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LGBT 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.
Vivisectionists are looking over their shoulders a little more. University police are double-checking locks. Research labs are reviewing security measures. Yes, World Laboratory Animal Liberation Week is almost here. From April 18th to the 26th animal activists across the US, France, Ireland, Israel, South Africa, the UK and elsewhere will be staging protests and media events to raise awareness about the millions of animals who suffer and die in laboratories every year around the world. These animals are subjected to caustic chemicals, addictive drugs, electric shock, ionizing radiation, chemical and biological weapons, deprivation of food and water, psychological torture and many other atrocities, all in the name of “science.”
According to Michael Budkie, executive director of Stop Animal Exploitation NOW! (SAEN), World Laboratory Animal Liberation Week dates back to the early ‘80s when a number of coordinated protests took place at US primate centers, including those at Harvard University, the University of Wisconsin and the University of California, Davis. “It has grown from being observed on a single day, April 24th, to an entire week to allow more people to participate,” says Michael, who, after earning a degree in animal health technology from the University of Cincinnati, found himself working inside a laboratory. “That’s what woke me up to the issue,” he says. “Basically, animal health technicians do one of two things: they work for veterinarians in private practice or they work in research laboratories.” After engaging in lab work, such as oral dosing procedures that are part of the infamous LD50 tests, Michael quit to become an advocate for animals. “If that doesn’t make you an activist, nothing will.”
Michael told me about a report that details the duplication of animal experimentation within the National Eye Institute. “According to the information we’ve gathered over the last year, NEI is currently funding primate experimentation at 26 laboratories in 15 states involving 53 grants, which utilizes roughly $100 million over five years. But the bottom line is they are funding the same paradigm — the same experimental procedures ― over and over and over again. Even if someone had doubts about the validity of animal research or felt there might be some value in it, why do we need to be doing the same thing at least 53 times simultaneously?”
Getting involved in World Laboratory Animal Liberation Week can be as simple as spreading the word. Here are five things you can do:
1. Educate yourself. Learn the facts behind animal experimentation by reading the articles and fact sheets on the SAEN site. Check out resources on other sites, such as the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and Americans for Medical Advancement. You can also read books such as Animal Liberation by Peter Singer, which gives readers an inside look at the research industry and its use of animals.
2. Educate others. Talk to friends and family about what is going on behind the closed doors of research labs. Add an auto-signature to your email with a link to SAEN. Post information on social-networking sites. Forward this post others.
3. Participate in a World Laboratory Animal Liberation Week event ― or plan one of your own. The goal of WLALW is to raise awareness about the horrors of animal experimentation. It’s important that the public understand the toll in terms of animal suffering, wasted tax dollars and the danger to human health. SAEN will be happy to help you.
4. Send letters to elected officials. SAEN is asking people to contact their senators and representatives to request a General Accounting Office audit of the National Eye Institute around the duplication of research projects. If you live in the US, you can find contact information for your elected officials here.
5. Support World Laboratory Animal Liberation Week financially. Working with local activists to support protests, news conferences and tabling is costly. SAEN provides all support to local groups and activists free of charge. Their communication costs, travel costs (to work directly with local groups) and materials costs are covered by donations from people like you. Stop Animal Exploitation NOW! is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt non-profit organization. Donations are tax-deductible as allowed by law. Please send all donations to:
Stop Animal Exploitation NOW!
PMB 280 1081-B State Route 28
Milford, Ohio 45150
Remember: animals suffer in labs around the world 365 days a year. Anything you can do to help is appreciated.
A new documentary was released this week exposing the global primate trade and the treatment of these animals inside the notorious Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS) testing facilities in England. Produced by Animal Defenders International (ADI), Save the Primates shows animals being taken from their homes in the wild and delivered directly to laboratories. HLS in Cambridgeshire is a major contract testing operation for multinational product brands; it can hold up to 550 monkeys at a time. During ADI’s one-year undercover investigation, 217 monkeys were killed in just five studies.
This new investigation is part of a European initiative to ban the use of primates in experiments and is being coordinated by ADI and the National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS). Among the horrors Save the Primates reveals:
In South America, owl monkeys scream as they are torn from their families in the rainforest to be taken to Colombia for malaria experiments.
In Vietnam, monkeys frantically rattle their tiny, rusting cages while being held captive by a primate supplier approved by the UK Home Office. (In a single year, this business supplied nearly 500 monkeys to HLS.)
In the UK, primates are used in commercial testing at HLS in Cambridgeshire. The video shows struggling monkeys strapped into chairs and forced to inhale products. Many of the animals are housed in one-cubic-meter cages and then taken out to be held down by workers as tubes are forced down their throats.
The new “Save the Primates” report and investigation are part of a comprehensive study linking primate research and the international primate trade to the alternatives that are now available. Hoping to secure Europe-wide support for an end primate tests, ADI and NAVS have produced Save the Primates in English, French, German, Italian, Polish and Spanish.
“There is a unique opportunity in Europe to finally begin phasing out experiments on primates,” says ADI Chief Executive Jan Creamer. “Nobody looking at the undercover footage of monkeys at this leading UK laboratory could fail to be moved by the stress and suffering these animals are forced to endure. Yet there are alternatives to using monkeys in these tests. Now that the truth of everyday suffering has been revealed, we must seize the opportunity to put an end to it.”
From the same vivisectionists who helped give us the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act comes animalrightsextremism.org. Launched by the US-based Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB), the Web site is devoted to resources on “animal rights extremism.”
The site says that “Animal rights extremists … pose a real threat to medical progress and the scientists who dedicate their lives to improving the lives of others.” Well, as long as they’re human, presumably.
According to Carrie Wolinetz, FASEB’s Director of Scientific Affairs and Public Relations for the Office of Public Affairs, “We wanted researchers who have been targeted by these groups to have centralized access to the resources available to assist them. Scientists need to know that the research community supports them and they are not alone.”
FASEB apparently hopes to attract the younger set: there’s a page on the site featuring cartoon animals and photos of animals in all kinds of cute poses. Conspicuously absent are any shots of mice left with untreated ulcers, immobilized monkeys locked in torture devices or cats with electrodes planted in their brains.
For reasons why animal activists are working to end animal testing, please visit http://www.stopanimaltests.com/