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Fact Check-No evidence that U.S. schoolchildren are self-identifying as animals and disrupting classrooms

In a clip from ‘What is a Woman?’, a documentary by right-wing commentator Matt Walsh, interviewee Sara Stockton, a family therapist based in New York, says schoolchildren are self-identifying as animals and disrupting classrooms.

“So now we are seeing kids that are identifying as animals going to school,” she says. “And they are purring instead of answering questions and they miaow and the teachers are not allowed to question it because it’s considered a queer identity.”

The clip is viewable (here).

Walsh responds: “The teachers have to affirm them as a cat? So schools are literal zoos now.”

Reuters has sought comment from Stockton, who has provided no evidence to support her claim.

FURRIES VS. THERIANS

To back up his assertion that people are identifying as animals, Walsh then speaks with a trans woman who says she is both a furry and a therian.

“Furries” are people with an interest in anthropomorphism, who may create their own alternative animal personality known as a “fursona.” For more information, see the International Anthropomorphic Research Project, also known as Furscience, a group of interdisciplinary professors who have researched anthropomorphic identities for more than 15 years and studied over 40,000 furries (furscience.com/whats-a-furry/).

Co-founder of Furscience, Courtney Plante, told Reuters, “Furries are fans, just like any other fan group,” adding, “Furries are no more likely to think that they’re animals than sport fans are to think that they’re their favorite team’s quarterback.”

Plante and other researchers who spoke to Reuters all said the Facebook clip from Walsh’s documentary conflated furries with therians.

“Therians believe deep down inside that they are trapped in a human body but were meant to be some other species.” said Dr Kathy Gerbasi, a psychologist specializing in studying both.

Psychology professor Elizabeth Fein, who also researches furries and therians, told Reuters: “While therians recognize they have human bodies, they might also feel they have the reincarnated soul of a wolf, or that they have a sense of affinity with cats that is so deep that they are on some level a cat themselves. For some of these folks, it’s enjoyable to do things those animals would do - bark, or growl, or rough-house play in an animalistic way. Many feel a pervasive sense of discomfort with their own human bodies.”

IS THIS HAPPENING IN SCHOOLS?

Plante told Reuters that Stockton’s claims about furry or therian activity in schools are familiar to the community and researchers.

“[It has been] circulating around the internet for more than a decade: This claim that there is a pandemic of furries in schools eating out of dog bowls or barking and hissing in class,” said Plante.

“And yet, despite our having studied thousands of furries, we’ve found no evidence to support this… If there is an epidemic of kids howling and meowing in schools, you’d think it would be easier to find them and put them in front of a camera (or, at very least, one of their teachers!).”

Reuters has fact checked claims around “furries” in U.S. schools in the past and found no evidence of them disrupting classrooms or schools developing a policy of including them as a formal identity (here) and (here) and (here).

“The claims made by [Stockton] about the prevalence and social respectability of therianthropy are not supported by any of the social scientific research that has been done on the topic, by our team or by others,” said Fein.

She added: “As part of my research, I’ve interviewed many therians. None of them have ever reported feeling like their teachers or anyone else in their life were expected by society to respect their ‘queer identity’”.

NOT A PROTECTED CHARACTERISTIC

Contrary to Stockton’s claims, identifying as an animal is not a protected characteristic in U.S. law.

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission the following characteristics are protected from discrimination: “Race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, sexual orientation, or gender identity), national origin, age (40 or older), disability and genetic information.” For more see (here) and (here).

Reuters asked Michael Bronski, professor of women, gender and sexuality at Harvard, whether identifying as an animal was a protected queer identity. He said: “No - not socially, culturally or by any national or local LGBTQ organization.”

He added, “People who identify as ‘furries’ do so for fun; it is not a primary identification.”

Bronski agreed that children identifying as animals and disrupting classrooms was not a genuine phenomenon.

“No - obviously, at least to me, it is completely a fabrication. Not to say that a teacher cannot lose control of a classroom from time to time, but not in these circumstances. And such an ‘identity’ would not be protected by law.”

VERDICT

No evidence. According to experts, “furries” primarily consider their expression as a fandom done for fun, not an official identity, contrary to the claims made in this video circulating online. Reuters has not found evidence of widespread cases of schoolchildren identifying as “furries” disrupting classrooms for this reason.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here .

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