes in schools for people who identify as cats.”
A History of Bad Judgment
Unfortunately, Ganahl almost single-handedly turning a few ear-wearing children into a major political story is hardly her first lapse in judgment.
Ganahl has appeared on the show of Steve Bannon, the right-wing political nihilist.
Ganahl chose election conspiracist Danny Moore as her second.
Ganahl, currently regent for the University of Colorado, used her personal influence to interfere with the dorm placement of a transgender student, and falsely claimed that transgender students getting paired with unwilling students “is happening everywhere.”
Knock It Off, Ganahl
As I have noted, my child frequently pretends to be an animal and sometimes dresses up like one. So what? Practically every child (and many an adult) has done this throughout human history.
If schools want to allow children to wear cat ears and the like to school, so what? Obviously schools should disallow disruptive behavior, and all signs indicate that Colorado schools do this. If schools wish to disallow costumes in order to minimize potential disruptions, as at least one school has done, fine.
I do worry, though, that the disruptions that schools currently are trying to minimize are those caused by conservatives. It hardly seems fair to ban the wearing of cat ears because some assholes bully children who wear cat ears.
I am happy that my family is is homeschooling, so we don’t have to (directly) put up with the bullshit of either left- or right-leaning cranks such as Ganahl. I am also happy to encourage my son to play with other children who wear cat ears and the like, as he has done many times, in every case entirely without incident. What’s more, I am happy to teach him how to be respectful and decent toward transgender and other LGBTQ people.
Ganahl seriously needs to stop harassing children who display some affinity for animals through their attire. In short, hey, Heidi, leave those kids alone!