By Mitch Goldsmith
Like the rest of the nation, and as an openly gay man, I am stunned and heartbroken by the carnage in Orlando. While we as a society debate the factors—anti-gay sentiment, misguided fundamentalism, all-too-easy access to assault weapons—that led to the deadliest mass public shooting in American history, as President Obama rightly noted, “We know enough to say this was an act of terror, and an act of hate.”
Members of the LGBTQ community know what it’s like to feel the sting of mindless intolerance and hatred simply because of who we are. And for many of us, this experience of irrational bigotry informs our advocacy—not only for gay and transgender rights but also for the rights of others who are oppressed, including individuals of other species.
While our country mourns and discusses ways to prevent future outbreaks of such violence, if any good can come of this tragedy, I hope that it will engender continued progress against biases that harm so many of us who are perceived as “different,” including animals.
Animals’ lives are as important to them as ours are to us. They experience fear, love, grief, joy and pain just as we all do, though often their feelings are dismissed as unimportant. Billions of animals are slaughtered, experimented on, shot, poisoned, beaten, shackled, drowned and dissected. This happens routinely, despite the availability of kinder options.
If we truly reject violence, as we all say we do, we must reflect on the torment that animals are forced to endure every day, out of sight, just because they are deemed “different” from us and therefore easy to exploit. And then we must also act. By choosing to eat a vegan meal rather than a meat-based one, buying shampoo from a cruelty-free company or going to a concert rather than the circus, we can easily make a difference. These may seem like simple actions, but our day-to-day choices matter. How we go about our daily lives can perpetuate injustice, or help bring about fairness and tolerance.
I’m not the first person to make this connection, of course. Leaders of social justice movements have historically recognized that the liberation of one oppressed group is linked to the liberation of all the others. The best way to end bigotry is for social justice advocates of all stripes to work side by side.
Steven Simmons, a respected PETA staffer and gay rights activist who died of AIDS in the mid-1990s, wrote, “It’s time for us to end this hierarchy of who has the right to live, who deserves not to suffer, who should be respected, [the idea] that there’s a limit to the amount of compassion that we can have for our fellow creatures.”
It was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who stated, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” and it’s worth noting that after his passing, as the concepts of gay rights and animal rights began to spread, his widow, Coretta Scott King, became an outspoken LGBT advocate and a vegan.
Members of the LGBTQ community have fought long and hard to overcome the violence, hatred and prejudice directed at us just because of who we are, and the massacre in Orlando reminds us that there is still much work to be done. But as a society, we must not limit the scope of our concern. Those of us who sincerely want to foster a climate of compassion and peace must have the courage to speak out and stand up against all forms of violence.