On June 10, my husband and I joined Mercy For Animals at L.A.'s Gay Pride Parade, the first time an animal rights group has marched in the celebration in West Hollywood.
I've marched and leafleted for gay rights before, and I've done the same for animal rights, but never at the same event.
"No one is free when others are oppressed," read the words from Gandhi on the banner that Mercy For Animals carried in Los Angeles, the same one they've marched with at past Pride celebrations in other major cities where they have offices.
Nathan Runkle, the founder and executive director of Mercy For Animals, grew up gay in rural Ohio, where he witnessed both homophobia and cruelty to animals as a child. In the below video, Nathan explains how he made the connection between the shared ideas about fairness, compassion, and kindness that are at the heart of all social justice movements, and have become important themes in the philosophy and message of his organization:
"We march for justice, compassion, and empathy for all -- regardless of age, gender, race, sexual orientation, or species," Nathan told me. "We march because we all hold the power to prevent cruelty, violence, and exploitation toward animals, who are completely at our mercy."
The central idea behind bringing animal rights to a gay pride march is that most LGBT people know firsthand what it feels like to be bullied and oppressed amidst widespread apathy, and therefore make natural allies and advocates for animals, who face an even harsher and more invisible fate in our society.
Yet there are many LGBT people fail to see a connection, or pretend not to see one.
Prominent gay rights blogger Joe Jervis comes to mind, with his recurring "Reasons To Hate PETA" entries. Another example is Olympic skater Johnny Weir, often lauded in our community, a man who has incredibly publicly declared that he doesn't care if animals are skinned alive for the fur he so loves.
Do I think Johnny Weir or Joe Jervis actually believe some of the things they say, ridiculing the suffering of animals?
No. I think they're just too embarrassed and proud to admit they're wrong.
I've often wondered what is at the root of the reluctance of so many gay people to make the connection, whether it's to the oppression and suffering of the animals we kill and eat, or the ones we kill and wear for clothing.
Could it be that for such a long time, so many of us were told that the very thing that we are was wrong, and now any message questioning what we do is met with defensiveness or hostility?
Whatever the reason, we as a community must change.
Because of our own long experience with oppression, we must open our hearts to the suffering of animals. Otherwise, we are no better than those members of other historically oppressed communities who now close their eyes to our struggle.
That is why I marched with Mercy For Animals.
Knowing all of the above, I will admit I was a little apprehensive about how the group's inaugural presence at L.A. Pride would be greeted by the crowds.
I am very happy to tell you we were met by loud cheers, applause, whistles, and even a few calls from the crowd for "animal rights!"
Now there's a moment to make you proud.
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