On July 8th, people from various walks of life joined VINE Sanctuary at the Queer Veg*n Speak-Out for the animals at Hostelling International in Boston.
Often animals rights and animal liberation is left out of the conversation within the social justice community. We hoped to bring important intersections to light and address speciesism head-on.
The event began after attendees enjoyed tasty vegan snacks. Before the actual speak-out began I gave a short introduction on VINE Sanctuary. Considering we would be discussing some potentially triggering content as well as being in community with each other, I went over some ground rules, read our community agreements, and gave a general trigger warning in which I invited those who might be overwhelmed or uncomfortable at any time to take a break and return when they were comfortable enough to join us again.
As an icebreaker we went around the circle and introduced ourselves: our name, preferred pronouns, a little bit about why we were there—some attendees were queer, but weren’t veggie or vegan—and what they hoped to get out of the event.
The original idea for the speak-out was to help bridge the LGBTQ and vegan/AR movements by giving LGBTQ veg*ns the chance to tell their friends, family members, and fellow activists how they see the connections between oppressions.
While these intersections did in fact come up in the group, the event took a different turn and became a space in which queer-identified folks felt validated and comfortable enough to discuss important ties between all forms of oppression and vent their frustrations, including, but not limited to: racism and lack of representation of people of color within the vegan community; isolation from family because of ethical choices; and experiencing the taboo of mental illness in the vegan community.
All too often, experiences of vegans of color, myself included, are negatively affected within the vegan community, restricting the way we’re able to access spaces, events, and food. The women of color who participated in our group were very vocal in identifying problematic events they have gone to in Boston, the inability to actually address these issues without feeling uncomfortable, and how it affected their emotional well-being.
I shared a few conversations I have been in, either online or in person, that weren’t welcoming to me as a queer, woman of color and as a vegan. For example, when I’ve mentioned Afro Vegan, a new cook book by Bryant Terry, some have questioned the idea of adding afro-centricsm to veganism—as if the two were complete opposites, unable to merge. Even though there are vegans of color who have contributed in countless ways to our community, some vegans seem unable to understand that it might be both possible and important to emphasize what it means to be Black and proud, living your life compassionately and putting animals before your own pleasure.
This is offensive to me because I believe that mainstream veganism is, unfortunately, centered around whiteness: the majority of vegans I know are White, the majority of vegan activists I know are White, the majority of events I attend are in gentrified areas, etc. It is almost impossible to bring up these concerns in non-radical spaces, unless of course you want to be debated: “Why do we need to separate people by race? We all share the same experience, the ‘human experience’….” Many event participants shared my frustration.
Participants in the speak-out agreed: Those with privilege need to realize that erasure of the experiences of those who identify as people of color is daunting. Time and time again we say, WE WANT TO BE HEARD. Our experiences matter. We are all human animals, but our experiences differ greatly. Our cultures differ greatly, and that’s more than OK. We’d like to bring what makes us feel comfortable to the table, literally, in the form of ideas as well as food. Insisting that we come into spaces solely based on white culture and food, or cultural appropriations without actual representation of those cultures, is excluding us from participating. We create community when we come together for non-human animals. Let us make that community what keeps us together, to make sure our movement continues on the path to end all forms of oppression.
We are hoping to provide a monthly space to support marginalized voices within the Boston vegan community.
In addition, we will be organizing a larger speak-out to spread the queer vegan message of compassion and respect and hope to include local LGBTQ organizations and activists as well as those interested in learning more about VINE and our aims.
VINE supporter and volunteer, Gem, included some prompts to help at the next speak out:
Talk about blocks (like a writers block, but an advocate/activists block). What’s challenging about speaking out for animals? (Is it our own speiciesism? Or something to do with our own oppression or both?) What makes it easier? When do we find ourselves silenced or overcome with self doubt? How can we take care of ourselves best so that we can optimize our energy as allies to non human animals?
After the group, I checked in with a few of the attendees, asking for feed back about their experience, what they enjoyed, and what we could do differently next time.
Here’s a sampling of the feedback:
“I enjoyed the opportunity to be around folks that I identify with and feel really comfortable around. I enjoyed hearing how our experiences differ, people’s authenticity and learning how we can support each other better.’ – Gem
“It was wonderful to meet other queer vegans and get to discuss intersectionality within the vegan community and the animal rights movement. Sharing experiences and ideas with this group was very affirming, especially because there are not many opportunities to have these kinds of discussions within this movement. I’d like to see intersectionality be addressed more often by animal rights activists. I’m glad I was able to attend this event.”- Hannah
‘I enjoyed that it felt like a safe space, safe enough to share my experiences and learn about others. I liked that everyone was welcoming, understanding, and nonjudgmental. I would be interested in attending another.”- Melissa
We couldn’t have asked for a better group to have our first speak out with! The space was great! The snacks were great! We actually went 30 minutes over the original hour and a half we scheduled. Afterwards, some of us headed to a local vegan restaurant, My Thai, to continue the conversation.
We enjoyed building community with you and look forward to our next event.