A false claim by Wisconsin conservative radio host Vicki McKenna that the Waunakee school district has a policy to “normalize the behavior of furries” — students who are purported to dress in costumes and pretend to be anthropomorphized animals — is being touted as fact and widely circulated on social media.
McKenna said “she had several emails” to support her claim while a guest on the March 17 episode of the Dr. Duke Show, a podcast hosted by UW-Oshkosh professor Duke Pesta.
McKenna also claimed on the podcast that the Waunakee school district is “encouraging kids to adopt alt-gender and alt-sexualities as their identities.”
The superintendent of the Waunakee school district says McKenna’s claims are unequivocally false.
“I am aware of the misinformation that is circulating on social media,” Randy Guttenberg tells Isthmus in an email. “The Waunakee Community School District does not have protocols for furries, nor do we have an issue with disruptions in our school and classrooms.”
Despite the refutation by the school district, a video clip of McKenna’s claims has garnered more than 160,000 views on social media.
Echoing bigoted comparisons of homosexuality to bestiality, McKenna’s claim is premised on the false notion that furry fandom — think of Star Trek fans dressing up as fictional characters for a convention — is now being treated as a “gender identity” in the Waunakee schools. It is not.
Yet, McKenna said on the Dr. Duke Show that “this is real, it is happening.”
McKenna read aloud on the show an email she said she had received from the grandparent of a student: “Hi, Vicki, I have grandchildren in the Waunakee school district. They have been instructed not to take pictures of, make fun of, stare at, or in any way call out the behavior of their classmates who are furries.The furries can choose whether they want to speak or not. The furries are allowed to dress in their choice of furry costumes. The furries can choose not to run in gym class but instead sit at the feet of their teacher and lick their paws. Barking, hissing and other similar animal noises are commonplace in the hallways at school. The children have been told that the furries are an identity and they must treat these children normally. And the school administration and teachers have normalized the behavior of the furries in their school. I am appalled.”
McKenna went on to say the claim is believable because school districts generally are promoting the “idea that kids switch genders and then declare themselves boys if they’re girls or vice versa.”
Also circulating on social media in apparent support of McKenna’s claim is a PowerPoint slide labeled, “Waunakee, WI school district, furry protocol.” The Waunkee school district has also confirmed the information on the slide is fake.
Isthmus asked McKenna, whose show is on WIBA-AM (1310) Madison, whether she stood by her claim now that the Waunakee superintendent called it “misinformation.”
She did not answer the question.
“A few other parents from different districts indicated their kids report similar tolerance for ‘furries,’” McKenna said in an email, adding that she asked for parents’ thoughts on the supposed policy in Waunakee on her social media page in mid-March. “There are parents saying this is not limited to Waunakee.”
Similar debunked conspiracy theories about school policies are not just being shared on fringe, right-wing channels. The clip of McKenna was posted on Twitter the same day Isthmus reported on a listening session hosted by Johnson in Madison, where panelist Pesta claimed that districts had transgender “closets” and Holly Liska, a panelist and parent from Richland County, repeated a widely-debunked claim that school districts are discussing “installing human-sized litter boxes for kids who identify as cats.”
McKenna told Pesta on his March 17 podcast — titled “Students told to respect classmates who identify as animals” — that she thought furry fandom was “fun cosplay,” similar to how people dress up at renaissance fairs. Scholars who study furries would largely agree with that statement, but not what McKenna said next.
“But apparently it’s much deeper than that. It is considered something of a sexual fetish,” said McKenna. “We shouldn’t be surprised and it’s being indulged, at least, and probably promoted.”