Invisible Voices

a voice for the voiceless

animal rights and confronting heterosexual privilege

pattrice is encouraging us, in the wake of the awful attack on Nathan Runkle, to dig deep and examine an intersection, another piece of the privilege pie that we have as heterosexuals.

Finally, this attack ought to provoke the animal rights/liberation/advocacy community to take homophobia more seriously. Yes, the movement is generally queer-friendly but, no, it is not entirely free of homophobia. There are gay men in the movement who have hesitated to come out for fear of losing credibility or facing harassment. There are lesbian women in the movement whose opinions about the linkages between sexism and speciesism have been dismissed as the irrational ravings of man-haters. There have been (rare but real) incidents of both insensitivity and outright homophobia at movement events. Confronting this directly will make the movement stronger and better able to build bridges with other movements.

It comes down to a willingness to acknowledge and then divest oneself of unjust power and privilege. Just as it’s very easy for progressive activists in other movements to assume that, because they feel themselves to be good and progressive people, there couldn’t possibly be any need for them to look deeply at their power relationships with animals, it’s very easy for vegan animal rights activists to assume that, because they feel themselves to be good and progressive people, there couldn’t possibly be any need to challenge themselves about issues like race or sexual orientation. But, of course, what’s true is that we all need to be challenging ourselves about everything all the time if we’re to have any hope of salvaging the world from the wreckage wrought by the tangle of intersecting injustices in which we all are ensnared.

I was at a vegan brunch this morning, a final event marking the closing of the Brian McKenzie Infoshop. A sad day, yet it was a celebration. All these people together, sharing vegan food and memories of the Infoshop. Music, laughter, friendship, community.

One of the musicians was Spoonboy. I’ve heard him once before, though I can’t remember the topic of the songs that night. Today one of his songs was about the confusing aspects of sexuality, growing up with the pressures that society places on us to be a certain way. After Spoonboy concluded his song, he said a few words, about how important it had been for him to find the Infoshop just after high school, to have a place where he always felt accepted.

It was the perfect song to get me really thinking about my own piece of the privilege pie, as someone who is technically heterosexual.

As someone who has only dated men, and who has only been inclined to date men, I don’t have to worry that I’m going to be beat up by others who disapprove of the sex of my date. I don’t have to worry that my parents will stop talking to me based on the sex of the person I date. I never had to worry about my parents throwing me out based on my sexual orientation.

If I hold hands with someone I’m dating in public, no one will notice. If I kiss my date in public, people might notice, but any comments would be along the lines of appropriateness of public displays of affection, rather than outrage as to the sex of my date.

If I want to get married, I can, no question. In any state, and with no protests by any group. The fundamental Christians won’t protest my fictional marriage, even though I’m atheist and one would presume that they are fundamentally opposed to any marriage that doesn’t fit their view of it. As long as it is superficially like their own, I suppose they turn their eyes away.

If I want to have a child and raise it with or without a partner, no one would question the suitability, at least not based on my sexual orientation. If I want to adopt a child, there are no laws banning me from doing so. (Though this might not be true in Arkansas, which I think passed a law stating that single parents as well as gay and lesbian couples were banned from adopting.)

There are so many aspects of our society that are built around the assumption that the only valid relationship is the one between one man and one woman. In fact, as we all know, there are those who want to make this a federally enshrined definition of marriage.

But it is more than that. Or it is all of that, on a bigger deeper level.

And this is what I was thinking as Spoonboy sang. When we talk about animal rights, we talk about their right to exist without interference, to find whatever joy and form whatever relationships and live whatever lives they can. The mere fact that animals are not human makes them targets for any number of abuses. They are raped, their babies are stolen, the milk they produce for those stolen babies is then stolen. Their lives are controlled to every degree possible, and then stolen. Their wings are clipped, their beaks and toes are mutilated. They are starved and kept in dark cramped places. If they do not have the misfortune to be a “farmed” animal, then the mere fact of their existence means that there are likely people out there with guns or other instruments of death just waiting for the right time, permit, or happenstance in order to do their best to kill them. Even the exceptions to these rules, the “pets”, have a small protection, and not more than that.

Obviously I haven’t listed all the ways that humans control and kill all the animals. The real point is that it is the mere fact of their existence, and the mere fact that they are not human that opens them up to abuse and death.

This is also true if your sexuality doesn’t conform to the dominant paradigm.

As humans, we are animals. As animal rights activists, this means we must also be social justice advocates. It is without question that we need to fight injustice wherever it occurs. It is shameful that hate crimes based on sexual orientation aren’t universally viewed, in a legal sense, as hate crimes. It is, of course, even more shameful that hate crimes occur.

pattrice has said that she’s seen and experienced extreme homophobia within the animal rights movement.

This doesn’t surprise me – it is a movement made up of people, and people are not perfect. That doesn’t mean we can’t improve. That does mean we need to confront that sort of behavior if and when we witness it. That does mean we educate ourselves so that we are that much more sensitive and aware.

I did some research, and found some shocking information. Shocking because I thought we, as a society, were more advanced than this. According to, twenty states do not include sexual orientation in their hate crimes laws. Twenty! Including the current state I live in, and the one I moved from a couple years ago. And seven have absolutely no hate crime laws at all. Including one I’m about to take a vacation to.

This means that there are a lot of us living in places that likely have campaigns to address this. That means there are a lot of us who could add our voices to the fight, whether or not we live in Ohio, where one of our own was so recently brutally attacked, simply for being who he is.

One of the articles I read recently was on the Gay/Straight Animal Rights Alliance website.

Racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism and speciesism are separate symptoms of a greater disease – a disease that spawns from our behaviors, that will only be cured by a collective struggle to ameliorate all forms of wanton exploitation. We live in an anglicized world of white conservative values and ideals. From an early age we are spoon-fed a government education, learning the pledge of allegiance in conjunction with the alphabet. How is it that a culture so “advanced” necessitates the oppression of humyn and non-humyn animals?

Our society is founded on the inherent belief in false dualisms, dualisms constructed to subjugate and categorize animals with respect to humans, women to men, ghetto to suburb, inferior to superior. We have come to accept the torture of animals, the suppression of minorities, and the servitude of women as human nature. Through the deconstruction of false assumptions we lay the grounds for total liberation; liberation for others and ourselves irrespective of socially constructed biases.

Final words from pattrice:

By making connections and taking action, we can counter might and make things right.


2 responses to “animal rights and confronting heterosexual privilege

  1. Kelvin Kao January 5, 2009 at 3:40 am

    You talked about the homophobia in the movement, but I guess that’s because that’s the movement that you pay attention to. I don’t see them being more or less likely to have that than the general public.

    People in California (especially the ones that care about gay rights) sometimes joke about how animals have more rights than gay people, because the proposition giving raised animals more room to move (forgot the number now) passed, and so did the one that banned gay marriage (prop 8). Hm, I thought California was more liberal than this.

    What you said surprised me. Twenty states do not categorize sexual orientation related crimes as hate crimes? That’s almost like… saying gay people don’t exist in your country.

    Since you admit to ramble when you blog, I’m going to assume that you don’t mind me rambling when I comment. =P

  2. Deb January 5, 2009 at 11:49 pm

    Kelvin, I honestly think that the animal rights movement (and progressive movements in general) are likely to have less homophobia, BUT the danger is that a lot of people honestly think that they are covered by being vegan, that it makes them immune from issues of privilege (class, gender, race, sexual orientation, etc). That’s not true, and it is something we need to think about. There are a few blogs here and there that talk about intersections, and I find that to be really important.

    I was really surprised about the 20 states as well. Even though we’ve had a slew of states in just the past few years vote to pass discriminatory laws…

    And of course I don’t mind if others ramble in the comments! 😀

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