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.

Human/animal liberation and the limits of comparison

[Image: Protesters block an intersection, holding a large banner reading  “We Are The Last 3% Of Black SF.”]

I debated whether to write this essay because there’s been a lot of in-fighting in animal rights and vegan communities, and I want to encourage positive contributions and collaborations rather than just criticism. But I feel it’s important to call out—and call in—our fellow activists when oppressive language or tactics are used, in order to make the movement a safer space for marginalized humans.

With that in mind, I have serious problems with yesterday’s blog post by Ana Hurwitz for Collectively Free, entitled “Bernie Sanders: A Nazi On Animal Rights.” I feel strongly that the word Nazi should only be used to describe actual Nazis, who have committed unforgivable atrocities against millions of people. Yes, I do consider non-human animals to also be people, and humans do commit atrocities upon them by the billions. But the vast majority of the population does not yet see animals this way. Therefore, singling out a politician—a Jewish person, no less—as a Nazi for treating animals no differently from every other mainstream US-American politician is more offensive than provocative, and does not advance the cause of animal rights.

I recognize that the author of this piece is Jewish, but I do not feel this makes her immune to criticism. I have Jewish ancestry myself, which is part of why I find any comparison—casual or serious—to Nazis to be alarming and disturbing. I wouldn’t even call Donald Trump a Nazi, and he (“allegedly”) has open supporters of the KKK and other white supremacist groups at his rallies.

Speaking of rallies, in response to criticism of this blog post on their Facebook page, Collectively Free has posted numerous links to a post about BlackLivesMatter activists disrupting a Sanders rally, as justification for their actions. As I’ve posted before in reference to that disruption, I feel that non-black people—including other people of color—have no business telling black folks who we should support or how we should protest. But I feel it is inappropriate and disingenuous for that protest to be brought up in this context, particularly by non-black people. The black activists who disrupted Sanders had a reasonable expectation that he might heed their words and make changes to his platform accordingly. Collectively Free has no reasonable expectation that Sanders—or any other mainstream presidential candidate—will promote animal liberation in response to their demands.

What’s more, what appears to be the original motivation for this criticism—which has included a disruption of a Sanders rally as well—is also disingenuous. A month ago, Direct Action Everywhere (which is a separate group from Collectively Free, though there is some overlap in supporters) posted on their main Facebook page a meme of Bernie Sanders smiling with the words “AMERICANS LIKE BACON!” emblazoned over his face. This was in response to a CNN interview with Sanders’ wife Jane, regarding a conversation she overheard between Sanders and Russell Simmons, who now endorses Hillary Clinton. As I posted in a comment on Zach Groff’s blog, DxE’s framing of these words as if they were direct quotes and as if Sanders were gleeful about killing animals was why I had a problem with the criticism; it wasn’t because I support Sanders (to reiterate, I support no presidential candidates) or felt that he should be beyond criticism. Unfortunately, Collectively Free has now added their voices to what I feel is an ineffective and polarizing campaign.

As I said at the outset, I wish to encourage positive action and not merely criticize other animal rights organizations. I welcome constructive comments from others on this blog, whether or not you support Collectively Free or DxE. I am particularly interested in hearing from black vegans on the BlackLivesMatter comparison, and from Jewish vegans on the Nazi comparison. I do not claim to speak for all black vegans (and certainly not for Jewish vegans), but I feel that too often groups hold up members of other marginalized groups (including other PoC) as evidence of solidarity with black liberation, without recognizing that the challenges faced by blacks in the USA are not all interchangeable with those faced by other oppressed groups— including our fellow animals.

Trans visibility in San Francisco (and beyond)

[Image: Event emcees Lexi Adsit, Mia “Tu Mutch” Satya, Shawn Demmons, and Nya (from Transcendent) stand on a stage in front of a screen reading (in part) “Trans Day of Visibility – Embracing Our Legacy. #TDOV”]

Last night I attended a San Francisco event celebrating the Trans Day of Visibility. Unlike the Transgender Day of Remembrance, which honors lives lost to trans-antagonistic violence, the TDoV—an annual, international event since 2009—highlights the vibrance and vitality of the transgender community.

The Singing Bois at TDoV[Image: The Singing Bois – three singing into microphones, one playing guitar – perform on stage.]

Breanna Sinclairé at TDoV[Image: Opera singer Breanna Sinclairé – the first trans woman to sing the national anthem at a pro sporting event –  sings into a microphone on stage.]

Our Lady J at TDoV[Image: Our Lady J (the first openly transgender writer for Transparent) sings into a microphone while playing keyboards.]

This event featured video presentations, comedy, and musical performances. Awardees for 2016 were the Fresh Meat Festival, Ms. Billie Cooper, St. James Infirmary Clinic, Annalise Ophelian and StormMiguel Florez for the documentary film MAJOR!, and—to her surprise and delight—HIV/AIDS awareness activist Tita Aida.

Tita Aida at TDoV[Image: Tita Aida speaks into a microphone while holding a trophy on stage. Others on stage are smiling in the background.]

As uplifting as events like this can be for the trans community, violence is the flip side of visibility. The non-binary performance art duo Darkmatter had some sobering words to say about TDoV on Facebook; in part:

On this day of trans visibility so many of us are left uneasy and conflicted. Yes, of course, visibility has been helpful and transformative. But visibility is not the same thing as justice. What has become increasingly evident is that the system is, in fact, much more willing to give trans people visibility than it is to give us compensation, resources, safety.

Telling our own stories is part of how we can dismantle the cisnormative framing of gender, and counter the ignorance, hatred, and fear that lead to discrimination and violence.

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