Andrew_ZollmanLGBT Compassion is a new group run by gay San Francisco Bay Area animal advocates, in affiliation with the non-profit organization Bay Area Vegetarians. Their activism focuses primarily on farmed-animal issues, though they also campaign against rodeos and other injustices they feel strongly about. When I caught up with founder Andrew Zollman he was working on the group’s campaign to eliminate live poultry markets in the Bay Area. He took a little time to answer some questions about LGBT Compassion.

Please tell me about LGBT Compassion. When was the group founded and what was the inspiration for creating it?

For about four years, I’ve been working with gay friends who are members of Bay Area Vegetarians on various campaigns, including issues that touch us personally, such as the Gay Rodeo (which Warren Jones and Eric Mills campaigned against many years before I become involved). Also, we want to promote the health benefits of plant-based diets to the LGBT community, as there are some sub-cultures that are particularly resistant to vegetarianism for various reasons, contributing to many of our friends suffering from preventable health problems at relatively young ages. The website LGBTcompassion.org was launched in April 2009 primarily to share our information about the live chicken vendors, but I hope to use it to reach out to other members of the LGBT community and inspire them to make compassionate choices ― not only for animals, but for other social justice issues that we should be concerned about.

There are many prominent gay animal advocates, such as Eric Mills from Action for Animals, Dan Mathews from PETA and Nathan Runkle from Mercy For Animals. I think we’re compelled to help animals due to empathy we’ve developed from our own experiences of oppression and abuse, and we’ve also developed useful strengths and skills from learning to cope with and fight discrimination. Not being accepted by mainstream society has helped us to be independent and true to our own ethics, which, of course, helps when being a veg*n and/or an animal activist.

We also hope to help dispel the stereotype that gay people are self-absorbed, materialistic and vapid (like television and movies usually portray us), as well as help show the diversity in vegans and animal activists.

What outreach efforts is LGBT Compassion using, and what do you find to be most effective?

We’ve leafleted with Vegan Outreach pamphlets at Gay Pride, and people were very receptive. We’ve leafleted against the Gay Rodeo in the Castro (alongside the rodeo promoters) and also directly contacted their sponsors ― likely contributing to the rodeo’s cancellation this year. We’ve conducted monthly protests with leafleting at KFCs. We’re active on Facebook and Yahoo! Groups. It’s difficult to tell which is most effective, but we’ve seen results from all activities. I also plan on soon showing videos and distributing Vegan Outreach fliers in the Castro neighborhood.

What kind of equipment will you use to show the videos?

I have a 22″ LCD TV/DVD player, with a deep-cycle battery power supply. I put it all on a microwave cart.

You mentioned doing outreach at Gay Pride and leafleting against gay rodeos. Do you think organizers of LGBT-related events and those who attend them are more receptive to a group like yours than they might be to other animal advocacy groups?

I think that members of the local gay community do pay more attention to us, as many of them know us personally, or recognize us as “regular” people in many of the same social circles, and see that we’re not stereotypes of vegans and animal activists. It’s also difficult for them to label our protests as anti-gay, thus avoiding the issue of animal cruelty ― though they still sometimes try. There’s also the element of peer pressure, when they learn that people within their own community are making compassionate and healthy choices. I believe that our ability to work from within an influential community in a major city can be very powerful.

Recently, there has been a surge of vegan food options in the Castro neighborhood, where we’ve long complained that few existed. We’ve also recently seen more people in the LGBT community become vegan or express interest. We’re excited to see these changes, and hope to help accelerate them.

You have a couple of campaigns that assist people who have AIDS. Some advocates, such as Dan Mathews, have been criticized by the gay community for not supporting animal testing in HIV/AIDS research. How does LGBT Compassion respond to such criticism?

I can’t speak for other gay activists, and we probably have different perspectives. I had friends and acquaintances who died before effective medications were available, and I’m happy that people can now have long, productive lives with HIV, but it’s unfortunate that these advances are a result of untold animal suffering. I don’t know the extent that animal testing materially contributes to the advancement of HIV/AIDS treatment, and I am doubtful of its value. I do know that there are some non-animal testing methods being employed that are effective. I don’t disapprove of anyone using medicine that resulted from animal testing, as the testing has already been done and they’re not directly contributing to it. 

Currently, there are many obviously abusive, unnecessary or redundant animal tests being conducted that I’d prefer to eliminate first, before arguing whether any testing is productive or “necessary.” However, I do try to avoid supporting campaigns that support animal testing for the treatment of any disease.

Additionally, I’ve gathered anecdotal evidence — confirmed by Dr. Milton Mills from Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine — that a healthy plant-based diet may tremendously benefit persons with HIV, and I prefer to promote that information in the hopes of delaying, reducing or eliminating the need for medicine, just as with any other disease.

What lessons does the animal rights movement have to learn from other social justice movements like gay rights?

I suppose that, just like people who have advanced LGBT rights and other civil rights, we need to put the goal of necessary social reform above our fears of social ostracization, physical harm and threats from the government and that social change will definitely come if we fight, speak up and make ourselves known to everyone.

As you know, after the passage in November of California’s Prop 8 and Prop 2, some advocates of same-sex marriage accused voters of caring more about chickens than gay people. How do you respond to someone who makes that claim?

Following is a letter I submitted to the editor of a local gay newspaper, the Bay Area Reporter:

“I’ve been hearing complaints from fellow members of the gay community that animals now have more ‘rights’ than we do, due to the passages of California’s Propositions 2 (farm animal confinement standards) and 8 (elimination of the right to same-sex marriage). While I understand the intent of this assertion, it’s problematic for both our community and the animals.

“Animals received no rights with Proposition 2. Some animals (primarily egg-laying hens) are simply granted a few more inches of living space, and relieved of a little suffering during their short, miserable lives. For more information about what most egg-laying hens endure on factory farms, please visit farmsanctuary.org.

“The comparison is not valid. It trivializes the suffering of animals and the hard volunteer work on Proposition 2 by gay animal advocates like me. It trivializes the issue of equal rights, comparing our current lack of one of them to the suffering and abuse of animals raised for food. It also sounds like we would prefer that they continue to suffer until we receive such rights.

“Compassion is not finite. The animals did not steal the voters’ compassion from us, and the majority of the voters who voted yes on 2 also voted no on 8. For some of the voters, they are completely different issues: granting ‘innocent’ animals a little relief from cruelty while protecting our food safety and environment, versus trying to ‘protect’ society by preventing gay people from actions that are against their religious views.

“As a group that has experienced oppression and abuse, we should be sympathetic to others who are abused (especially those who have no voice of their own), and celebrate when they receive a little relief, instead of complaining.

“If people wish to continue to bring attention to this issue, it would be more appropriate to use the word ‘compassion’ instead of rights.”

What are some ways advocates can help both animals and the LGBT rights movement?

I don’t really know, but I think it’s obvious they are intertwined. From what I’ve experienced with my non-gay friends and during Proposition 8, all the compassionate people out there — particularly animal advocates — are already doing a wonderful job fighting for LGBT rights! I would ask that they continue to help fight for the right to marriage in California and other states.