Animal Rights: What's Pride Got to Do With It?
Let's explore the connections between LGBTQ activism and animal activism.
This past week, I had the honor of being a guest speaker for Compassion Consortium’s monthly book series, where an author is invited to a virtual gathering of a spiritual community to discuss a particular issue. In my case, I was there as part of Pride Month to talk about the connections between animal rights and LGBTQ rights for me—and, to be clear, I’m not saying these connections are the same for any other single individual. This is very much my perspective.
There was some interest in a written version of my talk, so I included a slightly edited version below. You should also know that I drew from previous interviews and workshops I’ve given on this same topic, so if some of this sounds familiar, you might have read or heard some of these very words from me before.
Two other things I want to tell you before you continue reading:
Last week, I interviewed Christopher Sebastian on Our Hen House. Amongst other topics, Christopher got into the connections between these two movements for him. He was incredibly insightful, eloquent, and thoughtful. Frankly, way more than I am on this subject. Regardless of whether you read the transcript below, I strongly encourage you to take some time and listen to the interview with Christopher.
A few times in both the interview with Christopher as well as my talk this past week, I referenced activist pattrice jones. She’s been writing and thinking about these connections for many years, and back when I wrote my first article on this subject more than 15 years ago, pretty much everything I wrote, thought, and said was a slightly reworded version of what I learned from her. So be sure to check out her work and her sanctuary (and her sanctuary’s Pride Month Vegan Challenge).
I’ll be heading to Toronto Pride next week, by the way—for the Dyke March, not for the Pride parade itself. If you’re planning on attending as well, let me know!
Here’s that talk …
Rev. Erika: To start things off, Jasmin, let’s ask the big question. It’s Pride Month, which is one of the reasons we wanted you here. I know you’re very passionate about many social justice issues and have been vocal about those overlaps. How do you see the connection between the animal rights movement and gay rights?
Jasmin: Thank you, Reverend Erika. Great question.
There are so many correlations for me between animal and LGBTQ rights—advocacy and activism, mainstream acceptance and prejudice, community and pride, legislation and politics, and, of course, the countless personal stories of coming out as vegan and queer in a world where the majority of people see both as radical choices.
The rationalizations used to oppress any group—be they LGBTQ, animals, or (insert marginalized group here)—are often the same. Groups that are considered “less than” for whatever reason are often “othered,” and animals are no exception.
I will never claim to know the stories of anyone who has been oppressed—the only story we ever really know is our own—but I feel like it’s my responsibility to try to live in an ethical continuum with my beliefs, regardless. People who are tortured and killed because of who they are, or how people interpret the Bible, or because of social stigma, or because of long-held biases, are often marginalized for the same reasons as animals: “I am better than them. I am higher up than them. God loves me best. I can do what I please. They are there for my pleasure and profit.”
Let me be clear that I’m not equating people who are being oppressed to animals; it’s just not necessary to draw such a comparison in order to recognize that, as a civilized society, we can do more to stop suffering. For me, choosing to abstain from consuming animals is part of that trajectory, as is advocating for the LGBTQ movement.
The flip side of that same coin is the holistic connection amongst all movements for social justice. By choosing to be vegan, I am choosing to boycott cruelty, and for me, that is just a first step toward a constantly evolving process of trying to live my life in accordance with my ethical beliefs. That includes fighting for the LGBTQ community, fighting for other victims of unfairness, and, of course, fighting for animals.
Beyond that central issue, other similarities between the gay rights and animal rights movements are that they are relatively recent, and therefore progress (and setbacks) can be compared, and successful tactics from one movement can inform the other.
For example, it’s hard to avoid a comparison between the street theatre tactics the early ACT UP movement used to awaken people to the AIDS crisis and the often similar in-your-face tactics employed by PETA or DXE.
It’s also difficult to ignore the prevalence of LGBTQ-identified people involved in the animal rights movement—myself included—which makes one wonder why there is such an overlap. Perhaps identifying as a member of a marginalized group is more likely to result in a soft spot for other underdogs—such as animals.
Rev. Erika: Do you think that people who have experienced oppression generally have more empathy towards the suffering of oppressed non-human beings?
Jasmin: I think there’s an argument for the fact that those who have historically not conformed can more easily embrace their veganism and, as people who are used to going against the grain, we often have built up inner resources that can help us deal with making choices that are not part of the status quo, such as fighting for animal liberation.
Many LGBTQ people have had experiences in the margins that could, and sometimes do, make animal issues clearer to them. This is a privilege and an obligation. We must speak truth to power.
Our choices can have an impact on the lives of beings who are suffering—just because of who they are, who they are born as. Or, in the case of LGBTQ people, who WE are … who WE were born as.
And going back to my original days entering the world of animal activism, my advocacy was greatly strengthened and clarified because of my original roots in LGBTQ activism. In fact, that’s why I originally went vegan.
Rev. Erika: Can you speak about allies, and the role allies play in both movements—animal rights and LGBTQ?
Jasmin: The animal rights movement is made up of allies. The animals can’t create a movement to fight for themselves, though there are countless examples of individual animals revolting.
And the LGBTQ movement is similar. National surveys of those who identify as LGBTQ never get more than 10 percent (frequently way, way less). Yet same-sex marriage eventually passed, which means that it had to have been passed because of the support of allies. The culture changed due to allies, which is why the Supreme Court was able to make the decision they did … and they couldn’t do that without those smaller measures that happened state by state, and sometimes by ballot.
At the center of the LGBTQ movement now, as far as the most pressing issue, is Black trans lives, since these individuals are the most vulnerable. This is also a group that will require allyship in order to succeed.
It’s often one step forward, two steps back. Of course, there’s regressive, anti-trans legislation that’s currently being fought in our statehouses … while at the same time, we have our first trans legislator in office.
Rev. Erika: I’ve heard people say that it’s easier to be gay than vegan. What do you think?
Jasmin: I’m not sure I can speak for everyone. For me, having lived in downtown Manhattan and then West Hollywood, it was almost assumed I was gay! I live in Rochester, NY now, by the way, which was a move I made because of climate change—and I’m happy to speak about that later if anyone has any questions about it. But just for the record, there are a ton of vegan and vegan-friendly restaurants here, as well as gay bars and clubs.
Others aren’t as lucky to live in a place where they are accepted. Some—especially people who identify as trans—are all too vulnerable to violence.
To be honest, I think that not everyone feels threatened by gayness, but almost everyone who isn’t vegan recognizes, on some level, that they should be vegan. They may not recognize that consciously, but most of them are hiding behind an excuse that they have to eat animals, that it’s normal to eat animals, that everyone eats animals. Just by your existence, you are pointing out the inaccuracies of these excuses so it can be very threatening.
Rev. Erika: In your own personal journey of coming out and going vegan, what challenges did you face? And how did you overcome those challenges?
Jasmin: When I came out, I faced some initial skepticism, worry, and misguided hurt (as if it were about them) from some of my family members. It seems almost ludicrous to talk about that now, since those people are now extremely accepting of me and my partner, and probably don’t even remember when they questioned my lesbianism.
That was many years ago—I was 19 and coming out as “bi” (I didn’t come out as gay until I was in my mid-twenties). I’m 42 now—and in that time, things have shifted so much in terms of societal acceptance. I’m sure that’s helped influence my family.
I was also an actor, and being gay in theatre is also extremely common; a lot of people who come out don’t have that built-in accepting community.
Though I went vegetarian a year prior, at 18 (a natural extension of being a theatre student, I thought), I didn’t go vegan until I was 24. Now that I think about it, in both instances, my dietary shift (meat-eating to vegetarianism, then vegetarianism to veganism) immediately preceded me in shifting my sexual identity (straight to bi, bi to gay). Not that I’m calling bi a half-measure for those who are bi. But for me, it was a way of testing out the water, I guess.
Perhaps as I began to live a life in harmony with ethics—in other words, no longer consuming animals—I opened up within myself space to be true to my identity as a lesbian.
Rev. Erika: I know that the first article you ever published was about the topic we’re discussing today, the connections between animal rights and LGBTQ rights. That was back in 2006, and a lot’s changed since then. Tell us about this article and how it was received back then?
Jasmin: Yes, one of my first published print articles—“Coming out for Animals,” from Satya Magazine, which I wrote in 2006—was all about the connections between LGBTQ and animal rights.
The final line of the article is, “Sliced to death is sliced to death, whether a slaughterhouse worker or a homophobic bully happens to be holding the knife.” When I wrote that, I spent a great deal of time talking with longtime activist pattrice jones, who had been writing and thinking about those connections (and many other connections between social justice issues) for a long time, and she—as well as the other activists I interviewed for that piece—was instrumental in my early mindset as an activist.
I came to the animal rights movement by way of the AIDS-awareness movement and saw each issue as a different spoke on the same wheel, which, to this day, has informed the way I approach my writing, thinking, activism, and media-making.
The feedback I received back then was mostly positive within the animal rights communities, though people outside of the animal rights communities were somewhat perplexed by the connections I spoke of.
I have noticed that since then, things are starting to shift within animal-rights circles, insofar as moving toward more inclusivity. And since the animal rights movement is just a microcosm of the rest of the world, we have a long way to go to achieve true inclusivity.
In the wake of the ways the #MeToo movement impacted our society, and then the murder of George Floyd and so many other Black individuals—which birthed a new era for the Black Lives Matter movement—I have cautious hope that our movement will continue to evolve toward equity for all individuals (human and non).
And with more and more media outlets reporting on injustice through a holistic lens, I also have hope that how we treat animals will also be part of the dialogue when it comes to social justice issues at large.
Rev. Erika: You penned your memoir, Always Too Much and Never Enough, early on, and it focuses on your coming-of-age story as a young vegan lesbian with disordered eating. What was this like for you, stepping into the public eye in such a personal way?
Jasmin: The only way I can think about this is to leave myself more or less out of the equation, which I realize sounds weird—since I wrote a memoir—but I need to remember that if my story resonates with someone else (and I hope it does), that’s because it is a reflection of them, not me.
If I didn’t think like that, I’d probably be distracted by feelings of intense vulnerability regarding being out there with my story.
That said, I strongly believe in the power of personal narrative to create change, and I think the animal rights community, in particular, has not yet latched onto this potentially game-changing medium.
When people read a memoir—similarly to when they experience art—their defenses are often down and they can feel safer delving into issues that can be difficult to address, such as veganism as a moral imperative. It’s easier to walk through those issues from the safe perspective of someone else’s story.
Rev. Erika: In recent years, the subject of veganism and animal rights has grown a lot and there are different opinions about which is the right way toward total animal liberation. What is your personal opinion on how it can be achieved?
Jasmin: I think we need a multi-pronged approach. I don’t think there is one right way, nor do I think I have the answer. When it comes to changing the world for animals, some people need to be litigating, some people educating, some people making media, making art, making cupcakes, making sanctuaries.
The two things that I think are absolutely required for change to occur are 1) finding and fostering safe, inclusive spaces for everyone while understanding that marginalized communities need to take priority, and 2) taking care of one another and ourselves—with attention and gusto—in order to remain lifelong activists.
Rev. Erika: In honor of Pride month, how can activists get involved this month?
Jasmin: Animal advocates sometimes choose to march at Pride parades, sometimes behind a sign that says “No one is free when others are oppressed,” handing brochures on veganism. That’s one way.
Even if you’re not in an area where such a parade exists, creating that kind of awareness—connecting the dots between gay rights and animal rights, as it relates to you (and remembering that it won’t be the same for everyone)—is key.
That goes for all year round, but having a specific “month” such as Pride Month, in which to focus on this type of outreach, is an opportunity to seize.
So write letters to the editor pointing out that those of us who stand up for the LGBTQ community could benefit from expanding our circles of compassion to extend to animals. Challenge yourself to read more about the links between the two movements (there are plenty of articles online). Begin discussions about animals in your LGBTQ-friendly circles. Host a vegan potluck to raise money for your favorite LGBTQ organization, and be forthright about why the event is vegan.
The same thing obviously goes for increasing awareness about LGBTQ issues amongst vegans. There is still a lot of awareness and tolerance that needs to develop and grow in these circles too, especially around trans issues. Don’t assume that just because someone is vegan, they are acting ethically in all aspects of their lives. Just as I am constantly learning new things about social justice, and reevaluating my behavior accordingly, others might not be in the same place as you with their journey.
Rev. Erika: What does being queer mean to you?
Jasmin: Being queer means I can write my own script. It means I can free myself from the very narrow world that many straight people have available to them.
It means I can be a safe space for younger queers who want very much to find mentorship and allyship and don’t know where to turn; I get to be that person for them—the one who reminds them they’re exactly the right level of fabulous just as they are, today. It means I can hold my wife’s hand and normalize something for a queer-leaning teen that sees our amorousness and recognizes the possibility of happiness.
It means I can ask for the things I want and need—whether in my relationship, in my workplace, or from myself—without letting fear dictate my moves.
Because—and I think this is true for a lot of queer people—I’ve overcome fear already. I’ve teetered on the edges of despair and self-destruction but I always found my way back thanks to a global community of LGBTQIA+ goddesses who wanted me there, even if we hadn’t met.
And as I got older, the knowledge that I can see my way through challenging times effectively gave me permission to take risks; to throw my name in the hat, even when it was a near impossibility; to go big or go home.
Rev: Erika: What is your wish for the future?
Jasmin: With animal rights, we need to create a new vision of the world, well beyond eradicating gestation crates, that extends all the way to moving beyond the imprisonment and death of animals for food we don’t actually need.
And here, as well, we need solidarity, since—and this is basically the core of Our Hen House—in addition to top-down organizational campaigns, in order to create the massive shift in society that we need in order to change the world for animals, we each need to take responsibility in our own lives and speak up for animals in whatever ways we can. This can include getting involved with legislative reform, yes, but beyond that, we need to reach out to the media, create bridges between the arts and advocacy, go into classrooms and get involved with humane education, and find creative legal approaches (in other words, sue the bastards), make delicious vegan food and share it widely, make films exposing animal exploitation, and bring animal issues to the fore in any way we can. With both the LGBTQ rights and animal rights movements, we need everyone to stand with those who are less lucky.
With animal rights, since the animals can’t fight on their own behalf, each of us needs to step up to the plate and say “No, I will not support this anymore.”
So I guess I would say: down with shame, down with staying in toxic patterns, relationships, and workplace dynamics, and down with abusing animals (humans and non-humans) and pretending it’s normal.
My hope for the future is to rebuild a stronger, safer system that doesn’t bank on pushing some individuals down—be they queer people, BIPGM, women, animals, or insert-the-blank marginalized group—while others who are far more privileged continue to be celebrated.
P.S. It’s been fun doing a takeover of Kinder Beauty’s IG this week talking about Pride-related stuff.
Thank you Jasmin! I love this, especially the part about choosing to live without cruelty as a way of seeing connections between different social justice movements, and queerness being the freedom to write our own scripts. Keep writing yours!!