Tag Archives: animal rights

Dear marginalized vegans: You are enough

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

This post is addressed to vegans who are marginalized due to their race, gender, class, sexual orientation, physical or mental abilities, or other factors. This post primarily concerns vegans currently living in the USA.

In light of certain animal rights disruptions in the news, you might be feeling pressured to “do something” for the animals. You might be reading that having vegan potlucks and the like without committing to activism is being selfish and ineffective. You might be reading that our fellow animals suffer more than any humans do, so whatever your personal situation, you have a responsibility to fight for animal rights.

You might be hearing this from any or all of the following:

The list goes on and on, but you get the picture.

As a queer black trans vegan who suffers from significant depression and dysphoria, I am here to tell you this:

You are enough.

You are enough if all you can do is have a vegan potluck.

You are enough if all you can do is buy prepared vegan meals from a non-vegan restaurant or supermarket.

You are enough if all you can do is share photos of farmed animals on social media.

You are enough if all you can do  is cuddle with your companion animals.

You are enough if all you can do is get out of bed in the morning.

If you can do more than this, great. But the fact that some marginalized vegans are able to be activists for the animals does not obligate you to do so.

It’s a violent world out there. Let’s take care of each other.

Social justice mages head to Washington

[Image: Banner reading “Interspecies & Intersectional Justice – Animal Rights, Human Rights, Just Society, Healthy Planet.” Animal footprints – non-human and human – adorn the sides of the banner.]

Tomorrow Ziggy and I are heading to Whidbey Island in Washington State for the Intersectional Justice Conference that I’ve been writing about. I’m excited about this event, and especially looking forward to meeting Aph Ko and Christopher-Sebastian McJetters*, whose work I’ve linked to frequently.

As much as I’m looking forward to this weekend, regular readers of my blog know that my mind is heavy lately, and the current political climate does nothing to assuage it. Mainstream news channels are covering “Terror in Brussels” 24/7, a level of concern not expressed for the victims of recent attacks in Istanbul, Ankara, and the Ivory Coast. Republican presidential candidates are calling for closing our borders and patrolling Muslim neighborhoods.

The same sort of conservatives who are predisposed to Islamophobia are introducing bill after bill to dehumanize trans people. After efforts in South Dakota and Tennessee** were thwarted, North Carolina joined the list of states attempting to force people to use restrooms matching their “biological sex” (wasting a great deal of taxpayer money in the process). Meanwhile, Ziggy and I will be arriving at the airport two hours before our scheduled (domestic) flight tomorrow, because the TSA treats trans people as potential terrorists.

Islamophobia, racism, sexism, and cissexism are all prevalent in animal rights and vegan messaging, and will be among the topics discussed at the Whidbey conference. Vegans and non-vegans alike often derisively label folks who care about these issues as “social justice warriors.” As I’m a pacifist, I like activist vlogger Kat Blaque’s comeback to this charge: “I’m a social justice mage.”

I likely won’t be blogging again until after the conference, though I’ll still review and approve comments if I have time. I believe the presentations will be filmed (though not live-streamed), so hopefully those who cannot attend in person can watch them later. There will be an official photographer, so I’m not planning on taking many photos, but I will post any good ones that Ziggy and I take for sure. Here’s to a successful conference!

* Whose arm I will be gently and lovingly twisting until he agrees to set up a web site of his own to host all of his brilliant writings. I hate linking to Facebook!

**After posting this entry, I learned that the anti-trans bill in Tennessee has not yet been killed. I wish I could say I’m surprised.

Two-party politics will not liberate animals

[Image: Gandalf, a goat at Preetirang Sanctuary.]

Disclaimer/reminder: I am registered with no political party and do not support or endorse any presidential candidates.

I’ve tried to stay out of political discussions, but recent social media posts about Democratic presidential candidates and their support for animals, or lack thereof, has irritated me enough to say something.

Let’s face it. No Democratic or Republican presidential candidate is ever going to campaign for animal liberation. The best you can expect is maybe some promises of welfare reform or promotion of plant-based diets. But recognizing legal personhood and abolishing the property status of animals? Forget it.

The two major U.S. parties are not identical, but they are similar in one fundamental respect: Money. In our capitalist system, there is simply too much profit to be made by exploiting people to achieve true justice and equity for humans, much less our fellow animals. I am convinced that the only way to make radical changes is to dismantle the system and rebuild it from the ground up.

Note that I’ve been voting since 1988, when I was first eligible to do so, so I’ve heard every argument against “third parties” in the book. Don’t bother telling me that “A vote for x is a vote from Trump” or “Not voting is a vote for Trump” or anything else that implies I am personally responsible for rescuing this country from the fucked up state it is in. (See yesterday’s post by A. Breeze Harper for some insight on how that might have happened.) Besides, I’m not convinced that any political party is able to accomplish the kind of radical change that would make me feel safe, welcome, and happy to call myself a US-American.

For the record, though, there is a political party that is campaigning on a platform of animal rights (among other reforms): The Humane Party. They actually require all of their candidates and officers to sign an oath abstaining from all animal products and services. Their presidential candidate (who again, I am not endorsing) is Clifton Roberts.

Of course, I’m sure none of the animal rights groups are bothering to mention this party’s existence because it’s such a long shot that they would win. But you know what else is a long shot? Animal liberation. Only a tiny proportion of people in this country actually recognize farmed animals as individual sentient beings who deserve to live for their own sake. Citing polls that say things like “32% of people believe animals should be given the same rights as people” is frankly disingenuous, because if that were really true we’d see far more widespread acceptance – and even enforcement – of veganism than we currently do. Such respondents might have actually believed what they were saying, but I guarantee the majority of them poured cow’s milk on their cereal before putting on their leather shoes and going to work.

So if animal rights activists truly want animal liberation, why aren’t more of them campaigning for candidates who actually support it? Or, better yet, organizing for (peaceful) revolution? I know why I’m not doing it: Serious depression and dysphoria that have made it difficult for me to even take care of myself, much less get involved in radical political reform. But there are a lot of energetic vegan activists out there.

Regardless, US-American politics is rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic at this point. I’m not saying any other particular country is better on animal rights specifically; animals are exploited – just by nature of them being considered property – pretty much everywhere. And as a queer black trans person with mental health issues, even if I had the independence and ability to just pick up and move, I honestly don’t know where I would go.

To reiterate: This is not an endorsement of Clifton Roberts or any other candidate. I am just fed up with two-party politics, and the expectation that as a progressive I have a duty to play along.

We’re not asking your permission

Among the many ReclaimMLK actions last weekend was an Anti Police-Terror Project protest at the San Francisco International Airport. There’s a great moment caught on video where a white man tells the assembled group that he will allow them to speak if they stand in a certain place. Protest leader Cat Brooks calmly responds, “We’re not asking your permission.”

Since the weekend’s protests, especially with the Bay Bridge shutdown, there have been a lot of whitesplainers on social media saying that these disruptions were not in the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr. Many people seem to think that the accomplishments of the civil rights movement happened via polite protesters standing in designated areas with signs and leaflets.

Leafleting has its place, but so does civil disobedience. White supremacy is too firmly entrenched to be dismantled without inconveniencing people. We cannot let white people dictate the terms of our protests. Black Lives Matter is not about white people.

When Monday’s march from Oakland to Emeryville was about to get underway, the announcer stated that only black and brown folks, children, and those who had lost loved ones to police violence should go to the front. Everyone else should march behind the truck. I appreciated this, though I did see a bunch of white folks walking in front. I’ll give the benefit of the doubt that some of them didn’t hear the announcement.

This weekend of direct action made me think about the animal rights actions I participated in when I was active with DxE, which sometimes involved going inside stores and restaurants. Some have challenged these disruptions on the basis that unlike in human rights demonstrations, the oppressed are not able to organize protests themselves. I think this is a fair criticism, not because non-human animals are less worthy of protection than humans, but because activists sometimes forget that we are only their allies and proxies, and shouldn’t be held up as heroes or martyrs.

I’m not now opposed to direct action for animals, but I think such demonstrations need to be planned and framed very carefully to center the animals and make the message of liberation clear. And as I’ve written repeatedly, all animal rights activists also need to pay attention to human oppression, both in their messaging and their choice of venues to disrupt.

Regardless of the cause, I’m currently unwilling to participate in any protest that might get me arrested, owing to my trans status among other reasons. But I support others who disrupt, as long as they allow the oppressed to take the lead.

Abolitionist exodus

This week, two vegan feminist activists – Corey Lee Wrenn and Sarah K. Woodcock – announced that they would be abandoning the “abolitionist” name from their respective web sites and organizations, henceforward to be known as The Academic Activist Vegan and The Advocacy of Veganism Society. The stated reasons included concerns about pervasive sexism in the abolitionist movement, and appropriation of the term “abolitionist” by vegans who don’t take anti-black oppression seriously.

I welcome this change, and have updated my links page accordingly. I’ve posted before that I personally prefer the term “liberationist” to “abolitionist,” not only for the above reasons but because it is more positive-sounding. Some have stated that “liberationist” does not imply a moral imperative to be vegan and to not use non-human animals for any purpose. I’d counter that “abolitionist” doesn’t immediately convey that philosophy either.

Regardless, Gary Francione has been desperately trying to protect his brand as “The” Abolitionist Approach, so these name changes should make him and his followers happy. They can keep their white boys club for themselves.

In more positive news: Black Vegans Rock will be launching on January 4. See this post for details on how black vegans can submit their work to be featured on this new site.

Best of funcrunch 2015 – animal rights

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

Following up on yesterday’s roundup of gender-related posts, here are this year’s entries that I consider to be the most important on the topics of speciesism, veganism, and animal rights. If you read nothing else, please read “Animals are people, not property,” which is the most significant explanation of my philosophy.

Note: Several of these posts mention my prior participation in Direct Action Everywhere events. Please see my statement on where I stand on DxE, which still holds true today. As stated in that post, I still do not wish to get involved in any pro- or anti-DxE discussions either on this blog or on social media.

Sistah Vegan Black Lives Matter conference posterWhite vegans need to check their privileges

On racism, particularly anti-black racism, in the “animal whites movement.”


Buster surrounded by friends at Preetirang SanctuaryAnimal rights, not vegan rights

On activism focusing on the needs of non-human animals, not vegans.



Brahma at PreetirangSugarcoating supremacy

On parallels between the lies taught about oppression of humans and oppression of animals.


Lisa loungingAnimals are people, not property

Important explanation of my animal rights philosophy.



Robot Hugs - Scale of harmStop ranking oppression

On racism, sexism, and other human oppression in the animal rights movement.



Kitchen knivesCulture of killing

Thoughts on pervasive, ongoing violence, from kitchens to battlefields.



Luv at PreetirangThe “natural” human diet

On why debating what is “natural” for humans to eat is a distraction.



Thanks to my readers for learning about animal rights with me this year. Here’s to a new year filled with more peace and life.

The vegan white boys club continues

My foray into animal rights activism has really opened my eyes to the amount of injustice in the world. Rather than ranking the needs of non-human animals over those of humans, I have been as vocal about racism and sexism (including cissexism) as about speciesism. Unfortunately, many in the animal rights community don’t see the predominance of white male leaders as a problem, whether or not those leaders give lip service to intersectionality.

Recently, Ruby Hamad wrote about racist and sexist messaging by white male vegans, citing as examples Durian Rider, Gary Yourofsky, and Gary Francione. Francione responded with a lengthy, ego-ridden display of white fragility in which he was “astonished” to be lumped in with people like Rider and Yourofsky, and accused the writer of “lumping all men in the same group.” Francione accused Hamad of criticizing his views simply “because some white guy promotes [them].” He also discredited the work of black vegan feminist scholar Dr. A. Breeze Harper based on selected comments from one of her talks.

Here’s the thing. All men benefit from the patriarchy. All white people benefit from white supremacy. As I’ve written previously, saying “not all men” or “not all white people” assures the reader that the charge of racism or sexism is not being levied against them. But dismantling oppression is more important than protecting fragile white male egos. Rather than defensively respond to accusations with “I am not a racist/sexist,” the person accused ought to reflect on their privileges and carefully examine why their statements might be harmful to a member of an oppressed group. What is racist is not up to a white person to decide, and likewise with sexism and men.

Normally I would just ignore Francione (I wrote up a detailed account of my troubles with him previously), but I cannot ignore the deliberate suppression of vegan women of color like Dr. Harper who have done so much work to promote both animal and human liberation. And now Francione’s influence has extended to getting another vegan woman of color, Sarah K. Woodcock of The Abolitionist Vegan Society, removed from VegFest UK. Apparently Tim Barford, who battled publicly with Francione in the past, has now bought into “Frabolitionism,” and didn’t like that Woodcock has been critical of Francione. Nevermind her unwavering dedication to abolitionist vegan advocacy; the crime of being “rude” to a white man is apparently unforgivable.

White men aren’t going to let go of their power and influence in the vegan and animal rights movements without a fight. Choosing which battles are worth fighting is necessary to prevent burnout. I’m realizing the wisdom in Aph Ko’s plan for Black Vegans Rock: “Stop deconstructing white uncritical spaces, and start (re)constructing more black progressive spaces.” As this article promoting Black Vegans Rock states, veganism has a serious race problem. And white men are not the ones who are going to fix it.

Monkey business

[Image: A howler monkey swings from a tree branch.]

Today’s Wikpedia Signpost newsletter featured an article that focused on my particular areas of interest enough that I wanted to blog about it immediately. The animal rights organization PETA has filed a lawsuit to grant the copyright for a selfie taken by a monkey, Naruto, to the monkey himself. This lawsuit follows an attempt by the human photographer, David Slater, to have the series of photos removed from Wikimedia, on the grounds that he owned the rights to them. The Wikimedia Foundation countered that the works were not covered by copyright law as they were not created by a human being; the U.S. Copyright Office agreed.

While most would be tempted to just laugh this all off as “ridiculous story of the week,” I’m both a photographer and animal rights activist, so I see several separate issues of interest here. I should begin by disclosing that I’m no fan of PETA; as I’ve blogged previously, I’ve found much of their messaging sexist, racist, and problematic in many other ways.

But what intrigues me about PETA’s lawsuit is the position that I’ve taken myself, that animals are people, not property. As I discussed in the linked post, however, being a person is not equivalent to being a citizen, with all the rights and privileges granted to a human resident of a particular political jurisdiction. Recognizing the personhood of non-human animals does not entail granting them equivalent legal status to humans in all areas, only in those which are meaningful in the context of living out their lives freely.

One would be hard-pressed to say that a wild animal taking a photograph, under highly-contrived circumstances arranged by a human, would have any legitimate interest in claiming legal ownership of their work. The original purpose of copyright, before greedy corporations like Disney and Warner/Chappell corrupted it, was to encourage artists to create new works by granting them exclusive rights for a limited period of time. Monkeys do not take photographs of their own accord, nor do they make income by selling prints or licenses.

While it doesn’t make much sense to grant Naruto this copyright, it’s questionable whether the human photographer should be profiting from what might amount to an act of exploitation, from a moral perspective. From a legal perspective, Slater claims he put a great amount of work into setting up the shots, so they should be considered his property.

A related issue came up a few years ago, when a friend posed a hypothetical question: If someone hands their camera to you and asks you to take a photo of them, and you do so, do you now own the rights to that photo? (This situation occurs quite frequently in tourism.) I posted this question to a photography forum, and quite a lively discussion ensued.

My position, as professional photographer (more actively so then than now), was that under United States copyright law, the photographer would own the photo, but it would be petty to try to actually enforce that claim. Others said that you would in essence be acting as a “meat tripod,” and thus had no claim to the work. I countered that as a professional, I would put some effort into framing, adjusting exposure, and the like, so I would actually be putting some work into the photo. (This was before smartphone snapshots became ubiquitous.) But I emphasized that I would never actually try to track down the photo and claim that I owned it.

As an aside, my frustration with the public’s ignorance of copyright law, coupled with my belief that capitalism should ultimately be dismantled, both led to the change in my photography business model. My Creative Commons-licensed photos are still under copyright another subject the general public doesn’t quite understand but that’s a topic for another post.

Regardless, we’re not talking about two humans here; we’re talking about a free-living animal who was cajoled by a human into helping create a product that no member of his species is capable of producing on their own, or even comprehending in full. I believe that trying to derive monetary profit from this endeavor is wrong on both PETA’s part and the photographer’s, even though PETA claims they would use 100% of the profits to benefit Naruto and other crested macaques. Animal rights efforts focus far too much on “personable” animals like monkeys and elephants, when the ones who most urgently need attention are the chickens, cows, pigs, and fishes that we slaughter by the tens of billions every year. Granting personhood means recognizing that no animal, regardless of species, should be the property of another.

Where I stand on DxE

[Image: Activists dressed in black stand in a grocery store behind a small coffin, holding flowers and signs reading “We Will Not Forget” and “It’s Not Food It’s Violence.”]

The recent controversy surrounding the animal rights group Direct Action Everywhere, with allegations of harassment and misconduct on both sides (none of which I’m going to link to here), has caused me enough stress to seriously question whether I want to continue with organized animal rights activism. I’m avoiding Facebook for the time being, but I do not want my absence or silence to be misinterpreted. I do not consent to being used as a token to be thrown into a pro- or anti-DxE bucket by anyone.

My thoughts on the situation are too nuanced to be condensed to a hashtag or blanket statement of either support or condemnation, so I’d really appreciate people reading this essay in full before making any judgments on where I stand. I’m not going to approve any comments on this post and I’m not sharing this post on Facebook, though it’s public so others are free to do so. I’d appreciate not being tagged on any shares or comments on Facebook or otherwise dragged into discussions on social media; people can e-mail me directly if they have any questions or concerns.

As I’ve posted before, I came to DxE last fall after Bob Linden kicked DxE co-founder Wayne Hsiung out of the World Vegan Summit. The first action I attended, a funeral for a chicken at Berkeley Bowl, is pictured at the top of this post. I was moved by the action, and happy to be part of a community of people that took speciesism seriously, even while being widely mocked by the general public and other vegans. I began spending more time at the DxE house, as I made friends in the group and felt it was a safe space where I could be free of speciesism and also respected as a queer black trans person.

As time went on, my depression worsened and I started spending less time in public and around other people in general, which meant less time at DxE events. I also no longer felt safe participating in disruptions, as I felt my skin color and trans status put me at greater risk of harassment by the police.

I continued to keep up with DxE on social media, and so was aware of the escalating conflict amidst allegations of sexual harassment by people formerly or currently affiliated with the group. As I was neither target of nor witness to any incidents, I only had the word of others to go by on what happened. Regardless, as a survivor of sexual abuse myself, if someone says they were abused or harassed, I am inclined to believe them.

Some screenshots and snippets of conversations from private messages and closed groups have since been published, which makes me very uncomfortable even if I understand why they were revealed. This is part of why I’m staying off of Facebook right now. I’ve found that regardless of visibility settings, nothing posted on social media is truly private, unfortunately.

Having been involved in online activism for over a year now, I am aware that there are some individuals who have wanted DxE dismantled for some time now, for a number of reasons. However, I am not going to assign all blame for the current situation to those people. Nor am I going to assume that any specific grievances they have are illegitimate based on prior animus toward DxE.

Nor do I suspect infiltrators from animal agriculture of trying to divide the movement. The “movement” is fractured because there is no common end goal. Some activists say that “all true vegans are abolitionists,” but there isn’t even any agreement on what the term “abolitionist” means, much less the term “vegan.” I could write another whole essay on that topic, but for now I’ll just say that I do not believe the current DxE situation came about due to industry infiltration (though I have no proof, admittedly, that it did not).

I also really don’t like any dismissal of this situation as a distraction from “saving animals.” As I’ve written before, I will not rank the oppression of non-human animals as more important than the oppression of humans. Claims of sexism and racism by anyone, in any movement, are very serious and need to be addressed. No one should feel that they must be silent about abuse or micro-aggressions in the interest of furthering the cause of a group.

Ultimately, I do not believe that individuals or organizations as a whole are “good” or “evil.” I especially don’t like the term “evil” as it has religious connotations. Rather, I believe that individual actions have the potential to cause more or less harm. And there’s no doubt that harm has been caused, whether intentional or not, by people on both sides of the current debate. And it’s clear that any efforts to remediate that harm have thus far not been entirely successful.

So where do I stand? For now, I’m going to continue as an independent activist, blogging but not participating in actions. As I’ve never held any official position with DxE, this really isn’t much of a change. I’m aware that some will not be satisfied that I’m serious about anti-oppression unless I sever all ties with friends in DxE, and I’m not going to do that. I’m also aware that some in DxE will be disappointed if I don’t come out with an unequivocal statement of solidarity, but I’m not going to do that either.

Some days I wish I could just rewind the clock to when I was blissfully ignorant of the vast amount of injustice in the world. But I can’t. So I don’t feel that I can give up on activism entirely. I just wish there were a lot more honesty and a lot less hostility in activist communities.

Stop ranking oppression

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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