Category Archives: Heterosexism

Discrimination against people of differing sexual orientations

Love and solidarity

[Image: A group of marchers carry flags and signs. Several wear T-shirts reading “Love Has No Borders”.]

Yesterday I returned to the Castro for a march to the Mission in solidarity with the LGBTQ Latinx community, who were the primary victims of the Orlando massacre. After last Sunday’s vigil, many complained that the event was marred by the inclusion of politicians and initial exclusion of Latinx speakers. This community-driven effort was a response to that.

Soon after I arrived at Harvey Milk Plaza, a number of shirtless white men arrived and began dancing, twirling flags, and blowing soap bubbles for an unrelated fundraiser. Though these activities were hardly out of place during Pride Month (or really, at any other time in the Castro), I began to wonder whether I was in the right place. Since becoming more woke about white supremacy, I’ve become increasingly uncomfortable in white-dominated spaces, whether online or off. I know I’m not alone in this discomfort, especially with the continued erasure of queer people of color in mainstream coverage of the shooting.

Unite Here! Love has no borders[Image: Two people smile and pose for a photo, holding signs reading “Unite Here!” and “Love Has No Borders.”]

End oppression it is killing us[Image: A marcher holds a sign reading “End Homophobia Transphobia Sexism Racism It is Killing Us!”]

Writing the names[Image: People kneel on the sidewalk, writing the names of the Orlando victims on signs. Others hold signs and rainbow flags in the background.]

I was relieved when some brown and black folks showed up carrying signs. Then LGBTQ rights activist and event co-organizer Cleve Jones called into a megaphone for volunteers to help write the names of all 49 murder victims on large sheets of paper. These signs would be carried during our march to Galería de la Raza for the Latinx-led memorial, Pulso del Amor Continúa (The Pulse of Love Continues).

March in the Castro[Image: Marchers carrying signs and flags head down Castro Street, past the Castro Theatre.]

Remembering the victims[Image: A marcher holds a sign bearing the name and age of a victim: “Simon Adrian Carillo Fernández 31 years old.” Other marchers hold signs reading “Love Has No Borders.”]

Pulso del Amor Continúa[Image: A person with mirrored sunglasses stands in a crowd, holding a sign reading “Pulso del Amor Continúa.”]

Ani Rivera and Lito Sandoval[Image: Ani Rivera and Lito Sandoval speak on stage at Galería de la Raza.]

We marched two miles to Galería de la Raza, where an outdoor stage was set up. The program began with a blessing by Estela Garcia and a drumming performance by Bay Area American Indian Two Spirits. Ani Rivera and Lito Sandoval served as MCs. Speakers included representatives from AGUILAS, the Chicana/Latina Foundation, El/La Para TransLatinas, the Arab Resource and Organizing Center, the Bayard Rustin LGBT Coalition, Community United Against Violence, and Somos Familia, as well as perfomances by Yosimar Reyes, Maria Medina, and Per Sia. ASL interpretation and Spanish-to-English translation were provided.

Yosimar Reyes[Image: Yosimar Reyes performs spoken word.]

Stage altar[Image: An altar on the edge of a stage contains a number of items atop a colorful blanket. A sign reads “TU ERES MI OTRO YO.” In the background are the feet of Ani Rivera, wearing purple high-heeled shoes and white polka-dot stockings.]

Maria Medina[Image: Maria Medina plays a drum while singing into a microphone.]

Per Sia[Image: Per Sia performs a drag act on stage.]

Per Sia and Estela[Image: Per Sia dances with Estela Garcia in front of the stage.]

Reading the names[Image: Seven people on a stage take turns reading the names of the victims.]

At the conclusion of the program, the names of all 49 victims were read, followed by a release of butterflies. A DJ provided music for people to dance to after the formal event.

My full set of photos from the march and memorial is available on Flickr. Please credit me as Pax Ahimsa Gethen if you use any of them, thanks!

We will not be silenced

[Image: Members of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus hold candles in paper cups at the vigil for Orlando in the Castro.]

When I first heard the news of yesterday’s mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, I didn’t have a strong reaction. I’d become so accustomed to reports of gun violence in the USA that I was somewhat numb. I knew what would follow would be more Islamophobic calls to ban Muslims, and more calls from the NRA to counter “bad guys with guns” by arming even more citizens. I didn’t want to participate in those conversations.

But slowly, the horror of the massacre sunk in. While the murder of even one person is a terrible act, this was being called the worst mass shooting in US-American history. Some have argued that that dubious honor belongs to the Wounded Knee Massacre, but the impact of last night’s 50 deaths and 53 injuries is hugely significant regardless.

Regardless of the gunman’s background and specific motives, what cannot be ignored is that this attack took place in a gathering place for queer people, during a celebration of Latinx culture. Latina and black trans women were featured performers that night. This was our space; a space to celebrate and be ourselves. A space that, since the Stonewall and Compton’s Cafeteria riots, our community had sought to make a refuge from homophobia. The freedom and safety we seek has never felt more fleeting and remote.

I learned that a candlelight vigil was taking place in the Castro that evening. I texted my partner Ziggy (who was at work at the San Francisco Opera, as he often is on weekends), asking if he wanted to join me there. He immediately asked if I knew who was in charge, as he wanted to volunteer to run sound for the event. Which he did, despite being at the end of a very busy work week. Ziggy is awesome.

Ziggy at Castro vigil for Orlando[Image: Ziggy, wearing a purple and black jacket, purple and black headscarf, and sunglasses, stands in front of a sound mixer on a stage in the Castro.]

I walked three miles to Harvey Milk Plaza, knowing that the metro would be jammed with people. I arrived half an hour before the scheduled 8 p.m. start, and quickly realized that I could not get anywhere near the front of the stage (a flatbed truck); hundreds of people crowded the street. I ended up staying behind the truck with Ziggy, taking photos of the people gathered there, watching or waiting to speak.

Sister Merry Peter at Castro vigil for Orlando[Image: Sister of Perpetual Indulgence Merry Peter smiles while speaking with Reverend Megan Rohrer at the vigil for Orlando in the Castro.]

Vigil with dog in the Castro[Image: A vigil attendee wearing yellow-rimmed glasses and a pink jacket holds a candle. A small dog peeks out from under the jacket.]

Alex U Inn at the vigil for Orlando in the Castro[Image: Alex U Inn of Momma’s Boyz stands with others at the vigil.]

While I couldn’t see much of what was happening on stage, thanks to Ziggy’s excellent sound production I could hear everything crystal clearly. The event opened with a stirring vocal performance by the drag king duo Momma’s Boyz. One of them, Alex U Inn, later asked me where I got my purple Trans March hoodie. (It’s a limited edition; you can order this year’s now.)

Suzanne Barakat at vigil for Orlando in the Castro[Image: Dr. Suzanne Barakat, wearing a hijab and white lab coat, watches the vigil. On her coat is a verse from the Qur’an: “Verily, with every hardship comes ease” (94:6).]

It was made clear at this event that Islamophobia would not be tolerated. San Francisco General Hospital physician Suzanne Barakat gave moving testimony about losing her brother and members of his family to a hate crime. Clergy members, including the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence (a real order of queer nuns), also called for not only prayers, but action.

Supervisor David Campos at vigil for Orlando in the Castro[Image: San Francisco Supervisor David Campos waits to speak at the vigil.]

Some elected officials attended, to mixed reaction. Latino supervisor David Campos was generally well-received. (A group of Latinx speakers complained that they were not initially invited to speak at the rally, and had to ask to be included.) Castro supervisor Scott Wiener got a more lukewarm reception. Then at one point, the audience began chanting “WHERE’S THE MAYOR? WHERE’S THE MAYOR??” Mayor Ed Lee (along with a few other officials) took the stage shortly after, and when he attempted to speak, the audience booed him very loudly. Although our mayor certainly has a lot to answer for, I couldn’t help feeling that the booing was a bit harsh, given the solemnity of this occasion.

A highlight of the event for me was hearing former Supervisor and Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, who I’d photographed (along with several others present) previously at marriage equality rallies. Ammiano described himself as an “old queer,” and he clearly gave no fucks about respectability. The first words out of his mouth were “Fuck the NRA.” Then, referring to the allegation that the Orlando shooter was motivated by seeing two men kissing, he launched into a spontaneous kiss-in with the (all male) officials gathered on stage. I really wish I could have gotten photos of this moment, but I couldn’t even see what was going on; hopefully someone has it on video.

SFGMC group at vigil for Orlando in the Castro[Image: Members of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus pose for a group picture at the vigil for Orlando in the Castro.]

March to City Hall for Orlando[Image: Marchers walk to San Francisco City Hall, which is lit up in the colors of the rainbow.]

Members of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus closed the vigil with several beautiful songs, including a sing-along and a rendition of We Shall Overcome. We then marched to San Francisco City Hall, which was appropriately lit up in rainbow colors. I didn’t know that there would be a march, but was not entirely surprised, just not sure I was prepared to walk six (total) miles. But it was on my way home anyway, and probably faster than waiting for a bus, given the street closures.

I’d walked to the Castro many times before, to attend rehearsals with the Lesbian/Gay Chorus of San Francisco. As I walked last night, I thought about our 2013 performance of Harvey Milk: A Cantata. There’s a line in that piece where a soloist sings while the rest of us whisper his words:

If a bullet should enter my brain

Let that bullet destroy every closet door.

We will not be silenced.

My full set of photos from the vigil is on Flickr. Please credit me as Pax Ahimsa Gethen if you use any of them, thanks.

Gender and gaming: The Sims bulldozes binaries

[Image: A screenshot of the Create a Sim screen from The Sims 4. Pax’s Sim has long black locs and is wearing a black and white patterned jacket, black hat, and black jeans.]

In a climate of relentless cissexism and transphobia, it’s great to share some good news for trans and non-binary people for a change. Today, Maxis announced new gender customization options in The Sims 4, the latest version of their mega-popular video game. All Sims will now have full access to all hairstyles, clothing, makeup, accessories, and other formerly gendered attributes.

I’ve been wanting this change for a long time. I had posted about it numerous times on the official game forums, most recently just a week ago when players were speculating about new unisex clothing options:

Sims forum comment on gender[Image: A screenshot from The Sims forums (text below).]

No clothing “belongs” to any gender.

As I’ve said in other threads, if it were up to me, all clothing, hairstyles, jewelry, and makeup would be available to all Sims in CAS [“Create a Sim”]. The game could be coded to ensure that townies only show up with what most players consider to be conventional styles for their genders. If people really objected to men having long hair or skirt options even in CAS, I guess there could be another option to hide “unconventional” styles in CAS or something.

What I most wanted to do was to make a more accurate Sim of my partner Ziggy, who likes wearing skirts. Ziggy is genderqueer, not a trans woman; he uses he/him pronouns and is not currently pursuing any sort of gender transition. He just prefers wearing clothing that is branded as “feminine.” Now, I can finally dress his Sim appropriately, and give him better hair to boot:

Ziggy Sim in purple skirt[Image: A screenshot of the Create a Sim screen from The Sims 4. Ziggy’s Sim is wearing a floral purple-and-white blouse, purple skirt, and lavender hat. Under the “Fashion Choice” menu, the word “Feminine” is checked.

Ziggy Sim at the mirror[Image: A screenshot from The Sims 4. Ziggy’s Sim is seen from the back, in front of a mirror, wearing a floral purple-and-white blouse, purple skirt, lavender hat, and long, braided lavender and white hair.]

I haven’t changed my own self-Sim much yet, as I prefer clothing that is branded as “masculine,” and my Sim counterpart in this version has always been male. But I love that I can now have the long locs that my male self-Sim sported in The Sims 3, which were only available for female Sims in this version before today.

Pax Sim with long locs[Image: A screenshot of the Create a Sim screen from The Sims 4. Pax’s Sim has long black locs and is wearing a black V-neck T-shirt, black cap, and blue jeans.]

I’m very happy that The Sims has continually become more progressive and affirming of people with different sexual orientations and gender identities. Same-sex relationships have been supported since the beginning, with The Sims in the year 2000; the first Sim I created was a gay man, and he ended up living in a house with three other gay male Sims. The Sims 2 added “joining” which was not quite equivalent to marriage, and then The Sims 3 added full same-sex marriage in 2009, years before it became legal nationwide in the USA.

Support for varying gender identities and expressions was the next logical step. As the Sims team explained:

  • ..the team also worked very closely with GLAAD to assure that the update was authentic and respectful to the transgender community.
  • … I’m very proud that we managed to remove some barriers to creating Sims that defy stereotypical gender definition.

Of course, this change will not come without backlash. I’ve read a lot of cissexist and heterosexist comments on the forums whenever gender identity or non-hetero sexual orientations have been mentioned. Although blatant hate speech is normally removed by the moderators, the language is triggering enough to me that I’m mostly avoiding the forums right now. Regardless, the team did reassure players that non-player-created Sims (NPCs or “townies”) would continue to sport traditional “masculine” or “feminine” styles for their sexes:

These options are entirely in your control and the game itself will not modify how Sims appear in your world. Instead this is about adding more tools in your toolbox, and letting you pick the tools that make sense to you while ignoring what doesn’t.

I am looking forward to spending more time exploring all the new options available to my many Sim families. I am grateful that in an industry known for sexist oppression, there’s at least one safer harbor where I can more freely express my authentic self.

International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia

[Image: San Francisco City Hall, lit in the pink and blue colors of the transgender pride flag.]

Today is the annual International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. Originally created in 2004 as International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO), transphobia and biphobia were added to the acronym in 2009 and 2015, respectively. It is good to see an organization acknowledge the oft-forgotten B and T in the LGBT acronym.

I’d been using the words cissexism, trans-antagonism, and heterosexism in preference to transphobia and homophobia in recent years, because discrimination is not always based on fear, and also because of concern about ableism against people who have phobias. But I’ve been using transphobia more recently, because the bathroom legislation dominating the news is specifically rooted in fear-mongering. I’ve written numerous times about the ridiculousness of the bathroom laws already, but it bears repeating.

Allies can help by calling out any instances of bigoted or antagonistic comments that you hear from friends or acquaintances, either in person or on social media. There are a lot of false news stories and rumors about trans people spreading around, so make sure to check Snopes to verify anything questionable.

Thanks to Google for alerting me to this event by adding a link to this video from their home page, showing people fighting for justice and equality all over the world.

Freedom to discriminate in Mississippi

Add Mississippi to the list of states making it clear that people like me do not deserve equal rights. The governor has signed into law a “religious freedom” bill, protecting the right to discriminate against people in same-sex marriages, transgender people, and people who engage in “extramarital” sex. As someone who falls under all three categories, I am triply sure I will not be visiting that state anytime soon.

As the linked article points out, LGBTQIA+ people are already discriminated against in Mississippi—as well as many other states—in employment, housing, and other accommodations. Anyone who thought that legalizing same-sex marriage was the greatest victory of our time needs to wake up to the harsh realities faced by any non-hetero person who is not also cisgender, white, able-bodied, and financially secure. This conservative backlash in state after state is just going to keep coming, as long as people with cishetero privilege remain silent while our personhood is gradually eroded.

Whether or not you live in one of the affected states, you can help stop this cancerous spread of hate and fear by speaking out. Don’t wait until the entire country officially declares open season on queer folks, especially queer folks of color. You might think I am exaggerating for effect, but I assure you I am not. The lives of millions of people are under threat, for no reason other than our distance from the inner “charmed circle” of straight cisgender monogamous whiteness. Don’t allow this situation to continue.

Happy International Women’s Day

[Image: lauren Ornelas gives a presentation on the Food Empowerment Project.]

Happy International Women’s Day! In honor of the occasion, I’d like to say a few words about each of the women currently featured on my links list.* I present them here in alphabetical order, along with one recommended work for each.

Kat Blaque

Kat Blaque is a vlogger, illustrator, and activist, speaking out against sexism, racism, and trans-antagonism. She has created educational videos on these topics for Everyday Feminism, and has built a thriving, active community on Facebook and other social networks. I recommend her video explaining the difference between gender expression and identity.

Greta Christina

Greta Christina is a writer on topics including atheism, feminism, sexism, cis/heterosexism, and sexuality. She has published several books on atheism, and speaks out against oppression in the atheist movement. I recommend her article on what not to say in response to misogyny.

Amie Breeze Harper

Dr. A. Breeze Harper is a speaker, educator, and author on feminism, veganism, and critical race studies. She founded Sistah Vegan Project and Critical Diversity Solutions, and is on the advisory board of Black Vegans Rock. I recommend her article on raising children in a world of oppression and hostility.

Aph Ko

Aph Ko is a blogger, performer, digital media producer, and founder of Aphro-ism and Black Vegans Rock. She advocates veganism from black feminist perspective. I recommend her video on animal oppression and anti-racism.

Syl Ko

Syl Ko is a writer, activist, and doctoral student, researching the human/animal binary from a black vegan feminist perspective. She co-founded Aphro-ism with her sister Aph, and is on the advisory board of Black Vegans Rock. I recommend her article on anti-racism and the human/animal divide.

Sophie Labelle

Sophie Labelle is a trans activist, illustrator, and author of the web comic Assigned Male. Her comic challenges cissexism (including non-binary and intersex erasure) from the humorous perspective of a young trans girl. She has so many great strips that I can’t single out one to recommend; if you have time, just read them all from the beginning.

Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula K. Le Guin is an author, primarily of fantasy and science fiction, whose books explore gender and sexuality, among other topics. Le Guin is my favorite author; I took my last name from her book The Left Hand of Darkness, which is my recommended read.

lauren Ornelas

lauren Ornelas is the founder and executive director of the Food Empowerment Project, a vegan food justice organization that actively works to counter oppression of marginalized humans as well as our fellow animals. I recommend her post on experiencing oppression in the fast food industry.

Ali Seiter

Ali Seiter blogs about feminism, anti-speciesism, and anti-racism on Chickpeas and Change. The site has been on hiatus for awhile, but has many articles well worth reading. I recommend reading her thoughts on the origins of the term “intersectionality.”

Julia Serano

Julia Serano is a writer, performer, speaker, and trans activist. She has authored numerous essays and books, including Whipping Girl, a classic on trans feminism and gender theory. I recommend her article on the “T” word and the language of trans activism.

Sarah K. Woodcock

Sarah K. Woodcock is the founder and executive director of The Advocacy of Veganism Society. She speaks out against all oppression of humans as well as our fellow animals. I recommend her article explaining why her organization stopped using the word “abolitionist.”

Corey Lee Wrenn

Dr. Corey Lee Wrenn is a lecturer, author, and founder of The Academic Activist Vegan and Vegan Feminist Network. She advocates veganism from a feminist perspective, and calls out oppression in the animal rights movement. I recommend her article on sexism faced by vegan women.

Several of the women on this list  – A. Breeze Harper, Aph Ko, lauren Ornelas, and Sarah K. Woodcock – will be speaking at the Intersectional Justice Conference later this month, where I’ll also be presenting. I trust you will find much of value in their wise words.

* Remember that not everyone who has a feminine-sounding name or appearance is a woman; several people on my links list are non-binary.

Men in skirts

[Image: Ziggy reclines on a sculpture in a park, wearing a purple shirt and blue -and-purple tie-dyed skirt. The Seattle skyline is in the background.]

There’s a great piece in Black Girl Dangerous today about femme clothing, gender expression and identity. In their article, non-binary femme author Jack Qu’emi Gutiérrez talks about Jaden Smith’s appearance in a womenswear campaign making the news, and explains that unless he states otherwise, Jaden is still a young cisgender man. He should be celebrated for showing that it’s OK for men – especially black men – to express femininity, but he’s not a “non-binary icon,” and he’s not mocking or taking anything away from trans people.

I’ve posted about this subject before, and agree with the author’s assessment. People of all genders – as well as agender people like myself – should be free to present themselves in whatever way feels comfortable and appropriate for them, without being hemmed in by binary gender assumptions. A male-assigned person wearing a skirt is not necessarily making a statement about their gender identity or sexual orientation. It is only because of our patriarchal society that casts masculinity and heterosexuality as the default that a man wearing a skirt is a more transgressive act than a woman wearing pants.

When I met my partner Ziggy, pictured at the top of this post, we were in those roles; I was living (pre-transition) as a woman, fairly ignorant about gender issues, who strongly preferred wearing pants, and he was living as a man who strongly preferred wearing skirts. I’ll admit that his skirt-wearing really bothered me at first, as I was prejudiced against femme presentations. But love conquers all, as they say, and soon his clothing was no more remarkable to me than any other man’s, even though I hardly ever saw another man wearing a skirt (even in the San Francisco Bay Area).

I’ve since transitioned to male, and Ziggy now identifies as genderqueer but cissexual; he has no desire to go through a physical gender transition. Our subconscious sexes are both male, independent of the clothes we wear or the pronouns we prefer (Ziggy still uses he/him/his; I prefer they/them/their for myself).

While Ziggy has been fortunate not to experience much harassment for his clothing choices, others have not been so lucky. Agender teen Sasha Fleischman had their skirt set on fire by another teenager who thought Sasha was a gay man. Other trans and non-binary people have told stories of what they wanted to wear but did not for fear of violence.

If anyone can wear skirts, what are the implications for male-assigned, femme-presenting people who actually are women? Trans women get the worst of gender policing; if they present as femme, they’re accused of parodying women, but if they present as masculine or androgynous (which in our patriarchal society is basically masculine), they are seen as men and treated accordingly.

My advice is to always assume that an individual knows their own gender better than you do. In other words, if someone is walking into a women’s restroom, assume that they belong there. If you misgender someone and they correct you, apologize and move on. Use gender-neutral language whenever possible. And stop using biological essentialism to justify bigotry.

Skirts are just fabric. Clothing has no gender. Celebrate diversity.

Addendum: Just after publishing this article, I read about the death of David Bowie, another gender “transgressor”. Check out this article by another non-binary blogger on Bowie’s legacy.

Downplaying human oppression: Excuses and responses

I’ve written frequently in this blog about the necessity for vegans and animal rights activists to pay attention to human oppression, including (but not limited to) racism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, classism, and ableism. Unfortunately, whenever the topic of intersectionality* is raised, some activists fire back with excuses. I’ve collected some of those excuses here, with responses. (Please note that this article is focused on animal rights activism in the USA, and may not apply to other countries.)

“Non-human animals suffer more than any humans, so their needs must come first.”

Stop ranking oppression. It does not save any more animals to tell oppressed humans that their problems must take a backseat, especially when that message is coming from people who are not mindful of their own privileges. Acknowledging the struggles of oppressed humans does not take anything away from non-human animals.

“Non-human animals suffer more than any humans, so talking about human oppression is speciesist.”

(Variation on the above.) Every human – vegan or otherwise – is speciesist to some degree. Calling out speciesism can be helpful in cases such as dog and cat adoption events that serve food made from the flesh of other animals, as this points out the hypocrisy of valuing the lives of some animals above others. The same goes for other single-issue events where animals are already the focus.

Calling out speciesism when vegan activists want to promote, for example, Black Lives Matter events is not helpful, especially when coming from white people or non-black people of color. The same goes for feminist events, especially when the criticism is coming from men. These events are focused on humans, and the awareness that animals are people, not property, is not yet widespread in anti-racist and anti-sexist organizations. To raise that awareness requires work from within.

“Animal rights groups shouldn’t have to talk about human oppression since human rights groups don’t talk about the oppression of animals.”

See above. To most humans at this point in time, most animals aren’t much different from pencils or paper clips; objects to be owned and used at will. Thus, the idea that a piece of property is being oppressed is nonsensical and offensive to them. Changing this mindset must come from within. Showing solidarity with oppressed groups can help bring more activists to the animal rights movement.

“Addressing human oppression takes time and resources away from the animals.

No activist can be expected to devote an equal amount of time to every cause. But when news headlines and social media feature humans being targeted and killed for their skin color or gender presentation, vegans should join the chorus of condemnation against these acts. Silence is complicity.

“All this talk about human oppression is just political correctness.”

The charge of “political correctness” is to my ears a synonym for “I want to be free to use whatever language I see fit and not suffer any consequences for it.” The same applies to most people talking about free speech and echo chambers. Oppressive language, whether read on a computer screen or heard in person, causes real harm to marginalized people, and drives us away from the animal rights movement.

“Calling out oppression divides the movement. We need to all work together for the animals.”

Silencing concerns about oppressive language or tactics does not save more animals. It simply drives marginalized humans away from animal rights activism.

Some say that rather than “calling out” we should “call in,” and give offenders a chance to reflect on the harm they’ve caused rather than immediately shunning them. I agree only up to a point. If an activist has repeatedly harmed marginalized people through their statements and/or actions, they need to be publicly called out, and removed from any leadership position if applicable. This applies to micro-aggressions (such as gaslighting and tone policing) as well as overt acts like sexual harassment. To do otherwise puts the safety of vulnerable people in jeopardy.

“Talking about race is racist.”

Racism is the oppression of people of color by whites. Talking about racism is how white supremacy gets dismantled. Ignoring or downplaying racism ensures its continuance.

“I don’t see color.”

Not true or possible. I said the same myself once. I know better now.

“All lives matter.”

Appropriating a slogan created by queer black women to highlight violence against black people does nothing to save more animals. It only drives black people away from the animal rights movement. For more of what’s wrong with saying “All Lives Matter” in response to the Black Lives Matter movement, see this video (text transcript included).

“There is no (racism/sexism/other human oppression) in the animal rights movement.”

According to whom? Anyone stating this seriously needs to examine their own privileges.

“There is no (racism/sexism/heterosexism/ableism) in the animal rights movement, according to (this one black/gay/female/disabled activist I know).”

Variation on the above. Folks of all backgrounds have different opinions. But if anyone speaks out about being oppressed, they should be taken seriously, and not dismissed just because another member of their gender or ethnic group had a different experience.

“There is no (racism/sexism/other human oppression) in my particular vegan/animal rights group.”

Again, according to whom? Every group in the USA, regardless of size, is operating under a patriarchal, hetero- and cissexist, white supremacist culture. To counteract this requires deliberate work, which includes having marginalized people in active leadership roles. Simply stating that a group is intersectional is an empty promise.

“No true vegan is (racist/sexist/otherwise oppressive).”

Who gets to decide what a “true” vegan is, or who can rightfully display that label? Veganism is currently seen as merely a dietary choice by the majority of US-Americans, who know nothing about the internal debates in the animal rights movement. Focusing on the “vegan” label as a badge of anti-oppression does not help save more animals or humans.

For more essays on human oppression in the animal rights movement (and what to do about it), I recommend the following sites: Aphro-ism, Sistah Vegan Project, Striving with Systems, and Vegan Feminist Network. More sites about related topics are on my links page.

* As I’ve written previously, intersectionality has become something of a buzzword. Putting anti-oppression into practice is more important than using that specific term.

Spirit Day – Stop the bullying

[Image: Pax wearing a purple Trans March hoodie. Photo by Chris]

Today is Spirit Day, a day to speak out against the bullying of LGBTQ youth. Supporters are encouraged to wear purple.

I was prompted about this day when I received a message from the White House in response to a petition against conversion therapy I signed in January. The petition met the minimum number of signatures needed for an official response, which was supportive and encouraging. Today’s message announced the release of a report on conversion therapy, making the case for eliminating this practice. The White House will also be holding a Q&A on their Tumblr this afternoon.

Let’s work to create a world where children are given the freedom to identity and express themselves without conforming to arbitrary gender expectations.

Stop ranking oppression

[Image: Section from a panel of a Robot Hugs comic. Words at the top read “No one benefits from being told that their pain is unimportant, or non existant!” Below the words is a scale with a lighter weight reading “Not Harm” and a heavier weight reading “Harm.”]

Today’s Robot Hugs comic in Everyday Feminism is one of the best I’ve seen all year. Please read it now before continuing.

Done? OK. This is what I’ve been dealing with in the year and a half or so that I’ve been involved in animal rights activism. I’ve written here numerous times about the racism, sexism, cissexism, and other human oppression that is either ignored or exacerbated by animal rights activists in the U.S. It’s driving people like me away from activism, and this is not OK.

Often the micro-aggressions faced by activists from oppressed groups (or by those speaking for other oppressed groups) are far more subtle than being told to “shut up.” It frequently takes the form of being told that non-human animals suffer far more than any human. Whether this is true or not, it is still a silencing tactic.

Silencing people who speak up for oppressed humans does not save more animals. It simply strengthens the perception that animal rights activists don’t care about humans. Some activists indeed proudly admit that they don’t care about humans, as they are misanthropists and hate everyone. Many of them deny their own privileges while saying this. Gary Yourofsky comes to mind.

Part of why I have not committed to taking on a more active or formal role with any animal rights group is that I’ve been continually disappointed by the ongoing oppressive language and tactics of other activists. (Coping with depression and fearing the police are my other reasons for being less active.) I do want to be a voice for the animals, and voices are stronger when raised together than alone. But I don’t like being associated with people whose views I find abhorrent, even if they don’t reflect the sentiments of others in the group.

So I will take this opportunity to remind people that while I occasionally participate in animal rights actions and share the writings of various activists, I am independent and speak only for myself. I do not support or condone any views or activities that are oppressive to other humans. I acknowledge my own privileges and mistakes, and ask to be called out if I make statements that are harmful to those in marginalized groups.

This does not mean that I pledge to never say anything that offends anyone. As a queer black trans person, my very existence is offensive to many. I make no apologies for moderating my own spaces as I see fit. Do not confuse calling out oppression with tone policing. I am a pacifist, but I am not passive.

As I’ve written before, a “vegan world” that continues to elevate the voices and needs of able-bodied cishet white men above all others is not a world I want to be a part of. While I will never go back to eating or otherwise exploiting animals – as to me they are people, not property – I will not continue with organized animal rights activism if that means setting aside the concerns of marginalized humans. I am not abandoning the animals, I am abandoning humans with toxic mindsets.