Category Archives: Speciesism

Discrimination based on species; animal rights and animal liberation issues

Sugarcoating supremacy

[Image: The face of Brahma, a steer with dark and reddish-brown hair.]

Sometimes I feel that my entire adult life has been a process of unlearning all the lies that I was taught as a child. As I wrote yesterday, I was ignorant of the pervasiveness of racism for a long time, despite being black myself. There are powerful systems in place in the USA to ensure continued white supremacy, and part of that is convincing everyone, including black folks like myself, that we live in a post-racial society, where everyone can be happy and equal regardless of skin color.

This is a lie. We do not live in a color-blind society. Never have, and never will. Having white skin is a privilege, independent of any other factors. Denying it by saying “Not all white people” is an attempt to bury the reality that yes, all white people benefit from white supremacy.

The defensive response of “not all white people” also gives the person responding an “out” to assure that the charge of racism isn’t being levied against them. Society’s protection of white fragility ensures that the supremacy continues.

In parallel, there are powerful systems in place to ensure people that we need to eat animal products for good health, and that farmed animals are happy, well-treated, and willing to give their eggs, milk, and their very bodies up for human consumption.

These are also lies. The American Dietetic Association stated over ten years ago that a vegan diet can provide appropriate nutrition for humans of all ages. But even though many now accept this nutritional wisdom, most continue to believe that eating meat, dairy, or eggs is simply a personal dietary choice. Even calling an animal’s flesh “meat” sugarcoats the reality that it is someone’s body that is being eaten.

For those who do claim to care about animal welfare, the defensive response of “not all farmed animals” when confronted with the horrors of animal agriculture buries the reality that yes, all farmed animals suffer, and no, none of them consent to having their milk, eggs, or bodies taken from them. This is true whether on a “factory”, “organic”, or “free-range” farm, or even in a backyard. The Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary exposes this humane myth.

A. Breeze Harper of Sistah Vegan Project illustrated these parallels in her blog yesterday, also emphasizing that, as I’ve also written, white vegans need to pay attention to racism. Most black folks are insulted at being compared to animals, and this is totally understandable, as we have been treated as less than human by white people for centuries. As Christopher-Sebastian McJetters has written, we need to compare like systems of oppression without appropriating the struggles of oppressed humans. And always keep in mind who has the power. A black person describing animal agriculture as slavery has a very different impact from a white person doing so, especially when addressing a black audience.

Dismantling the lies we’ve been taught can be painful, but also empowering, because now we can do something about it and educate others. Just as you can fight racism without attending BlackLivesMatter rallies, by calling attention to racist language and oppression whenever you hear it, you can fight speciesism without participating in an organized disruption. You can start by speaking out – to your friends, to your family, in person, on social media – when you see animals being exploited for food, clothing, entertainment, or other purposes.

Going vegan is a powerful rejection of speciesism, but is not currently possible for everyone, and not the only way to help achieve animal liberation. Those who genuinely cannot commit to a plant-based diet due to homelessness, incarceration, or other circumstances can still speak out against the system of oppression, in situations where it is reasonably safe for them to do so. An article by DxE activist Zach Groff tells the story of a homeless man who spoke out at a disruption, despite the fact that he still ate animals.

Many will read this and similar essays, shrug, and continue on as before. This is exactly what the oppressors want. The status quo is rewarded. But the harm is real and will continue, with or without sugarcoating, until we stop believing the lies and take action.

Animal rights, not vegan rights

[Image: Buster, a steer with curly dark brown hair, stands in a field surrounded by smiling human friends.]

Update, July 2016: Since publishing this post I have left Direct Action Everywhere (DxE). My points about animal rights still remain.

Direct Action Everywhere, the animal liberation group I’m currently involved with, has come under fire for (amongst other things) not promoting veganism. This charge is misleading. As my friend and DxE co-founder Wayne Hsiung explains, we do not condone the use of non-human animals for food, clothing, or any other purpose. However, the mainstream conception of veganism puts the focus on humans and our desires and vanity, not on the primary victims of animal agriculture.

Harvey at Preetirang Sanctuary[Image: The face of Harvey, a calf with brown and white hair. A human with long blonde hair is holding his chin and looking into his eyes.]

The original definition of “vegan,” a word coined by Donald Watson and his wife Dorothy, encompassed more than a plant-based diet; it was an ethical objection to violence. Unfortunately, that meaning has been almost entirely lost, and veganism is now largely seen as merely a dietary choice for privileged people. I respect those activists who are trying to reclaim the word, and simultaneously speak out against human oppression, such as Sarah K. Woodcock of The Abolitionist Vegan Society and Corey Wrenn of Vegan Feminist Network and The Academic Abolitionist Vegan. However, I have chosen to focus instead on the phrase “animal liberation,” while fighting for the same goal as the abolitionists: Ending the property status of non-human animals. I believe DxE’s increasing press coverage has shown it is possible to spread this message effectively without using or emphasizing the word “vegan.”

Kush at Preetirang Sanctuary
[Image: The face of Kush, a goat with brown and white hair.]

We activists are allies to our fellow animals, and we should be amplifying their voices, not just promoting the nondairy cheeses and faux flesh products that many see as somehow intrinsic to a vegan diet. There’s nothing inherently wrong with these products (in my opinion), but companies like Whole Foods and Chipotle market them to keep vegans quiet about the bodies, eggs, and milk of murdered animals that they market to humans with healthy incomes. Instead of promoting their humane-washing, activists might consider volunteering with organizations like Food Not Bombs and the Food Empowerment Project, to make plant-based meals more accessible to people who are poor, homeless, or living in food deserts.

Shiva at Preetirang Sanctuary
[Image: The face of Shiva, a steer with curly white hair.]

Regardless, our fellow animals should the focus in animal liberation messaging. Human activists should not be held up as the heroes of the movement. That would be like featuring white allies in promotional materials for #BlackLivesMatter, or cis allies in promotional materials for trans rights. Not that this hasn’t been done before…

Mahalakshmi at Preetirang Sanctuary
[Image: Mahalakshmi, a cow with brown hair, stands in a field chewing hay.]

The photos in this post were taken last November at PreetiRang Sanctuary. (Originally published on Facebook, I have now made the full set available on Flickr as well.) At PreetiRang, I had the pleasure of meeting Buster, the sixteen-year-old steer pictured at the top of this post. He would never have lived that long in the dairy industry, where he was destined to be killed mere weeks or months after being torn from his mother’s side. Buster died last week, sadly, but he was surrounded by loving human and non-human friends. Every animal rights activist should make it a priority to visit a sanctuary if they can, to connect personally with the faces we fight for.

The Art of Survival

[Image: Four women in creative, colorful outfits sing and dance on a stage.]

This Sunday I attended The Art of Survival, a vegan arts, music, and food festival held in San Francisco. I found out about this event only a week ago, and thought it would be a great opportunity to photograph some bands in a non-violent setting. The organizer, Andreas Knüttel, is also a photographer; I’d met him previously at a Direct Action Everywhere gathering. I knew it would be my kind of party when his invitation asked attendees to please “not wear animal products i.e. leather, wool, fur and silk.

Coley 'n Mikki performing at The Art of Survival
[Image: A man and a woman sing into microphones on a stage. The man plays guitar and wears blue-rimmed glasses and a black shirt. The woman wears a black hat and a black shirt with a large black and white design.]

Coley 'n Mikki performing at The Art of Survival
[Image: A man and a woman smile at each other on a stage. The man plays guitar and wears blue-rimmed glasses, a black shirt, and blue jeans. The woman wears a black hat, a black shirt with a large black and white design, black skirt and leggings.]

The opening act, Acoustic Love with Coley ‘n Mikki (aka The Cole Tate Band), turned out to be my favorite set. This was a newlywed couple, and you could see their love for each other in their performance. I especially liked their cover of Come Together, a song I’ve enjoyed singing while playing on the bass (though my voice has dropped too much to sing the lead part well anymore, as I discovered!)

Oinga Boinga performing at The Art of Survival
[Image: A woman with bright red hair, dramatic makeup, and a black outfit with sparkly trim plays bass on a stage.]

Oinga Boinga performing at The Art of Survival
[Image:Two women posing on a stage. One is wearing a black bodice, skirt, and tights, turquoise sleeves and eyepatch, and a very long braid. The other is looking at her, wearing a gray curly wig with pink rollers, black-rimmed eyeglasses, long black bushy beard, sparkly top, and black fishnet stockings with red garters.]

The next act, Oinga Boinga, was an all-female cover band of Oingo Boingo. I could not possibly do justice to describing their fabulous outfits in my extended image descriptions, though I made an effort for the sake of those using screen readers! In the above image and the one at the top of this post, they were doing a performance of Minnie the Moocher, a call-and-response classic.

The Moonsaults performing at The Art of Survival
[Image: A woman with a colorful crop top and full sleeve tattoos sings into a microphone, one hand on her hip. A guitarist plays behind her.]

The Moonsaults performing at The Art of Survival
[Image: A woman with a colorful crop top and full sleeve tattoos sings into a microphone. A guitarist plays behind her.]

Next up was The Moonsaults, in their debut performance. Their name apparently comes from a pro wrestling move.

Secret Cat performing at The Art of Survival
[Image: A four-person band performs on a stage. A guitarist with bright red hair is singing into a microphone.]

Secret Cat performing at The Art of Survival
[Image: A guitarist with bright red hair performs on a stage.]

Secret Cat was a very high-energy, very loud band. Really would have been great to get video of their stage antics.

Cello Joe performing at The Art of Survival
[Image: A man with rectangular glasses sings into a microphone while playing the cello.]

Cello Joe performing at The Art of Survival
[Image: A man with rectangular glasses sings into a microphone while playing the cello.]

Cello Joe, aka Joey Chang, was an artist I had already seen and enjoyed twice previously. He was lucky to be alive and well to perform at this event, as his house burned down last week and he and his girlfriend lost everything (he was able to grab his best cello). Their friends started a fundraiser to help them recover.

Earth Amplified performing at The Art of Survival
[Image: Two men wearing colorful shirts , one with long dreadlocks and one with a cap, sing on a stage.]

Earth Amplified performing at The Art of Survival
[Image: A man wearing a cap and colorful shirt sings into a microphone.]

Earth Amplified performing at The Art of Survival
[Image: A man with long dreadlocks, lit by red stage light, sings into a microphone.]

Earth Amplified closed out the show, with plenty of audience participation. After shooting some last pictures, I finally cut loose and danced. It had been a long time.

It had been years since I’d shot an indoor concert, and it felt good to make use of my special skill at low-light concert photography again. I’ve made the full set of photos available on Flickr under a Creative Commons license for free sharing, with attribution. If you like my work, please consider sponsoring me on Patreon or leaving me a tip so I can continue to do free shoots like this.

Light the path to liberation

[Image: A large group of people wearing blue shirts and holding candles stands outside Macy’s at night. Two people are holding signs reading UNTIL EVERY ANIMAL IS FREE, and one person is speaking into a megaphone.]

Edit, July 2016: Since publishing this post I have left Direct Action Everywhere (DxE)I still remain committed to ending the oppression of all animals, human and non-human.

Last night I attended and photographed my second Direct Action Everywhere event this month, Light the Path to Liberation. This action was part of a worldwide animal rights event, with participation from several dozen organizations and hundreds of individuals. Here in San Francisco, we marched to places where the bodies of animals are sold, lit candles, and spoke out against the violence.

At our rehearsal gathering before the action, I saw faces both familiar and new, including human and nonhuman friends.

DxE Light the Path rehearsal
[Image: Several people stand outdoors holding candles.]

DxE Light the Path rehearsal
[Image: A woman stands outdoors holding a candle. Two people stand behind her.]

Dog at DxE Light the Path rehearsal
[Image: A dog with brown and white fur looks into the camera.]

Our first stop was Whole Foods Market, as part of our ongoing campaign against their humane-washing. As with our previous action, I chose to stay outside the store, but nearly everyone else went inside for the disruption.

DxE Light the Path protest at Whole Foods Market
[Image: People holding candles and wearing blue Direct Action Everywhere T-shirts chant outdoors.]

Leafletters offered information and conversed with passersby about our mission.

DxE Light the Path protest at Whole Foods Market
[Image: A woman wearing a blue Direct Action Everywhere T-shirt offers a pamphlet to a passerby.]

Our next stop was Bluestem Brasserie, a high-end restaurant that was the target of a disruption that went viral, featuring my friend Kelly Atlas talking about her little girl, Snow. I again stayed outside, but the remaining activists filled the restaurant.

DxE Light the Path protest at Bluestem Brasserie
[Image: A large group of people wearing blue shirts and holding candles stand outside Bluestem Brasserie at night. Two people are holding signs reading UNTIL EVERY ANIMAL IS FREE, and one person is holding a megaphone.]

Finally, we stood outside Macy’s at Union Square. My friend Wayne Hsiung, one of DxE’s core organizers, gave a passionate speech about the recent passing of Mei Hua, a hen he helped rescue from a so-called “humane” farm.

DxE Light the Path protest at Macy's
[Image: DxE core organizer Wayne Hsiung speaks into a megaphone, in front of a crowd of people wearing blue shirts and holding candles.]

Friendship is what got me out to this protest, after not leaving my house for a week. Building strong communities is absolutely essential to the success of the animal rights movement. As I posted previously, when I began speaking out about animal rights I lost some friends, but I’ve gained many more. Philosophers like Gary Francione (who is debating Wayne Hsiung on Go Vegan Radio with Bob Linden today at 5 p.m. PDT) say that we don’t need groups, but I need a group. Even though I’m an introvert, and anti-social much of the time, knowing that I’m not alone in this struggle gives me the strength to continue.

My friends at DxE are not people who only care about non-human animals. They’ve helped with my volunteer community gardening, stood with me at a Black Lives Matter vigil, and walked beside me at the Trans March. They are not perfect, but they acknowledge and respond to criticism and make good-faith efforts to resolve differences.

I look forward to continuing to speak out for all oppressed animals – human and non-human – with my friends. I’ve made the full set of photos from last night’s action available on Flickr.

Pax with candle
[Image: Pax, the author, holds a saucer with a lit candle and looks directly into the camera.]

Privilege is not an on/off switch

[Image: A collage of people holding signs, with a question mark in the middle and the Direct Action Everywhere logo at the bottom.]

Edit, June 2016: Since publishing this post I have left Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), as have several others pictured in the above collage. My points about privilege and ranking oppression still stand.

A lot of people misunderstand the concept of privilege. White people and cis men in particular get very defensive when called out on speaking from a place of privilege. “I’m not privileged,” they cry, “I’m not [rich/straight/Christian/American/etc.]”

Here’s the thing. Privilege is not an on/off, yes/no switch. Nor is it something you can assess with an overall rank, despite what well-intentioned but misleading quiz memes might tell you. Privilege consists of many components, including but not limited to: Race, gender, sexual orientation, class, religion, physical and mental ability. Today’s article in Everyday Feminism addresses a lot of common misconceptions about this topic.

As a queer black trans atheist, I am a member of several oppressed groups. Despite this, I still enjoy many privileges. I am financially stable, college-educated, US-American, and English-speaking, for starters. I am also relatively able-bodied and slim.

But none of these privileges completely erase the disadvantages I have. My skin color makes me a greater target for police profiling and violence, independent of my class or education. Being a nonbinary trans person means that I experience social dysphoria on a daily basis, even though I have financial access to hormones that help with the physical dysphoria. Being queer means I face possible harassment and violence if I am affectionate with my male spouse in public, even though same-sex marriage is now legal in all fifty US states. And being an atheist means that I am in one of the most despised groups of all in this country, independent of anything else about me.

When it comes to privilege, I find it unhelpful to rank oppression. Many animal rights activists correctly point out that we all enjoy human privilege. But as I’ve argued in my post about veganism and white privilege, that in no way means that racism, sexism, or other human issues are trivial by comparison. Rather than telling women, people of color, and others in disadvantaged groups to stop “playing the victim” because they supposedly have it so much better than non-human animals, we should be recognizing and honoring their struggles alongside our fight to end speciesism.

We should all use what privileges we do have to amplify the voices of those who do not share our advantages. The montage at the top of this post shows some of my fellow animal liberationists from Direct Action Everywhere; I took these photos at our annual forum. As also seen in our most recent video (I can be seen briefly at approximately 3:13), we represent a wide variety of races, genders, and nationalities, in a movement that is dominated by cis white voices. We come together to speak for the non-human animals whose voices have been silenced. I will be joining my DxE friends in San Francisco this Saturday, as we light the path to liberation.

I cannot “live and let live”

[Image: Snow, a hen with white feathers, relaxes in the dirt.]

Edit, July 2016: Since publishing this post I have left Direct Action Everywhere (DxE). My point that it is necessary to openly challenge speciesism remains.

For years I was afraid to speak out about veganism. When going to restaurants, I made sure to let my non-vegan friends know that I was just fine with them ordering meals containing animal products. I happily shared vegan recipes and baked goods and talked about why I was vegan if people asked, but I rarely talked about animal rights. I didn’t even believe non-human animals should have rights; if anything, I bought into the humane welfare myth, saying that I was only opposed to “factory farming.”

Everything changed last year, as I talked about in my essay on abolitionist veganism. I no longer saw veganism as a diet, but as a moral stand against violence. I now saw animals as people, not property. I could no longer look at someone’s dismembered body on a plate with dispassion. Once learning that dairy and egg farming, even in backyards, involved just as much suffering and death as farming for flesh, I could no longer see vegetarian food as in any way more ethical than flesh foods.

So I stopped my “live and let live” attitude, because the 60 billion land animals and trillion sea animals slaughtered annually for food wanted to live just as much as I did. I set up a table at the Free Farm Stand, where I did volunteer work giving free locally-grown food to people in need, and I started telling people the facts. I handed out materials from The Abolitionist Vegan Society and the Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary. I gave information on plant-based nutrition, plant-based clothing, and products not tested on animals. I made it clear that I was opposed to all exploitation, human and non-human. and that I was speaking from the perspective of someone who was part of multiple oppressed groups (being queer, black, and trans, and a survivor of sexual abuse).

I do think I made some inroads. Many people I spoke with, at the Farm Stand and elsewhere, thanked me for the information. Many said that they had no idea that male chicks were routinely killed in egg production, or that cows were forcibly impregnated year after year to produce milk.

But over time, I grew frustrated. I realized that many people who had no financial or physical barriers to going vegan were simply not going to do so, no matter what information I gave them. Speciesism was so entrenched in our society that the idea of seeing a chicken, cow, pig, or fish as a person, worthy of allowing to live for their own sake, was unthinkable to most people. If there wasn’t something in it for humans – weight loss, health benefits, etc. – they could shrug and continue exploiting animals for food, clothing, and entertainment, without fear of censure from a society that tells vegans to “live and let live.”

Ultimately, I decided that vegan education through leafletting and one-on-one conversations was not enough. This education was necessary, but not sufficient, for animal liberation. I knew that direct action was controversial, but I felt it was effective if nonviolent and done properly. Direct Action Everywhere appealed to me as they were founded and led by people of color, and targeted restaurants and stores who marketed the “humane myth” – such as Chipotle and Whole Foods Market – for their demonstrations.

At DxE actions, we are breaking the social taboo of interrupting people while they are eating and shopping, to make it clear that we are opposed to the casual everyday violence that our society calls “breakfast,” “lunch,” and “dinner.” We are amplifying the voices of people like Snow, the hen pictured at the top of this post. She is someone, not something.

My animal rights activism, and participation with DxE in particular, makes a lot of people uncomfortable. I’ve lost friends over this. I’ve been avoiding social gatherings where the bodies, eggs, and milk of animals are eaten, even if there are “vegan options,” because I no longer want to be complicit in the mass slaughter. If people are offended by my consideration of non-human animals as people and by my calling the exploitation of these people violent, so be it. My very existence as a queer black trans person is offensive to many.

As I suffer from depression and dysphoria and sometimes find it difficult to leave the house for days at a time, I have not been able to participate in as many animal rights actions as I would like. (I’ve put my volunteer work at the farm stand on hold for the same reason.) At actions where police are likely to be called, I feel more at risk because of my skin color. As a result I stay mostly behind the camera. But I do try to speak out when I feel safe enough to do so, most recently near the end of our “We Are All Animals” action earlier this month.

Pax at DxE action[Image: Pax, the author, speaks out while holding a sign reading WE ARE ALL ANIMALS. Photo by Alicia Santurio]

I don’t expect every vegan to participate in direct action, whether or not they have the physical and mental capacity to do so. (Online activism is valid; criticizing people for being “armchair activists” is ableist.) Some may prioritize other worthy social justice issues, and join demonstrations against police violence or gentrification. I do not see these causes as being in conflict. All oppression is interconnected.

What’s more important to me is that vegans stop being embarrassed or afraid, as I was, to speak with their friends and acquaintances about the exploitation of our fellow animals. As demonstrations grow in size and the public sees more people taking animal rights seriously, more people will feel empowered to discuss these issues at the dinner table, rather than just smiling when someone eats another person’s body in front of them.

I seek to live in a world where non-human animals are no longer considered property. I cannot hope to achieve this goal solely by being a polite, inoffensive vegan sharing recipes and baked goods . On days when I cannot march on the streets, I will disrupt with the written word. If you agree, please join me.

Updated: Vegan activism and the effectiveness of the abolitionist approach

I saw my essay about Gary Francione, originally published in June 2014, getting some more hits recently. I’ve decided to move it to my new blog so it will have a more permanent home where people can leave comments.

Since the publication of this essay, I no longer refer to myself as an “abolitionist vegan.” Especially since getting involved with Direct Action Everywhere, I prefer the term “animal liberationist.” Some black vegans (and others) feel that the word “abolitionist” is appropriative, especially when used by those who have no interest in combatting anti-black oppression. My preference is to use a more positive word, liberation, to convey the same end goal: Ending the property status of non-human animals. However, I still support the mission of The Abolitionist Vegan Society, whose founder and executive director, Sarah K. Woodcock, has been outspoken against oppression of humans as well as non-humans.

Other updates: I requested and received a refund for the World Vegan Summit after Bob Linden kicked out two speakers (both people of color): Sarah K. Woodcock of The Abolitionist Vegan Society and Wayne Hsiung of Direct Action Everywhere. (I believe Will Tuttle was allowed to remain on the speaker list.) Wayne’s response to his removal was what prompted me to learn more about, and later get involved with, DxE. (ETA: I am no longer with DxE.)

Without further ado, here’s the original, unedited essay.

Vegan activism and the effectiveness of the abolitionist approach

by Pax Ahimsa Gethen

Posted on June 30, 2014

This essay concerns animal rights activism; specifically, the behavior of Gary Francione, the law professor who developed the abolitionist approach to animal rights that I’ve been blogging about for the last few months. Anyone is welcome to comment, but I would appreciate it if the discussion stay focused on the specific issues in this post and not on whether veganism itself is a good idea.

This essay is long (which is why I’m hosting it on my web site rather than directly on LiveJournal), but I’m not going to start out with a summary, conclusion, or “tl;dr” because I believe it’s really important to read through the entire thing to understand the issues involved. The last thing I want to do is to turn people off of veganism or give the impression that vegans in general are extremists or crazy, though no doubt some will come away with that impression (if they haven’t already formed it) no matter what I say.

For the Facebook discussions referenced, I am including long quoted passages and links to screenshots in addition to links to the threads themselves. This is both for the benefit of people not on Facebook and also because of the very likely possibility that my comments will be deleted by Gary or one of his page moderators. The filename of each image contains the date and time (PDT) I captured the screenshot.

Contents

Background: Gary Francione and the Abolitionist Approach

I’d already been vegan for three years when I first learned about Gary Francione this year. I was going through a time of intense self-reflection, thinking about what was most important to me and where I wanted to go with my life and career. I realized that ahimsa – nonviolence – was my most important guiding principle; indeed, that’s why I named myself Pax Ahimsa. (For those who don’t know me, this is not merely a nickname; I’ve filed a formal change of name and gender petition, and have a court hearing to make it legal in a couple of weeks.) And being vegan was an integral part of reducing violence; I could not effectively advocate for peace while putting the products of suffering and death into my mouth three times a day.

So I started seeking out more vegan writers for inspiration. On Wikipedia I came across Gary Francione‘s page. At first, I thought his ideas sounded extreme. But the more of his work I read, the more he made sense: Veganism had to be the moral baseline. The book Eat Like You Care presented an especially effective, easy-to-follow argument, though I did think the numerous references to Michael Vick were excessive, even though I understood the point he was making; that Vick hosting dog fights for entertainment was, from an ethical perspective, no different from people eating animal products for pleasure. (Maybe I’ve been living under a rock, but I’m not a fan of pro sports, especially football, and had managed to miss this whole controversy.)

So in April I joined Gary’s Facebook page and began actively participating in vegan advocacy from an abolitionist perspective. I also joined the page for (and got fliers from) the Abolitionist Vegan Society, which follows his principles, although both TAVS and Gary state clearly that they are not directly affiliated with each other, which I thought was somewhat odd at the time.

Background: Will Tuttle and the World Peace Diet

Gary is a regular guest on Go Vegan Radio with Bob Linden. I’d met Bob at Earth Day San Francisco, shortly after learning of the abolitionist approach, which Bob also endorsed. I began listening to podcasts of his show, and one of them featured Will Tuttle. I was intrigued by Will, and got a copy of his book, The World Peace Diet.

I was extremely impressed by this book. It made a really good argument that our exploitation of people – women, people of color, LGBT, and others – can all be traced back to our herding culture. This seemed to fit right in with one of the core principles of the abolitionist approach, that we must reject all exploitation, of humans as well as nonhumans; racism, sexism, heterosexism, etc. were not to be tolerated in the animal rights movement.

The World Peace Diet solidly argued for veganism. Not welfare reform, not vegetarianism. Only veganism. This, again, seemed to fit in with the principles of Gary’s abolitionist approach. While reading it, I found out that Will was scheduled to speak at a weekly vegan dinner event hosted by the San Francisco Vegetarian Society. I enthusiastically signed my partner Ziggy and myself up to attend.

Background: The Kaporos campaign

While all this was going on, Gary was getting heat from other animal rights activists for opposing a campaign that opposed the use of live chickens in the Jewish ritual of Kaporos. Gary is opposed to all single-issue campaigns, but this specific campaign he claims is anti-Semitic, as it singles out a specific group of people, Jews, for doing something no different than what the vast majority of people partcipate in on a daily basis: The suffering and death of chickens.

Will Tuttle and the Kaporos campaign

So with that background, I finally come to the primary purpose of this essay. I was very moved by a passage in The World Peace Diet where Will described witnessing a cow on a dairy farm being shot in the head and helping butcher her for meat, because she was no longer producing enough milk. I posted about this on Gary’s page (link, screenshot) on June 18, the same day Will’s talk at the vegan dinner was scheduled. I had mentioned Will’s book a few times before on Gary’s page, and he had not commented. This time he did:

Gary L. Francione: The Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights Pax Ahimsa Gethen: Unfortunately, Will Tuttle was part of the email discussion thread involving the Kapporos campaign who did not seem to have any problem whatsoever with the clearly anti-Semitic nature of the campaign and who joined the chorus of those who were unhappy that I was critical of it. But then, I wasn’t surprised.

I expressed disappointment and thanked Gary for being steadfast in his views. I also noted that I am half-Jewish myself.

When I came back from the dinner, another forum member had made a long post in the thread in which she said she had attended a talk by Will, and he had not seemed to give a clear message that veganism was the moral baseline. She also said that his Facebook page was confusing and not well-moderated. I replied:

Pax Ahimsa Gethen Well I’m not saying I fully endorse Will Tuttle’s views – as with Gary Francione, I’d never heard of him until just a few months ago, so I’m still learning the details of the philosophies and approaches of different people. But FWIW, at tonight’s talk he sent a clear vegan message. He did not promote vegetarianism at all, only veganism. And this was at a dinner that was co-sponsored by the San Francisco Vegetarian Society and definitely had non-vegans (or pre-vegans, as he likes to call them) present.

Pax Ahimsa Gethen Also FWIW there appear to be several different World Peace Diet pages. The one that you were on is probably the open group, which anyone can post to. There’s another one that’s set up like this page, that only admins can post to.

When I next visited the page the following morning, her post had been deleted, which made it appear that I was responding to Gary instead of her. He replied (screenshot):

Gary L. Francione: The Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights First, I am somewhat saddened that you don’t find his failure to speak out against the Kapparos campaign as a “deal breaker.” That campaign is inherently anti-Semitic. How can we distinguish what Jews do with chickens and what *everyone else* does with chickens? And all Will could say was “it’s best I think to focus more on acknowledging and appreciating each other, rather than criticism that can be hurtful and discouraging.” You know what I call that? Complicity in a campaign that segregates Jews and promotes anti-Semitism. Curiously, he was silent when I was called a “bigot” and a “Stalinist” for criticizing the campaign. In any event, as someone who is sensitive to discrimination issues, I am somewhat bewildered as to your reaction here.

Second, look at the “official” World Peace Diet page. Look at the links, which include:

Mercy for Animals

Viva! USA

The AR National Conference

In Defense of Animals

FARM

UPC (the leader of the Kapparos campaign, by the way)

etc, etc.

Third, it’s curious but this morning, I received an email from someone who was reading this thread and was at a talk Tuttle gave and she said that he promoted going “vegetarian or vegan.” But I think the first two points are extremely troubling on their own.

The email Gary referred to sounded like the post I’d read that had been deleted. Regardless, I didn’t understand what he meant by “deal breaker”. What was I supposed to do, delete Will’s book from my Kindle app and retract my praise of it? Demand a refund of my registration for the World Vegan Summit if Bob Linden did not remove Will from the speaker list? The book was written years before this Kaporos campaign, and both the book and the talk I attended by Will sent a clear, uncompromising vegan message.

The links Gary mentioned on Will’s page include “welfarist” organizations that co-signed a letter from Peter Singer to the CEO of Whole Foods Market, which Gary posts on his page on a very frequent basis, as evidence that these organizations are partners with animal exploitation industries. Anyone having links to any of those organizations on their Facebook profile or web page is seen by Gary as suspect, at best.

But more importantly, I was troubled that Gary was now posting direct quotes from a private e-mail exchange on his public Facebook page. So I said so:

Pax Ahimsa Gethen Gary L. Francione: The Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights – I said I agreed with you on the anti-semitic nature of the Kapparos campaign and I still do. But I’m frankly uncomfortable discussing Tuttle’s views on that campaign here on this public forum if those views come from a private e-mail conversation with him and others that I was not party to. And I don’t know what talk the person who e-mailed you this morning went to, I only know what I heard in his talk that I personally attended last night.

If he has links to welfarist organizations on his web page then I’m not going to defend that. I only brought Tuttle up in this thread to share a passage from his book, which I still believe is staunchly vegan and a solid read. But this is your page and I’m not going to promote someone you disagree with here.

Pax Ahimsa Gethen FYI – My above comment saying that I did not necessarily fully endorse Tuttle’s views, and my comment about the different World Peace Diet pages on Facebook, were in response to a comment which has since been deleted.

Gary responded that the partipants in the e-mail thread had no claim of privacy, and that the Kaporos campaign was “completely shocking”:

Gary L. Francione: The Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights Pax Ahimsa Gethen: Actually, it was an unsolicited email that was sent by Karen Davis attacking me and Bob Linden and that was copied to various people, including three I don’t even know. I would not consider it private and if you have doubt that I have quoted Tuttle inaccurately, I would be more than happy to share his email with you as he wrote it knowing that it was going to others, including people who are complete strangers to me. In any event, nevermind. It’s okay. I have no interest in persuading anyone of anything on this matter. One either sees the Kapparos campaign as completely shocking or not. And in the absence of a condemnation, I am not sure what difference the email makes, unless you think I’ve misquoted him.

Pax Ahimsa Gethen Gary L. Francione: The Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights – I don’t doubt that you quoted Tuttle accurately. I was just uncomfortable discussing the specific contents of the e-mail exchange here if it had not been intended for public dissemination.

Gary L. Francione: The Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights Pax Ahimsa Gethen: As I said, when people send unsolicited emails that attack me and copy them to people whom I do not even know, and there are responses in the thread, I don’t care who intended what. There is *no* legitimate claim of privacy in that context. But as I said, I think this is all rather clear.

Gary L. Francione: The Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights Pax Ahimsa Gethen: P.S. Indeed, after stating to this email group that I did not want them to bother me further and to exclude me from their circle jerk, I continued to get messages. Claim of privacy? I really think not.

I was totally bewildered how the above reasons could justify posting specific quotes from an e-mail to the public Facebook page of a public figure followed by (at the time of this exchange) nearly 60,000 people. But then, unlike Gary, I’m not a lawyer. 😛 I also failed to find either Will’s (in)actions or the Kaporos campaign itself “completely shocking”. Misguided, yes. Unfairly targeting a specific ethnic group, yes. But “completely shocking”? I would reserve such language for much more explicit and direct acts of exploitation.

At this point I was really starting to doubt the efficacy of Gary’s activism. Not the abolitionist approach itself, but his tone and the way he and his mods micro-managed the Facebook page. I’d read numerous complaints about his style elseweb, but always thought he was being unfairly criticized when he was just firmly sticking to what he believed in. I understood that he managed his Facebook page aggressively to make it a “safe space” for abolitionists, but comments were being deleted and people being banned (resulting in all of their comments disappearing) at an increasing rate, even when questions were asked respectfully.

Even innocent things like a reader noting that the layout of words on a graphic were hard to read (screenshots: 1, 2, 3) were mocked, with Gary or his mods ironically stating that people would “complain about everything”, while simultaneously complaining that other animal rights people could not handle any criticism.

For deletions and bans, the usual reason given (if any reasons were given at all) was that the poster violated the page’s terms of use (screenshot). Notably:

If you want to express disagreement with something that Professor Francione says, or some aspect of his work, please give substantive reasons and express yourself in a civil way. Be civil in all comments.

Unfortunately, as I will show, this rule does not seem to apply to Gary, nor to his moderators.

Discussion in The World Peace Diet forum

I told myself I should step away from the page for awhile, but I was so used to visiting it on a regular basis that I could not help myself. I hoped that Gary sincerely meant it when he said “In any event, nevermind. It’s okay. I have no interest in persuading anyone of anything on this matter,” but had a feeling this was not the case.

I had meanwhile joined the World Peace Diet Facebook group, along with a number of other vegan Facebook groups in order to try to connect with more vegans, and not just be in an echo chamber of those following Gary’s approach. In his group, Will posted about an event where frogs were being stabbed to death. I took the opportunity to promote veganism in the thread. At some point I mentioned Gary Francione. Another forum member posted the following (screenshot):

Anim Argumen I dont trust Francione’s motives–although he talks about his alleged support of animal rights issues he has consistently agreed with industry rhetoric–i.e. people who oppose fur have a hatred of women, people who oppose animal sacrifice by jewish groups are anti-semetic, we can trust industry to make compassionate change without protest or legislative change, animal rights people must be perfect–he seeks to distract, divide and demoralize. he even agrees with nathan Winograd, an agent for center for Consumer Freedom which is pro vivisection and meat industry. Just because someone makes some claims he is supportive of animal rights goals and then agrees with industry and attacks advocates doesnt make him sincere. Industry is incredibly ruthless-they will do anything to maintain and increase profits and they want advocates to be attacking each other.

I strongly contested the claim that Gary was an industry stooge. However his attitude comes across, I have seen nothing that remotely hints that he is being paid off by any animal exploitation industry. I said so in the forum. We went back and forth several times and I continued to defend Gary and his views, as you can see in the link and screenshots (1, 2, 3).

Fallout from The World Peace Diet discussion

I wanted Gary to know that someone was making these accusations about him, although I knew this was not the first time. That the accuser was posting in Will’s forum was not relevant to me, though I did hesitate to post the link based on my previous exchange with Gary concerning Will. I decided to post about it (link, screenshot). Gary responded by putting the focus and blame squarely on Tuttle for allowing the comments to remain in his forum:

Gary L. Francione: The Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights Pax Ahimsa Gethen: I looked at the page of the person you are referring to. That person is a supporter of PETA, MFA, and Peter Singer. That person is also apparently unable to offer any substantive reasons for her/his position. Having nothing of substance to say, s/he defames me. No surprise. What is a surprise is that Tuttle is allowing it on his page. But then, as you know, Tuttle is the person who, in the face of an overtly anti-Semitic campaign, claimed that we should not criticize such campaigns. So I suppose it should not be a surprise.

Pax Ahimsa Gethen I agreed with you on the Kaporos campaign, as you know. But to be fair, I don’t think Tuttle manages his Facebook group nearly as frequently as you and your mods do here, so I wouldn’t assume that he has read all of the posts in this particular thread yet. It’s entirely possible that he has and that he sides with the other poster instead of me, but I cannot assume that.

Gary L. Francione: The Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights Pax Ahimsa Gethen: If I had something like that up on this page for 15 minutes, I would have people writing blog essays about me. In any event, I don’t know how you know how often he monitors the page and the defamation was posted eight hours ago. But yes, let’s be fair to Tuttle. Maybe he’ll take it down or at least make clear to the poster that he does not want that sort of thing on his page.

No, I don’t “know” how often Will monitors his page, which is why I used the word “think”. But honestly, I’ve never participated in an online forum so tightly micro-managed as Gary’s, and I’ve been on the web for 20 years. He has at least three mods working around the clock for him, and two of them were actively participating in the thread that I’m now discussing.

I tried to change the subject back to focus on SICs, but the criticism of Will kept piling up in this thread. And now the forum member who originally posted the long comment about Will’s supposed promotion of vegetarianism and other failings, said that she was the one who deleted her own comment, and she reposted it in this thread. Gary and his mods reacted very strongly to this. One of them called Will a “*gutless* sellout” (emphasis in original) and another flat-out said “He is not a good person.” They also used the term “petaphile”, a pun which I, the victim of a pedophile, don’t find particularly amusing. (Screenshots: 1, 2, 3, 4). Selected quotes from the thread (Vincent and Marianna are both moderators of Gary’s page as of this writing):

Marianna Gonzalez [quoting Gary] <I am getting a might tired of those who claim to embrace nonviolence but are really, really selective about it.> Indeed. What blows my mind is that Tuttle is willing to defend a campaign that is **clearly** anti-Semitic — and therefore promotes **violence** against a particular group — by trying to hush the objections to this form of violence under the pseudo-nonviolent pretense of “let’s all get along and not criticize.” To use the pretense of nonviolence to defend violence is actually quite evil. He may not realize this.

Vincent Guihan He is not a good person.

Vincent Guihan I’m predisposed toward disliking others, especially those who paper over conflict and call it peace. But letting some deeply confused, intellectually stunted clown defame you is pathetic. On the other hand, he is a petaphile.

Marianna Gonzalez Vincent Guihan: I don’t know whether he is a good person or not, but he’s certainly a *gutless* sell-out who is doing some pretty shitty things. I hope one day he reconsiders.

This was getting too much for me. This was way beyond criticism, and certainly not within the realm of “Be civil in all comments” as instructed in the page terms of use. “He is not a good person” could not be read as anything other than a character attack. I knew what I was about to say might get me banned from the page, but I said it anyway (screenshot):

Pax Ahimsa Gethen Re this entire Will Tuttle issue, I’m honestly sorry I ever mentioned him in this forum at all, because both times I did (once to share a passage from his book, once to share an exchange I had with someone else in his forum) I have felt like I was expected to immediately join the chorus of criticism against him for his failure to back Gary in condemning the Kaporos campaign. I said I agreed that the campaign was anti-semitic, and I said I wouldn’t promote Will’s work here. I even defended Gary against slanderous comments another person made against him in Will’s forum. And when I brought that up, I was told that Will is irresponsible for not deleting those comments from his forum, possibly even providing a platform for people to attack Gary, that his failure to condemn the Kaporos campaign is “quite evil” and that he is “not a good person”.

I don’t want to be in the middle of this. I’m just an average vegan guy. I don’t have a book, radio show, or conference. Hardly anyone cares what I think. I try to educate people about veganism as part of my food justice work, and I hope some people read my blogs and Facebook messages, but I’m not going to get further involved in this particular dispute. I’m going to take a break from this page for awhile. I hope I’m not banned because I have gotten a lot out of participating here and hope to come back in the future, but the tone of this discussion has gotten way too uncomfortable for me.

The response was a chorus of Gary, his mods, and another poster insisting that this was an issue of “fundamental justice”, and that I had to accept that this was simply fact. I was also assured by a mod that I would not be banned simply for disagreement. (Screenshots: 1, 2).

Marianna Gonzalez And unlike the SLANDER that Tuttle allowed on his page, we are not saying anything that is untrue. That’s not subject to debate.

Vincent Guihan Pax Ahimsa Gethen, “I hope I’m not banned ” No one is banned here for disagreement. Provocateuring, trolling, personal attacks, EXCESSIVE use of CAPITAL letters, among other reasons, but not disagreement.

Mod Marianna might want to note the bit about capital letters, along with ****excessive punctuation**** which she is fond of using. Regardless, I could not accept that a judgment of character was not subject to debate. This was not “truth” or “fact”. I posted the following, which I really intended to be my last post on the page as I expected once again that I’d probably be banned:

Pax Ahimsa Gethen This is the last I’m going to say on this issue, because I think it’s really important. I have been really patiently trying to defend this approach in the face of everyone, and I mean *everyone* I know personally, including other vegans, being against me on it. The *only* other person I have personally met who I thought was 100% behind Gary is Bob Linden, and since last I checked Will Tuttle is still on the speaker’s list for the World Vegan Summit, maybe even that is not an accurate statement. But I have no idea what Bob currently thinks about Will Tuttle (who I found out about via his radio show, via this page, for what it’s worth) and will not speak for him.

Marianna Gonzalez – <<And unlike the SLANDER that Tuttle allowed on his page, we are not saying anything that is untrue. That’s not subject to debate.>> – If we were only talking about *facts* I would not be so uncomfortable. This discussion has gone beyond facts and has started to verge on character attacks. You said above <<To use the pretense of nonviolence to defend violence is actually quite evil. >>. True, you did not say “Will Tuttle is quite evil” but you characterized his actions as such. I personally think this reaction is out of proportion to his actions. We can disagree, but this *is* subject to debate, it is not a simple matter of “truth”.

And Vincent Guihan straight-out said about Will <<He is not a good person.>> This is a statement of character. if it were said by another person about Gary it would clearly be labeled as an attack, not simply a criticism. It is not a matter of fact or truth.

This is why I’m bowing out. I’m not going to slander Gary or stop doing vegan education over this. But I feel the criticism of Will Tuttle on this page is way out of proportion with his words and actions, and I will not participate in it.

When I next came to the page, mods Vincent and Marianna had responded to portions of my comment, but my ability to comment had been removed, and all of my comments had been deleted. It appeared that, as I predicted, I had been banned. However, when I came back to the page, my commenting ability had been restored, as had all of my comments except for the last one. This is when I started taking screenshots. Unfortunately I don’t have a capture of the state of the page where all of my comments were missing, so I have no proof that this happened. You, the reader, will just have to take my word on it.

Mod Vincent responded to my comment that he had made a character judgment, not merely a criticism, as follows:

Vincent Guihan “This is a statement of character.” Indeed, it is the most serious condemnation I reserve for people.

Vincent later commented:

Vincent Guihan[…] I also think Margaret Thatcher, Fred Phelps and D. F. Malan were not good people. Sometimes, it’s about moral character.

For those not in the know, Fred Phelps was the head of the Westboro Baptist Church, the group that picketed funerals of gay people with “God Hates Fags” signs. I find lumping Will Tuttle in with someone like that to be disgraceful. At the very least, it is, as I posted, way out of proportion with his actual (in)actions, and stating that “it’s about moral character” contradicts Gary’s insistence on judging only actions, not people.

The transgender issue

Meanwhile, once my posting access and all but one of my comments were restored, Gary insinuated that I’d deleted the last comment myself, and misgendered me in the process. I corrected him. He later removed his original comment, but did not apologize for the misgendering (screenshot):

Pax Ahimsa Gethen Re Gary L. Francione: The Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights – <<Pax Ahimsa Gethen appears to have removed her last comment. Perhaps she concluded on her own that it was problematic. I hope so.>> I did not remove my last comment, so it must have been removed by one of the mods. (Reminder, I’m not a she/her; I prefer “they” but he/him is acceptable.)

Mod Marianna stated that she did not delete the post, and Mod Vincent “liked” that comment which, along with his quoted replies, indicated to me that he didn’t delete it (nor ban me) either. Gary implied that it disappeared due to a Facebook glitch and invited me to repost the comment, which I did as fortunately it was still in my copy and paste buffer; I frequently copy long passages of text just before posting online in case there’s a network interruption or other problem (though I later realized I might have changed a couple of small things since the last time I copied the text, the substance of the comment was the same).

As to the misgendering: I had informed Gary on more than one previous occasion (both in May, so just a few weeks ago) that I’m trans and that I prefer the pronoun “they”, and had explained why:

Gary L. Francione: The Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights […] No, Brian, plants are not sentient. Pax Ahimsa Gethen said about you, ” I’ve met you, so I know you’re not an idiot.” I will take her word for that.

Pax Ahimsa Gethen Gary L. Francione: The Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights – Actually I’m not a “she” (though I was at the time I met Brian Beckwith Shredder so he might not know that either). I’m trans and prefer “singular they” but “he” is also OK.

Gary and I discussed this further in the thread, and again in another thread a couple of weeks later, where I included more examples of the widespread use of “singular they” and nonbinary gender in general. The most relevant excerpts from that thread for purposes of this discussion are here:

Pax Ahimsa Gethen I brought this up in an earlier thread, but since it came up here: As an agender person, I prefer “singular they” for myself, as do many in the trans community who do not identify as either a man or a woman.

Gary L. Francione: The Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights […] If I am addressing you, I will use “they” to accommodate what you have identified as your sensibilities, even though it is not grammatical.

(Link and screenshots for Thread 1: link, screenshots: 1, 2, 3, 4. Thread 2 (note here also the refusal of Gary and Mod Marianna to accept criticism): link, screenshots: 1, 2.)

As a very frequent contributor to his page, I expected Gary to remember and respect this request. If he genuinely forgot, he should have apologized. Not excessively, just a simple “sorry for misgendering you” or even just “sorry” would have sufficed. It’s not as if he’d known me pre-transition; I’d never introduced myself to him as a woman or a “she”, and my Facebook profile does not say that I am female and has not said so for over a year; he was probably assuming that I’m female based on my physical appearance, as most people do at this stage in my transition.

Misgendering is not a trivial issue for a trans person. Depending on the circumstances, it can feel like either a pinprick or a punch in the face. But it is almost always painful, in a way that can be hard for a cisgender person to understand.

So Gary and his mods literally added insult to injury when instead of apologizing, they turned my transgender status into a “teaching moment” (screenshots: 1, 2):

Marianna Gonzalez If this campaign had targeted the transgender community as opposed to the Jewish people, I wonder whether Pax would be as forgiving of Tuttle and as uncomfortable for our criticism of him, and as wanting to “not get further involved” as they do currently.

Gary L. Francione: The Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights Bingo. I find so very often that when it comes to *their* issues, some are all over it if someone supports a discriminatory campaign or effort. Otherwise, it’s “judgments violate peace and nonviolence principles” time. I also find it to be the case that many people who are very sensitive to being criticized are all of a sudden totally tolerant when others are not only criticized but are outright slandered or attacked in ad hominem ways. There’s a real failure to understand or apply the principle of equal consideration.

If it’s not clear how offensive it is for a cis person to say this to a trans person, try substituting “black” for “transgender” in Marianna’s comment above. Not to mention the fact that, as previously mentioned, I’m half-Jewish, and made Gary aware of this in our earlier discussion about Will Tuttle. And of course, “Jewish” and “transgender” are not mutually exclusive classes of people.

I refused to address their question on Gary’s page as I had already decided I was done with him over the tone he took discussing Will Tuttle. The cissexist remarks are not the primary reason I’m posting this essay. But for the record, yes, I would feel the same way if the campaign at issue had been about opposing transgender people, rather than Jewish people, using animals in a ritual. I would still be against both the ritual and the campaign, but I would not feel that Will Tuttle had a “fundamental moral responsibility” to speak out against the campaign.

I mentioned to Ziggy how upset I was over this whole exchange; again, not primarily because of the cissexist remarks, but because the bubble had burst and I realized that this man I had really admired was turning out to be just as rude and controlling as many others on the web have accused him of being. Ziggy asked me to send him a link to the thread (he had also “liked” the page but wasn’t following this particular discussion at the time). I did so, but warned him that if he responded his comments would likely be deleted and he would be banned. Then I went to take a shower.

When I came out of the shower, Ziggy said that he’d read the thread, that Gary was a bully, that he had posted a comment saying so, and that he had “unliked” the page and would have no more to do with him. When I refreshed the page, Ziggy’s comment was not visible, so I figured that, as I predicted, he had been banned. But Gary and Mod Marianna had both responded to it (screenshot). Since Ziggy tagged me on his comment, I received the contents in an e-mail notification (screenshot):

Ziggy Tomcich Pax has been one of your greatest supporters and admirers, and has been talking about you and sharing your posts for months. Questioning Pax’s commitment based on their transgender or jewish status goes beyond criticism. It’s bullying and it needs to stop. You have really upset Pax over this. Ridiculing and slandering one of your greatest supporters on here is despicable.

Gary L. Francione: The Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights Ziggy Tomcich: You are under the mistaken belief that I care about your views on the issues of anti-Semitism and general moral responsibility. That belief was mistaken.

Marianna Gonzalez Ziggy what are you talking about ??? You are totally mispresenting what we have said. This is not about Pax!!!! I think your emotions are not allowing you to understand what we are saying, although Gary’s last comment spells out things crystal clearly.

The “last comment” Mod Marianna referred to was the following:

Gary L. Francione: The Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights Pax Ahimsa Gethen: Thanks for reposting. >>But I feel the criticism of Will Tuttle on this page is way out of proportion with his words and actions, and I will not participate in it.<<

Well, he won’t criticize a campaign that *you* agree is anti-Semitic but he’s fine with criticizing me for doing so.

It’s now clear that he’s just fine with people on his page slandering others and making statements that are clearly false and malicious.

He won’t criticize PETA’s sexism and misogyny or its killing of animals.

He promotes the idea that there’s a moral distinction between flesh and other animal foods.

And you think it’s “way out pf proportion” to criticize him, eh? Well, you can call that being tolerant. I call it shameful abrogation of moral responsibility.

I never once used the word “tolerant” or “tolerance” in this or the previous exchange about Will, for the record, and I disagree that Will “promotes the idea that there’s a moral distinction between flesh and other animal foods” based on my reading his book and hearing him talk. Even if I did agree with all of Gary’s points, I would still find the words used by Gary and his mods to criticize Will to be way out of proportion. Not the fact that they criticized him at all.

Soon after, Ziggy’s comment was restored, and Gary’s initial snarky response was deleted. He did not, however, delete a comment characterizing Ziggy’s remarks as “narcissistic whining and bullshit” (screenshot):

Gary L. Francione: The Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights Marianna Gonzalez: My last comment was about as clear as it could be and I am not interested in listening to any more narcissistic whining and bullshit (apology to bulls).

Gary, the mods, and the other poster who had criticized Will proceeded to continue explaining why Ziggy and I were both clearly in the wrong, and why it was perfectly legitimate for them to bring my transgender status into play.

Marianna Gonzalez < I am not interested in listening to any more narcissistic whining and bullshit> ***Narcissistic*** indeed. Really Pax, I think you really have to think about these issues more carefully and stop taking things personally. As I said, I don’t think you would be so forgiving of Tuttle if PETA or a given campaign targeted the transgender community, or slandered them in any way. Think about that. I am amazed that you and Ziggy are misrepresenting something so simple.

Gary then, using my non-preferred, though accepted, pronoun (no surprise since he considers “singular they” to be ungrammatical), claimed that he had no idea who Ziggy was, and that he “quite likes” me (screenshot):

Gary L. Francione: The Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights Marianna Gonzalez: Yes, I quite like Pax Ahimsa Gethen. I have no idea who Ziggy Tomcich is except for one comment that was ridiculous. I just disagree with Pax here on fundamental matters and I am sorry if he does not like it.

Marianna Gonzalez I *think* Ziggy is their partner as they have mentioned him on threads if I recall correctly.

Either of them could have spent ten seconds to click on either of our Facebook profiles and see that we’re in a relationship, which is publicly listed in the About section just under the masthead (screenshot). At least Mod Marianna used my preferred pronoun and made some attempt to recall something about me as a person. Gary, who claims to “quite like” me, wouldn’t even do that much.

I broke my promise and posted in the thread one final time before “un-liking” the page (screenshot):

Pax Ahimsa Gethen Ziggy is my partner of 13 years. I am half-Jewish and half-black, not that that matters. I am done with this page.

Getting the last word in of course, Gary still framed this is a “fundamental moral issue”, and implied that I accused him of bullying and slandering me when it was actually Ziggy who used those words (screenshot):

Gary L. Francione: The Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights General note: On this page, we discuss fundamental moral issues. If you disagree with something, make your arguments as to why you don’t and be prepared to discuss your position. But please don’t accuse those with whom you disagree of “bullying” you or “slandering” simply because they disagree with you as that is *nothing* more than a form of ad hominem attack that is used when you have nothing substantive to say. Thanks.

Better abolitionist approaches

I thought carefully about how or whether to post this essay, primarily becasue, as stated in the intro, I don’t want it to turn people off from veganism. I don’t even want it to turn people off from the abolitionist approach, which I still feel is sound. I just don’t think Gary’s going to make much headway with his attitude.

I prefer the attitude expressed on the The Abolitionist Vegan Society web site and Facebook page. Gary is always quick to say that he is not a member of TAVS, though he says he “supports all grassroots efforts”. TAVS also acknowledges that Gary has no affiliation with them, although they support the principles of the abolitionist approach. Gary criticizes TAVS for selling merchandise such as pins and T-shirts. But they have no paid staff, and only sell merchandise to fund the printing of the educational materials which they send to advocates for free.

TAVS also regularly shares actual examples of the “nonviolent creative vegan education” that Gary is always saying is the best (or only) way to promote animal rights. They encourage their members to do vegan outreach in their community, take photos of their efforts, and send them to the page for posting and sharing with all. They express gratitude to their members for doing this.

I’ve rarely seen Gary express gratitude to anyone other than his own mods, translators, and people who give good reviews to his books. The main example I’ve seen that he is actually capable of humility is his keynote address at the 2009 JAINA convention. I thought that the Jain religion encouraged (if not demanded) practicing ahimsa in speech as well as action. But I have never seen Gary approach anywhere near this level of humility when interacting with people on Facebook.

Gary might take a cue from the advice of the International Vegan Association, a group he has enthusiastically endorsed (while once again stating that he is not affiliated with them or any other group). Their recent blog entry on public outreach work, which Gary has, unlike their other entries, not yet shared on his page as of this writing, advises the following:

Always be friendly, no matter what is said. In almost every case, a kind, calm, and friendly demeanor will stifle any hostility that will come your way.

This rule should apply online as well as offline, whether talking to vegans or non-vegans. Being friendly does not mean that you can’t be critical! When posting online, wording makes all the difference between genuine critical analysis and outright arrogance.

It would also help Gary’s claim that he is against all oppression if he would give more praise to the vegan advocacy work of people who are actually in oppressed groups. Dr. A. Breeze Harper is one who comes to mind. She clearly advocates veganism and criticizes sexism, racism, and other “isms” in animal rights groups, including PETA. I read the Sistah Vegan anthology she edited several years ago, and her blog entries really spoke to me as someone who was raised as a black woman, was also in a mixed-race marriage, and also identified with Buddhist values. I actually wrote to her recently asking if she was familiar with Gary since I hadn’t seen her post anything about him on her blog. (I also thought she would be a great speaker for the World Vegan Summit that Bob Linden is hosting.) I’m now embarrassed I ever asked, given Gary’s hubris on the issue of sexism (link, screenshot):

Gary L. Francione: The Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights […] For almost 30 years, I have been pretty much alone trying to get people to see the human rights connection. I was the first out there rejecting sexism–5 years before Feminists for Animal Rights made a peep.

At least Gary doesn’t claim he’s “entirely” alone. So let’s see some more acknowledgment of other vegans who do get the human rights connection. Because they are out there. From Gary’s essays and especially from his Facebook page, you would think that not only no other animal rights organizations, but no other publicly-known animal rights advocates, period, can be trusted. He actually posted the following words (link, screenshot):

Gary L. Francione: The Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights […] Frankly, the Nazis should have subcontracted the Holocaust to “animal people.” They would have gotten a built-in cheering section in the bargain that would have silenced any criticism–and yammered on about peace and love and nonviolence in the process..

You don’t even have to be familiar with Godwin’s Law to see that invoking the Nazis is no way to convince people of the merits of your argument. Painting a mental picture of “animal people” cheering as six million Jews, along with millions of Gypsies, gays, and members of other oppressed groups, were shuttled off to the gas chambers for extermination is beyond “divisive”; this is a statement that actually merits the description of “completely shocking.” How can Gary possibly complain about being compared to Stalin and then turn right around and make statements like this? Is he sincerely interested in making a vegan world, or is he more out for revenge at this point?

I will give Gary the benefit of the doubt, and say that he is sincerely interested in making a vegan world. I just think he’s going about it the wrong way. And as such, I will no longer be directing people to his Facebook page, and will look for other materials to hand out when doing my vegan advocacy. In addition to TAVS and the IVA, I’ve found the materials from the Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary to be very useful, especially for dispelling the notions that there’s nothing wrong with “free-range” or “humane” animal products, including backyard chickens.

I don’t believe that Gary is a cult leader as others have asserted. But I am glad to have gotten away from his Facebook page and the rhetoric therein. I hope others come forward to express the abolitionist approach in a more accessible and less hostile way.

 

Updates

Update: July 4, 2014

I posted this essay to a few groups on Facebook. In one of them, ARZone, Will Tuttle posted the full text of the e-mail he sent in the e-mail thread with Gary Francione and others regarding the Kaporos campaign. I present Will’s response here without commentary: link, screenshot.

Update: July 8, 2014

Gary Francione and The Abolitionist Vegan Society are now formally unaffiliated with each other.

White vegans need to check their privileges

[Image: Poster reading “Black Lives Matter: A Vegan Praxis”. Features a silhouette of a person with their hands up in the air. Their torso is the head of a bull with a bullseye between the eyes. Poster design: Alise Eastgate of Eastrand Studios.]

I’ve been talking about veganism a lot less lately because I’m frankly embarrassed to be associated with many of the prominent vegans in the “animal whites movement.” We have foodie vegans singing the praises of expensive juice cleanses, nondairy cheeses, and gourmet vegan restaurants. We have activists like Gary Yourofsky and the Non-Humans First movement saying that oppressed humans can speak for themselves, and nonhumans have it worst than anyone else on the planet, so all efforts need to focus on them, and no tactics are off-limits. And we have white vegans co-opting the BlackLivesMatter hashtag to focus attention on nonhuman animals, and calling black people racist and/or speciesist when we complain about this.

Black vegan chef Bryant Terry summed up the situation thusly in this Facebook status:

Bryan Terry quote on BlackLivesMatter

[Image: Bryant Terry Facebook status: If you have shared innumerable posts about how humans can be more compassionate towards animals and you have not said one peep about police terrorizing and killing little black girls and boys, a terrorist killing 9 black people in a church this month, 6 black churches being burned to the ground in the past week, and the myriad ways that anti-black racism manifests, I encourage you to think long and hard about how you might expand your “compassion” and fight for justice for all living beings.]

Blacks and other people of color don’t have the privilege to ignore racism, whether inside or outside of the animal rights movement. I can’t blame black people for caring more about the bodies of their loved ones being violated and killed by police and terrorists than the bodies of nonhuman animals being violated and killed by farmers and slaughterhouse workers. And given the mainstream media’s slant on the events highlighted in Terry’s quote above, it is laughable to say that we have a voice, while nonhuman animals do not. We have the ability to speak, but our voices are ignored and silenced.

Fortunately, more of us are speaking out on racism in the animal rights community.  [Edit, October 2016: I had embedded here a video by black vegan Rachel Richards, founder of the “Check Your Activism” channel on YouTube, but the video and the channel itself seem to have been deleted.]

I linked to the sites of some other activists who get it in my blog entry on activism with DxE. One I want to highlight today is Dr. Amie “Breeze” Harper of Sistah Vegan Project. I read her Sistah Vegan anthology several years ago, before my transition to male. I was excited to see an entire book of essays by black female vegans. I also felt a kinship to Dr. Harper as a practitioner of Buddhism; while I don’t currently identify with Buddhism as a religion, the Buddhist concept of ahimsa, or nonviolence, is central to my ethics (which is why I chose Ahimsa as my middle name). Her blog is filled with excellent, thought-provoking essays on racism, sexism, food justice, and many other issues, in addition to (and in conjunction with) veganism.

Dr. Harper organized an online conference, “The Vegan Praxis of Black Lives Matter“,  which I attended earlier this year. It was an excellent, interactive series of talks, covering racism, sexism, cissexism, and many other issues that are usually ignored by the mainstream vegan and animal rights movements. Recordings of the conference are available for purchase, and a book will be forthcoming.

I’ve contributed to the Sistah Vegan Project’s fundraising campaign on GoFundMe, which has been running for over two years now and has raised just over $10,000 to date. In contrast, when the popular high-end vegan restaurant, Millennium, announced that they had to leave their San Francisco location and started a Kickstarter campaign to fund their move to Oakland, they raised over $100,000 in less than a month. This is, to put it bluntly, fucked up.

I’ve seen this racism and classism in the the trans community as well. From the linked article:

…in a popular queer group a white trans man posted his fundraiser for top surgery and raised roughly half his funds within a day. He also garnered a lot of support from members of the group. A trans woman of color posted her fundraiser for living expenses because she was fired from her job due to discrimination and she was asked to promptly remove the post because it violated “community policy”.

After reading the above, I gave money to the Free CeCe documentary campaign, to elevate the voices of black trans women. Even with the backing and promotion of Laverne Cox and Janet Mock, that project is not yet fully funded.

If animal liberation is to succeed, the movement must address the concerns of oppressed humans as well as nonhumans. The BlackLivesMatter movement must not be co-opted or ignored by  white vegans. Black voices, vegan or non-vegan, need to be heard.

 

We are all animals

[Image: A group of people holds up signs with photos of animals, the words “WE ARE ALL ANIMALS”, and the Direct Action Everywhere logo.]

Update, July 2016: Since publishing this post I have left Direct Action Everywhere (as has Saryta Rodriguez, who is in the top center of the above photo.) My points about animal liberation and the intersections of oppression still remain.

Yesterday my partner and I participated in an action with Direct Action Everywhere. I’ve been involved with this animal liberation group for about a year now, ever since having a falling out with Gary Francione, whose writing first got me interested in becoming an animal rights activist. Though I’ve been vegan since 2011 and vegetarian since 1992, it wasn’t until last year that I was convinced I should actively speak out against animal exploitation.  Welfare reform isn’t the answer, as “humane farming” is a myth. The answer is abolishing the property status of animals, or to put it in a more positive way, animal liberation.

Direct Action Everywhere protest at Whole Foods Market[Image: A group of people marches outside a Whole Foods Market, carrying a colorful banner reading “WE ARE ALL EARTHLINGS” and featuring the eyes of human and non-human animals.]

I like Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) because the people I’ve met in that community are more diverse and outspoken against human oppression than many of those in larger animal rights organizations. I’ve learned that all oppression is interconnected, including racism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, ableism, and speciesism. I won’t support animal rights groups or individuals who use sexist campaign tactics, like PETA, or say hateful, violent things about women or ethnic groups, like Gary Yourofsky. The ends do not justify the means.

Direct Action Everywhere protest at Chipotle[Image: A group of people hold signs with photos of animals and the words “WE ARE ALL ANIMALS”. A woman in the foreground holds a white rabbit. Another woman speaks into a megaphone, a large dog standing next to her.]

Total animal liberation means everyone, humans and non-humans alike. Other writers and activists outside of DxE who get this include A. Breeze Harper of Sistah Vegan Project, Sarah K. Woodcock of The Abolitionist Vegan Society, lauren Ornelas of the Food Empowerment Project, Corey Wrenn of Vegan Feminist Network and The Academic Abolitionist Vegan, Christopher-Sebastian McJetters of Vegan Publishers, and Will Tuttle, author of The World Peace Diet.

Direct Action Everywhere protest at Chipotle[Image: A group of people stand outside a Chipotle restaurant, holding signs and a banner. In the foreground a man is speaking into a megaphone. Behind him a woman is holding a large white rabbit.]

As a queer black trans person, I feel safe and respected at DxE. In addition to taking photos at their events, I’ve written several entries for their blog, The Liberationist, on the topics of masculinity and aggression, dairy and racism, and gender identity and respect. I also participated on a DxE-hosted panel of queer-identified activists discussing the links between LGBTQ and animal rights. The organizers and most of the panelists were people of color. It was an empowering experience.

Direct Action Everywhere protest at Chipotle[Image: A group of people stands outside a Chipotle restaurant, carrying signs including a colorful banner reading “WE ARE ALL EARTHLINGS”.]

Lately, I haven’t been as active in DxE or other animal liberation activities as I would like, as depression and dysphoria have made it difficult for me to leave the house much of the time. I’m glad I made it out to this weekend’s action though, as it was in downtown San Francisco (so I could walk there and back), and I wanted to get photos of the companion animals the activists were encouraged to bring along. I especially couldn’t get enough photos of my friend Lisa with one of her beautiful rabbits, Aster.

Lisa pets her companion rabbit, Aster[Image: A woman with straight brown hair, rabbit-shaped earrings, and a blue T-shirt smiles while petting a large white rabbit sitting in a carrier.]

Rebeca and her dog friend Lexie[Image: A woman with curly brown hair and a blue T-shirt smiles while kneeling and petting a large brown-and-white dog.]

Pat and her dog friend[Image: A woman wearing a straw hat and brown jacket smiles while holding a small white dog.]

I’ve uploaded the full set of images to Flickr under a Creative Commons license, so they can be freely shared for noncommercial use with attribution. (I also posted the photos to Facebook, but I’d rather not drive traffic to that organization currently, in light of their harmful, ongoing “real names” policy.) Looking forward to spending more time with my friends, human and non-human, at DxE.

 

 

Whose holiday is it again?

[Image: The face of a steer, Brahma, partially superimposed over the face of the author, Pax.]*

Tomorrow, many US-Americans will celebrate the birth of a country that was founded by and for the benefit of  white heterosexual cisgender theistic men, on lands stolen from indigenous people, with the forced labor of black slaves.

Many will feast upon the flesh, milk, and eggs of non-human animals, who did not and could not consent to having their lives and children taken away from them. Many vegans will feast on plant-based treats right alongside them, but few will say a word about animals.

Some will drink too much alcohol. Some will get behind the wheel of a car, intoxicated. Some of those who make it home safely in this drunken condition will turn on their spouses and children.

Many will enjoy fireworks that scare the living daylights out of companion animals, as well as many humans with posttraumatic stress and sensory processing disorders. The show will often conclude with a song celebrating military victory.

America, fuck yeah.

* Brahma was rescued from the dairy industry by the humans at PreetiRang Sanctuary.