Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Candlelight Vigils Part II

This is Part II of a two part blog post:

"He was a faggot," exclaimed one of Matthew Sheppard's torturers.

"Please don't go in," I pleaded.

It's quite amazing to me how many thoughts can pass through my mind in just one minute. I was all of a sudden thinking of the faggots in my life. My best friend died of AIDS in 1992 and my life would never be the same. This was in my pre-vegan years and I had done very little work to help animals.

As I stood outside the coliseum holding my candle I thought of the thousands of my lesbian and gay brothers and sisters who were also holding candles that night for a young "faggot" who would die from his beating. Their outrage was my outrage. I also shared outrage with my fellow protesters holding signs and candles trying to let good people know that they have no place attending a circus.

"Get a life," a man told me while walking past me with his wife and three children. I always love this comment.

A constant voice for the voiceless, an unapologetic animal rights and human rights activist, a person of faith, veteran, in recovery, a pretty decent part of my community. I spend most waking hours trying to make the world a better place for all living beings. He wants me to get a life.

"Please don't support cruelty," I ask as the entering crowd thins just before the circus is about to begin.

Over one hundred and fifty people attended the circus protest that night. I was the only openly gay man protesting that evening. Although there are those in the gay community that are entrenched in the leather community and others who believe animal testing is absolutely necessary, it is difficult for me to comprehend that I am the sole, openly gay representation at this protest.

Present day, AIDS is killing thousands annually (I believe the number was around 18,000 in the US in 2010). Gay communities across the country were destroyed in the late eighties through the mid nineties. Activists joined together to fight discrimination towards people with HIV/AIDS and to fight for federal dollars to find a cure. Fighting amongst groups could not happen while friends, lovers, and partners were dying. Fighting together could create change. Those fighting to end the torture of animals, whether the torture happens on a fur farm, factory farm or a circus, all have a common denominator.

Yet as millions of animals suffer. many groups (and individuals) spend time fighting or attacking other groups because of different opinions rather than fighting the torturers. Those who profit from killing animals smile when those are the voice for animals fight publicly. Some animal groups have become more like Focus on the Family by telling people you either agree with us or you don't. If one doesn't agree with these groups 100% then stay away. No discussion, no invitation to sit down and discuss what they might have in common. Our message is correct and yours is not. Meanwhile, millions continue to suffer.

AIDS has had a huge affect on my life. Does testing on mice and rats bring us closer to a cure? I think not. I have heard those who support testing tell people like me that one cannot be against testing on animals and support a cure for AIDS. That is way off base. Yet the schism between the animal rights community and the gay and lesbian community definitely has roots in the AIDS disaster. Fortunately, this is changing.

Another candlelight vigil. Angie Zapata was a transgender woman living in Greeley, Colorado. In July, 2008 Angie was beaten to death in her apartment by a man who discovered she was not born a woman. She was beaten with a fire extinguisher. Her family and community were devastated. I was devastated. Will I be the only animal rights activist at her candlelight vigil?

Friday, June 24, 2011

Candlelight vigils - Part I

NOTE TO READER: This is an attempt at a two-part blog. I felt that the entire piece was too long for one post. Please enjoy Part I; Part II will be out shortly.

I was standing outside the coliseum holding my candle and my sign. I hadn’t had time to make my own sign, which is what I prefer, and was holding one that said something about elephants in chains. It was my first protest after having moved to Denver a few months earlier and I was excited to see so many people speaking for the voiceless at yet another circus demonstration against Ringling Brothers and their continual maltreatment of animals.

All across the US there were candlelight vigils going on that same night with thousands of people gathering to speak for the voiceless, well, one voiceless. These people were not protesting the maltreatment of animals in circuses yet were remembering a young college student named Matthew Sheppard who had been savagely beaten that week in Laramie, Wyoming.

I had attended a protest two days earlier at the state capitol in Denver, joined with several hundred others who were outraged by the beating. I was most likely the only person who attended both the circus protest and the gathering against hate at the state capitol. The two don’t mix. Animal rights activists speak out against torture and cruelty toward animals. Gay and lesbian activists speak out against hate crimes and violence against gay, lesbian bisexual and transgender people.

Back to the moment, I was kindly reminding people entering the circus of the lifelong saga of elephants who are kept in chains a large part of their lives. Many elephants had died in Ringling Brother’s captivity and sadder yet many of the elephants were born free, captured, and now were performing throughout the US to satisfy the entertainment needs of a carefree society.

Matthew Sheppard was 21 when he met two men at a local bar in the college town of Laramie. The two were locals, apparently had some drinks with Matthew, and then went for a ride. On the outskirts of Laramie all three got out of the truck and the two men proceeded to beat Matthew unconscious. This all happened about two hours northwest of where I was living with my male partner.

“A life in chains” I politely said as more people walked by.

“Faggot”. Faggot was a response, not common but certainly not uncommon. It seems the worst thing one can call a protestor is a faggot.

“He was a faggot,” exclaimed one of Matthew Sheppard’s torturers.

“Please don’t go in” I pleaded.

Friday, June 17, 2011

I support Marriage Equality

As state legislators are on the brink of a gay marriage vote in New York, I've decided that my first blog post for The Gay Vegans will be about marriage and why I support full marriage equality.

On April 30, 2005 I married my best friend, my most beautiful gift from God, Mike. It was the best day of my life even though subsequent days of being married to him have come very close. We were married by our pastor in our church, and were joined by just over 160 family and friends. We called our ceremony "A Loving Act of Civil Disobedience" knowing that our marriage would not be legal in Colorado or in the US in general.

Gay marriage is legally recognized in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire, Vermont and D.C. No gay marriage is recognized on the federal level, and recently The Respect for Marriage Act was introduced in the US House and US Senate and would repeal DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act signed by President Bill Clinton that banned federal recognition of same-sex marriage) and end federal discrimination against legally married same-sex couples.

NOTE: Both US Senators that represent Colorado, Mark Udall and Michael Bennett, support The Respect for Marriage Act.

The New York state house passed a gay marriage bill and we are waiting on word as to whether or not the New York state senate will vote before their session ends on Monday.

I realize that gay marriage is not an easy issue. I realize that there are many people who fundamentally believe that marriage is only between a man and a woman. I get it. I have listened to all of the arguments and I still believe in marriage equality for all people, including gay couples. I believe that my marriage should be legal and that Mike and I should receive all federal benefits that any other married couple receives.

Gay marriage should be legal in Colorado, and it will be. State legislators here in Colorado attempted a civil unions bill this past session and it failed to get enough votes in committee. A simple fact of some Coloradans believing that other Coloradans are not equal.

And this is what it boils down to me. Not being equal in a "free" country.

Marriage equality will come. The fight for full marriage equality is really just starting, and many more people are becoming comfortable with the idea of legal gay marriage. Less and less people are hijacking religion to fight gay equality, and more and more people are looking at gay marriage as a simple matter of justice. A great example of this is the announcement this week of a letter signed by over 100 Omaha (Nebraska) area ministers who believe that homosexuality is not a sin and welcoming the LGBT community to their congregations.

Even as Colorado legislators plan to introduce another civil unions bill next year, I will speak out for full marriage equality. I support anyone who wants to be in a civil union and will definitely support this bill. At the same time I will make sure that any legislator I run into knows how important marriage equality is to me.

Do you support marriage equality? Tell people! Tell you friends and your family. Tell your minister, rabbi, iman, or priest. Tell those who represent you at every level of government. Write a letter to the editor for your local paper. Blog about it. Post it on Facebook and Twitter. Post articles that are covering the debate in NY.

As you do this, it's important to remember that this is indeed not an easy issue for many people. If we lovingly present our opinion and why it's important to us, we have a much better chance of opening people's minds to marriage equality.

As always, I would love your feedback. I would also love to hear about any actions you're taking.

Thank you so much for reading my blog!

PS! If you in Colorado and want to support gay marriage, you can join our group on Facebook called Coloradans for Full Marriage Equality. We only post about marriage votes going on around the country and how folks in Colorado can connect with their state legislators about gay marriage.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Premier post for The Gay Vegans

After working on my Fundraising for Free! blog for almost a year now, I decided to create The Gay Vegans blog in an effort to keep Fundraising for Free! totally focused on the world of fundraising and to have a venue where I can right about equality, compassion, and the occasional (or not so occasional!) political and spiritual thoughts that run through my mind.

So welcome to the premier blog post of The Gay Vegans.

All of you know what the Gay part of this means. If you follow Fundraising for Free! you know that I am gay and married to the love of my life, Mike. We live in Lakewood, CO.

The Vegan part might be a bit unclear for some of you. My definition of vegan is one who consumes no animal products. That means no meat or fish but also no dairy, eggs, or honey. I have been vegan since January of 1996. I decided to go vegan because of the way animals are treated to become food and I did not want to have anything to do with animal cruelty. I will inevitably get more into this through blog posts.

So The Gay Vegans? Well, the title refers to Mike and I. This blog will be about my experiences with being gay and being vegan, two communities of people that don't always mix (and at times judge each other). Another reason for this title is because this is how I refer to Mike and I many times, and also the fact that in our world there are not many gay male vegans around. In the broader world there are, and I will introduce some of them as the blog continues. I would also like to add that this will definitely be a work in progress.

Another inevitable result of this blog is that there will be many differing opinions in what I write about. Please know (and if you are a current reader of my fundraising blog you'll already know this) that everything I write is my own opinion or experience, sometimes shared with experiences and opinions of my husband. I never mean to offend in any way, and my life experiences tell me that what I experience as a gay vegan is not necessarily what other gay people or vegans or both experience.

I appreciate you reading this, and hope to keep you interested as I write more posts. The huge and incredible feedback I have received from readers of Fundraising for Free! have encouraged me and inspired me and my hope is that The Gay Vegans will be just as well received.

Thank you!