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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?

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