Opinion: Do Queer People Have a Moral Obligation to Be Vegetarians?

"Our community is far too familiar with violence and ignorance to feed into a system that profits off of abusing and slaughtering innocent bodies."

“I don’t know why it took me so long to come out to myself,” I told my friend as we strolled along Santa Monica Boulevard, celebrating Los Angeles’ annual Pride parade. “I had sex with a woman for the first time before I had sex with a man for the first time, and my first sex dream starred a fully costumed Lady Gaga.”

It was my first Pride parade ever, but the bittersweetness of the experience kept giving me emotional whiplash.

On the one hand, I had never seen so many fellow out-and-proud bisexuals in my life. (We even got our own unicorn float!) On the other hand, I couldn’t help feeling a bit discouraged: Vegetarian LGBTQ activists like Angela Davis and Audre Lorde inspired me to stop eating meat almost two years ago, but I could barely turn around at LA Pride without bumping into a fully loaded hot dog cart.

I ditched dairy and eggs last year after learning about the many ways female-farmed animals are brutalized for these products. Like too many bisexual women, I know what it feels like to be forcibly dominated, violated, and, in a manner of speaking, consumed. Although people from all genders and sexual orientations experience abuse and sexual assault, multiple studies show that bisexual women are more likely than straight or lesbian women to experience physical violence, stalking, and/or rape at the hands of an intimate partner.

For all these reasons, seeing other LGBTQ folks—and especially other bisexual women—eating animals can leave me feeling incredibly sad. Our community is far too familiar with violence and ignorance to feed into a system that profits off of abusing and slaughtering innocent bodies—particularly female ones.

The idea that the exploitation of cows, chickens, and pigs is acceptable, while the exploitation of dogs and cats is not, is based on the flawed belief that animals used for food are somehow less worthy of compassion. This is the same logic that homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, sexism, racism, ableism, and every other form of discrimination are based on. Like every group of humans that has ever been labeled “other,” farmed animals are bullied and killed simply because society has deemed them undeserving of our love or concern, their bodily autonomy and desire for a happy life somehow “different.” It’s exactly why I feel like the LGBTQ community has a special responsibility to stand up for all animals—we should be able to empathize with voiceless victims of violence.

Tim Graham/Getty

That said, I feel that I meet more “almost vegetarians” in the queer community than anywhere else. I met one such person at LA Pride this year, and she gave me hope.

“I feel like I’m straddling the vegetarian line,” she said.

I nodded knowingly. She had just finished telling me about the extensive research that she and her partner had done to find eggs from chickens kept in “natural conditions.” (But there’s really nothing “natural” about captivity, even for chickens.) This was preceded by a heartfelt story detailing the first time she’d ever bonded with a cow and about how that had been the first time she’d felt sad about eating hamburgers.

“Well, I commend you for doing research,” I replied. Then I gave her the same advice I give everyone who feels even a little bit weird about eating animals: “Keep researching.”

I looked for veg-friendly options at Pride, but other than the soy milk vanilla latte that my trans goddess of a barista served me mid-parade, there were zero fast-and-easy veg options to be found. The Big Gay Ice Cream truck actually makes a point of serving only dairy-based ice cream, despite the well-documented fact that so much suffering goes into dairy production. Of course, this is LA—I didn’t have to go home hungry. I stopped by the West Hollywood Whole Foods post-parade to feast on a delicious meal of savory Mac and Yease and the best vegan chocolate chip muffins I’ve ever had.

Edwin Remsburg/VW Pics via Getty

I realize that many members of the LGBTQ community aren’t always given the luxury of options. Of the 1.6 million homeless young people living in America today, 40% identify as LGBTQ. Equally upsetting, 46% of homeless LGBTQ youths ran away because of family rejection of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and 43% were forced out by their folks. Still, animal rights is an issue that affects all of us. The truth is, factory farming is not just harming animals; it is destroying the planet, exploiting the poor and communities of color, and creating a public health crisis through the negative effects of animal-based foods.

Fortunately, eating vegan is more affordable than most people think. It is completely possible to eat vegan for a week with only $20, and many fast food chains — like Taco Bell, Burger King, and White Castle — offer veg-friendly options. Most food banks offer a variety of plant-based staples as well, like rice, beans, soy milk, pasta, and canned veggies. It’s also important to remember that simply cutting back on animal products helps animals, the environment, and our own health.

JEKESAI NJIKIZANA/AFP/Getty

It might be a while before the LGBTQ community is predominately vegetarian, but the animal rights movement is already queer as hell. Hopefully, as the plant-based food sector continues to grow and U.S. sales of dairy-free milk alternatives continue to soar, more queer folks will make the compassionate diet change. There are so many opportunities to take steps forward. For example, as a huge fan of the Queer Eye reboot, I would love to see Antoni take charge of preparing more vegetarian and vegan meals on the show. Cutting from a heartfelt segment about love and acceptance to a shot of Antoni grilling dead animals is always a jarring experience for me, and I know I’m not alone.

One thing is for certain though: We need more understanding and acceptance of animals in the LGBTQ movement. Even though Pride left me feeling celebrated in a way I’ve never experienced, being vegan at Pride felt kind of like being the only bisexual in a queer club—totally at home, yet completely set apart.

Elizabeth Enochs is a Long Beach-based writer and journalist from a small town in Missouri that you’ve probably never heard of.
@ElizabethEnochs