Guest post by Seba Johnson
I sit to write this commentary on the eve of Valentine’s Day. Each year, this day of LOVE comes around on February 14th, and this year it happens to fall during the Winter Olympics. How very appropriate. As a youngster I had a love, and that love was ski racing. By the time I was fourteen, I made Olympic history as the youngest alpine ski racer to ever compete and the first Black female alpine ski racer. My heart was filled with the love of my sport.
Before the sport of ski racing entered my heart I had a first love, and that was the pure admiration and respect I felt for animals. Since birth, I was raised as an ethical vegan. I have never worn nor eaten an animal nor used his or her so-called “by products.” As soon as I was able to comprehend, I was taught that animals have the desire and the right to live happy, healthy lives just as we humans would like to do. There was never a time in my young life that I didn’t look at animals as thinking, feeling, and loving beings. A little later, in my early teenage years, I would find that oftentimes animals were much more loving than many of the humans I encountered.
Without going into great detail about my own experiences, I’d rather like to speak about those who suffer great deprivation when it comes to the matters of respect and compassion. Just today I was asked if I was watching the Olympics currently taking place in Sochi. My immediate response to anything Olympic-related is all about the controversies surrounding this year’s Games. Those controversies include both abuses of animals and discrimination against LGBT people.
How on earth is it OK to shoot poisonous darts at homeless dogs and cats, otherwise known as “Sochi strays”? This Olympic host country was awarded the Winter Games back in 2007; certainly, a spay-and-neuter program could have been put in place well in advance. This would have prevented the cull of strays and the cruel slow deaths of many adorable canines with hearts as loving as the Olympians who have vowed to rescue and save a life or two. May the international attention to the dogs of Sochi force the International Olympic Committee to implement humane treatment of all future host country’s non-human population. While they’re at it, may the IOC challenge Japan to cease their annual dolphin hunt in Taiji for good, well before the 2020 Olympic Games are to be held in that host country.
What a great advancement that would be toward the eventual end of captivity, when all tanks are empty worldwide. The ocean is the home of marine mammals and where they belong. There is nothing entertaining about watching marine life perform humiliating tricks taught by food deprivation. My heart aches for the beautiful souls imprisoned in tiny water “cells” around the world, and I am thankful that my mother never took us to gawk at their sad and languishing bodies when I was a kid. My only wish is that ALL kids were taught the truth from childhood and learned that marine parks, along with zoos and circuses, are living hells for all animals. I best not even mention factory farms nor so-called “free range” animal cruelty, though the lifelong vegan in me is bursting at the seams to do so.
The best part of these Olympic Games for me thus far has been finding out that the exhibit of captured orcas set to be on display in Sochi will no longer take place – but simultaneously this is also the saddest part, since their whereabouts are still unknown. They, along with the other orcas who were cruelly snared by hunters, are still unfortunately held captive instead of swimming in the open waters of their natural habitat.
Having been discriminated against because of the color of my skin and having been on the receiving end of hate, I am sadly not surprised that Russia would design an anti-gay law. The ways that we look down on and hurt our fellow animals, as typified by the ill treatments listed above, naturally end up being applied to fellow humans. Homophobia and speciesism, along with racism, sexism, ableism, and any thread of prejudice, are forms of oppression. I am not surprised that the same country that kills stray dogs is punishing love, because love is the opposite of oppression.
It hurts me to the core to know that right now female cows are being raped and artificially inseminated so that humans can eat their young and drink from their udders. It deeply saddens me that someone is committing suicide because he or she has been taunted for being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, or that a child is being discriminated against because of his or her color. The list goes on… But we can eliminate ALL oppression by creating a sincere love and respect for ALL living beings. Each of us must connect to a moral and ethical regard for each human and nonhuman animal until oppression is completely eradicated.
People should be celebrated for sharing LOVE rather than be criticized for expressing it. It is now time for each one of us to decide what type of world we’d like to help create. Shall we create a world of love and acceptance? Or do nothing, be silent, and allow prejudices to hinder our evolution as a species?
Twenty years ago this month, I protested what would have been my 3rd Winter Olympic Games in Lillehammer because Norway had just lifted their ban on commercial minke whale hunting. Today I ask the current Olympians to not only use their bodies for elite athleticism but also use their strong voices while they have captured the attention of the world’s many nations: Speak up for those whose lives your support might save!
Oh, and may the LOVE on this Valentine’s Day weekend embrace every living being, human and non-human, as well as all of our LGBT communities.
VINE Sanctuary thanks our friend Seba for this essay. Click here to read more blog posts concerning intersections between speciesism and other forms of oppression, and visit the Connections section of our main website for even more thought-provoking analysis and links to further readings. If you appreciate our approach to animal advocacy, please consider supporting or volunteering for the sanctuary.