Recently, Mercy For Animals in the USA made an intersectional Facebook post highlighting LGBTQ+ celebrities that are vegan. Thankfully there were many supportive comments, but there were some surprisingly negative comments (most of which the admins removed, but a small discussion has been left at point of writing). Some of these commenters claimed vegans have no moral basis / obligation / imperative to support LGBTQ+ rights. Those that have read my previous article know I’m both gay and vegan and perhaps that perspective allows me to see the intersectionality between the two movements clearly. Let’s explore why I believe LGBTQ+ rights are issues that all vegans should support. (For those interested in the reverse argument, see my article “Why all LGBTQ+ should support veganism.”)
There are two reasons I think we saw those negative comments. The first may come from the definition of veganism, which is often how people view veganism:
“A philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.” – Vegan Society UK
On the surface, the definition seems to be focused on non-human animals only and eating/purchasing behaviour. This may be where some people stop and may miss the spirit of the vegan movement. If we choose to look below the surface to the “why” we vegans choose to not take animal products, it is because we do not want sentient beings harmed through our actions. In other words, the spirit of veganism is about reducing unnecessary harm in the world. People are also animals and sentient beings, regardless of their gender or sexual orientation, and this group is experiencing a lot of unnecessary harm. In the last year, we have seen homosexuals murdered (ISIS), tortured (Chechnya), caned (Indonesia), etc. In more developed nations, many continue to not be able to legally marry (Singapore) or visit their loved ones in the hospital (USA). There are still teen suicides by those who are afraid to come out to their friends and family (India). There is a lot of unnecessary harm. All movements that are genuine in expanding compassion are intersectional. Mercy for Animals shows it understands this not only by the post it made, but by keeping it up and by changing its social media profile photos to include pride colors. What can we learn from this? It may be that while many vegans understand the commonalities between the harm experienced by animals and the harm experienced by LGBTQ+ people, there is still much more that the vegan movement can do to articulate the spirit of veganism to reduce unnecessary harm in the world (and how that can manifest itself in many ways that include intersectionality).
A second reason we see the comments is those people have been subconsciously taught to restrict their compassion to exclude non-cisgendered, heterosexual, or gender-conforming people. As psychologist Dr. Melanie Joy explores in her book, “Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows,” the underlying reasons people can be racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, or speciesist are the same: it’s taught as natural, normal and necessary. As vegans, when we engage people about why they eat some animals and love others, we are used to these arguments. People will say things like “it’s natural because our ancestors ate other animals”, or “it’s normal because most people eat meat” or “it’s necessary because you need it to be healthy.” Vegans can easily identify misconceptions in all these arguments. We may wonder how people came to believe that, but we know: their culture subconsciously conditions them to think it is normal, natural or necessary to kill certain animals (carnism / speciesism). What some who made those negative comments on the Mercy For Animals posts may not realise is they have similar misconceptions in their arguments for denying compassion to the LGBTQ+ community. Let’s explore a few arguments commonly made, focused on orientation for brevity:
“Heterosexuality is normal because most people are heterosexual.” This argument confuses normal with most common. Things can be normal and less common and just because something is less common does not mean it is bad. For example, freckles are normal, but not common and it’s not wrong to have them.
“Heterosexuality is natural because homosexuality does not exist in wild animals.” This argument shows a lack of awareness. We have homosexuality documented in hundreds of species (but so far, homophobia is only shown in humans).
“Heteronormativity is necessary because otherwise everyone will become gay and our species will go extinct.” This argument shows lack of understanding. Homosexuality is not learned, therefore it does not spread. Homosexuality has, as far as science can tell, been a consistent minority in written history.
The underlying concept is all forms of oppression are defended by similar psychological defence mechanisms. It’s the same way that some people are taught which races are good and which are bad (racism), which genders are better than others (sexism), etc. So if you’re a vegan that has not supported LGBTQ+ rights, take some time to see if you can explain your beliefs in a way that doesn’t use the same psychological defence mechanisms as those who defend eating animals when you engage them (natural, necessary, normal).
Anecdotally, there is some evidence that the comments on the Mercy for Animals posts are a product of the culture of the commenters (whom I assume, were primarily American) as in Singapore we recently ran an intersectional campaign and had zero negative comments from our vegan community about supporting LGBTQ+ rights.
In conclusion, Donald Watson once explained that veganism was vegetarianism carried through to its “logical conclusion”. Could LGBTQ+ rights (and other human rights) also be a logical conclusion for veganism? Let’s choose compassion and reduce all harm in this world – regardless of whether the animal is human or non-human.