Recently, we have witnessed major strides in both the animal-rights and gay-rights movements. In honor of LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) Month, we spoke with activists about what these two groups can learn from each other, and how we can support the work of both. Three proud gay vegans—Ari Solomon, president of A Scent of Scandal; Dan Hanley, half of the blogging duo behind The Gay Vegans; and Jasmin Singer, co-founder of Our Hen House—weighed in on key points in both movements.
VegNews: How do you see the connection between the animal-rights movement and gay rights?
Ari Solomon: In the simplest terms, I believe that most LGBT men and women understand firsthand what’s it like to be oppressed and bullied. This is what happens to animals every day, whether it is on factory farms, or in laboratories, circuses, and marine parks. I try to make the case that because we know how it feels, we should be more inclined to go vegan and get involved with trying to end the war on animals.
Dan Hanley: Both fall into our goal of “making the world a better place for all living beings.” I believe that injustice is injustice, regardless of the community it affects or how voiceless the affected community is.
Jasmin Singer: I believe that the fundamental connection between gay rights and animal rights, as well as countless other rights movements, is the mindset of the oppressor, which is always based in the thought that, “I am better, and more important, than they are.”
VN: There is so much happening in both movements—the legalization of gay marriage is on the forefront of this election, and several major companies are phasing out gestation crates, among other pivotal issues. What are some other great strides forward that we’re seeing?
AS: With regards to gay rights, it’s wonderful that marriage is on everyone’s mind, but the truth is that you can still be fired from your job just for being gay in 29 states. I do think, however, that we are seeing amazing leaps in progress in such relatively short spans of time. I really think that in the next 10 years, LGBT people will achieve full equality in the US. With regards to animal rights, it’s been incredible to witness the growing public concern over animals on factory farms. That being said, I think the growing awareness around veganism is what excites me the most.
JS: There is much more awareness of both issues, as is evidenced by the increase in positive media coverage. And there is no doubt that the increasing acceptance of gay marriage represents a deep societal shift, though issues of discrimination and violence still remain. Though not on the same level, attention to farmed-animal issues is clearly on the rise, and the potential eradication of the gestation crate is a notable step forward, though we still have a very, very long way to go.
VN: How can activists get involved in LGBT Pride month?
AS: There are so many organizations on national and local levels that are always looking for volunteers and donations. Some of my favorites are The Trevor Project and the Matthew Shepard Foundation. But I think the most important thing to do as an LGBT activist is to talk about these issues with your friends and family.
DH: The best thing an activist can do is find out who their state representative is, and find out their opinions on marriage equality, animal rights, and any other topic important to them. All one has to do is plug in their zip code on votesmart.org to find out who represents them at their state house.
VN: In our July+August 2011 issue, Portia de Rossi told us that, “I think it’s more difficult to be vegan than gay. I think people have a harder time accepting it; people feel more uncomfortable with a vegan at their dinner table than they do a lesbian.” What do you think?
AS: In my opinion, homophobia is much different psychologically than an aversion to veganism. Men and women are beaten and killed just for being gay. My veganism might make certain people uncomfortable, but I’ve never feared for my life for being vegan. I have for being gay.
DH: With many of us living in privilege, myself included, I need to remember that LGBT people who live in poverty, live in very conservative areas, or who are yet to come out face many things an “out” vegan does not face—mainly the potential of harassment, name-calling, losing their job, and even brutality and death.
JS: Living in downtown Manhattan, it’s almost assumed you’re gay! Others aren’t as lucky to live in a place where they are accepted. But I think Portia makes a good point in differentiating the reasons that people might give you a hard time. Not everyone feels threatened by homosexuality, but almost everyone who isn’t vegan recognizes, on some level, that they should be vegan.
VN: In your own personal journey to come out and go vegan, what challenges did you face?
AS: I think it’s just about having the courage to live authentically and not be afraid to stand out. Luckily, I haven’t had too many people in my life who have an issue with either. My father had a mini-meltdown when I told him I went vegan (it was so much worse than telling him I was gay) but over the years he’s learned more about the issues, and now he begs my husband and I to cook for him when we’re back home!
DH: I was in the military when I came out, and it was extremely difficult living two lives and constantly having to lie. This was in 1990, and of course, times have changed. At the time I was also incredibly grateful for the loving support I had both off and on base. My activism began within the AIDS movement in the late ‘80s and I am always grateful for the many people who engaged me and taught me how to fight for what is right. Becoming vegan was a little difficult as I was living in the South and not in a major metropolitan area.
JS: When I came out 14 years ago, I faced some initial skepticism, worry, and misguided hurt from some family members. It seems almost ludicrous since those people are now extremely accepting of my partner and me. Of course, a lot of kids and young adults who come out face much worse ramifications from their friends and family. I can’t help but note that my dietary shift from meat-eating to vegetarianism, then to veganism, immediately preceded me shifting my sexual identity (straight to bisexual, bisexual to gay). Perhaps as I began to live a life in harmony with my ethics, I opened up space within myself to be true to my identity as a lesbian.
For more with our experts, check out our VegNews Twitter chat transcript.