At a campaign stop captured on video and distributed on social media, GOP gubernatorial candidate Scott Jensen claimed that schools are allowing children to use litter boxes to urinate.
"What are we doing to our kids? Why are we telling elementary kids that they get to choose their gender this week? Why do we have litter boxes in some of the school districts so kids can pee in them, because they identify as a 'furry'?" asked Jensen, a family physician and former state senator, during the Sept. 29 stop in Hutchinson, Minn. "We've lost our minds. We've lost our minds."
Asked multiple times to identify which schools Jensen was referring to, his campaign declined, responding instead, "The campaign has no comment."
"Furries" are people who broadly identify with animals and sometimes dress up in fur suits and attend conventions. Not all of them dress up, and many say it's just another way of being social and meeting people — not a sexual fetish. A 2015 Star Tribune story reported a state chapter of about 100 furries, although not all furries are in an active social organization.
Persistent — and debunked — rumors about litter boxes in schools have been promoted by Republicans throughout the country for several months. Last week, a GOP gubernatorial candidate in Colorado made a similar false claim.
Officials at the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) say they have no evidence that litter boxes are placed in classrooms or schools for students to use.
"MDE doesn't believe this is happening in any Minnesota schools," spokesman Kevin Burns said, but he added that "this isn't a reportable event or situation," meaning schools aren't required to notify the state.
"Even though it's not reportable, we haven't been made aware in any other manner that this is happening," he said.
MDE spokeswoman Anna Kurth said: "This kind of rumor is hostile to Minnesota students, especially transgender students."
After Jensen made the comment about furries in Hutchinson, he raised transgender issues by saying he was "scolded" at the State Fair by a 15-year-old.
"She wanted to know how I felt about transgender issues. And I said, 'Well, that's a pretty big question. Can you unpack it for me?' "
According to Jensen, the teenager asked, "Well, will you support my right to have injections of hormone blockers and surgeries if I want to change my gender?"
He said he told her no, not at 15. "You turn 18, you're a legal adult, you're on your own," he said.
Jensen said that as a parent he isn't going to say it's OK.
"We're hypersexualizing our kids. … Let the kids be kids and just dream dreams, and go out and collect rocks, play ball," he said, before making explicit reference to parts of the anatomy that eliminate waste. "That's all that we need to worry about."
The crowd applauded as he wrapped up, saying that kids have "plenty of time in puberty and adulthood to learn the rest of it, and we don't need to be in such an all-fired hurry."
Darwin Forsyth, campaign spokesman for DFL Gov. Tim Walz, denounced Jensen's comments.
"Spreading these conspiracy theories about our schools makes it even harder for teachers and principals to do their jobs," he said. "We can't afford to elect a governor who will undermine our public schools and spread lies in an effort to cut funding for public education."