Florida Gov. and GOP presidential nominee Ron DeSantis has successfully sucked the pleasure out of many of life’s little joys, from drag brunches to Disney adult TikTok. And thanks to the passage of SB 1438, or the Protection of Children Act, DeSantis may now be bringing the ax down on furries.
On Wednesday, the organizers behind Megaplex, an Orlando-based convention for furries — people who enjoy dressing up as or making art of anthropomorphized creatures — posted a statement on Twitter regarding its policy for admitting minors. The statement was in response to SB 1438, which makes “knowingly admitting a child to an adult live performance” a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by a year of prison and/or a $1,000 fine.
“Many have raised concerns about recent changes in Florida legislation,” the statement read. “After reviewing Florida SB 1438 it has been decided that for legal reasons and protection of our attendees, our venue, and the overall convention, Megaplex 2023 attendees must be 18 years of age at the time of registration pickup.” (Megaplex declined to comment when reached by Rolling Stone.)
So what does a law about exposing kids to sexually charged content have to do with people dressing as cartoon bunnies and foxes? While SB 1438 does not specifically target minors dressing as furries, it prohibits children from attending adult performances, which it defines as “a presentation that depicts or simulates nudity, sexual conduct, or specific sexual activities.” And, like drag, there are pervasive misconceptions that this mode of expression is inherently sexual.
While it is true that there is a segment of furrydom that does treat it as a kink, it is not a representation of the wider community, and many furries do not view their interest in anthropomorphized creatures as sexual at all. Though many conventions do cater to the NSFW aspects of the furry fandom, they typically save such programming for later at night to ensure the rest of the con is family-friendly, or cordon off adult vendors so they are not in full view of other attendees.
The fact that the furry organizers felt pressured to bar children from the convention is yet another example of how it’s been seen as an attack on LGBTQ rights. (The ACLU referred to it as “a blatant attempt to erase drag performers and silence the LGBTQ+ community.”) The furry fandom overwhelmingly skews LGBTQ, with nearly 80 percent of furries self-identifying as such, according to surveys of the fandom. “Furry has become synonymous with LGBTQ, since there is such a large intersection of communities,” says Joelle, one of the founders of Moms of Furries, an organization supporting kid furries and their parents. (Joelle and her cofounder, Carrie, requested their last names be withheld for safety reasons; they both have children in the fandom who are also queer.) “Furries feel connected to what they see as persecution of the queer community.”
Additionally, many furries identify as transgender, and “would not feel safe” at a convention in Florida, which recently passed a law making it a misdemeanor trespassing offense for someone to use a bathroom that does not align with their birth sex, says Carrie. “Right now anything that isn’t very straight-laced, in Florida, is starting to be called out as deviant,” she says. “Obviously furries are an easy mark for that.”
Megaplex’s announcement was met with mixed reactions among members of the community. While some accused the convention of caving to pressure from Florida legislators, most expressed empathy for having to make a difficult decision, and fury at DeSantis for targeting LGBTQ people. SemJay, a transgender furry and the owner of furry adult toy company Lycantasy, tells Rolling Stone that he agreed with Megaplex’s decision, and felt it was motivated by the desire to protect attendees and staff from potential harassment. He personally does not plan to attend this year: “I don’t want to end up in a confrontation, or worse, jail or dead, for just going to the bathroom in Florida,” he says.
Many furries are marginalized in some way: In addition to many identifying as LGBTQ, a sizeable percentage of furries are also neurodivergent. As a result, they tend to view the community as a safe haven of sorts. Over the past few years, children have increasingly been gravitating toward the fandom for this reason, as Rolling Stone has previously reported. The rise of furry influencers on platforms like TikTok has led to the fandom becoming increasingly popular among young people, with the Pittsburgh-based conference Anthrocon reporting that 16 percent of its attendees in 2019 were under the age of 19.
Many parents whose children are involved with the subculture credit it with helping them overcome bullying, or gain self-esteem. At conventions, Carrie says, “there will be parents crying in a corner because they don’t see their kids so happy every day. We had a mom break down because she’s never seen her kid feel so comfortable just sitting at a table and interacting with other kids.” She says it is “heartbreaking” to think of young furries not having a space to connect.
The furry fandom has been a target of the far-right for years, with numerous politicians baselessly claiming that schools are placing litter boxes in bathrooms to appease students who identify as furries. A number of school boards across the country have attempted to prohibit children from wearing animal ears to school, with Florida’s Brevard Public Schools most recently attempting to adopt a dress code banning clothing “which emulates non-human characteristics.” (A spokesperson for Brevard Public Schools denied that children dressing up as furries was a “widespread issue.”)
In light of increasing anti-furry and anti-LGBTQ sentiment in Florida, Joelle says she understands why Megaplex made the decision it did. “We absolutely hate it has to happen,” she says. “But we absolutely support keeping kids safe. It’s just one less safe place for kids who have trouble finding acceptance for them to go.”