An interesting thing happened after The Advocate published an article recently about a famous LGBT rights activist in India, whose mother had placed a newspaper ad seeking a husband for him: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals came calling.
Ads placed by parents seeking to arrange marriages for their heterosexual children are commonplace in the world's largest democracy, but the ad placed by Harish Iyer's mother appears to be a first for India, where sexual activity between people of the same sex was recriminalized in 2013.
The problem with the ad placed by Iyer's mother — aside from the fact that several newspapers refused to run it, claiming it was against the law — was that many in the media perceived it as classist. More precisely, some criticized the ad for being caste-ist, because the elder Iyer said she preferred a husband from a "higher" caste for her son. The LGBT activist and his family are members of the Iyer caste, among India's most privileged class.
"My mom would be happy if it was a Dalit Muslim yet vegetarian and animal-loving guy," Iyer told HuffPost India, insisting his mother is no bigot. "But she would love it if he happens to come from a familiar territory that she knows about. So, not really caste discrimination."
As one of India's most prominent LGBT activists, Harish Iyer is no stranger to controversy or media scrutiny. His so-called quirky campaigns advocate not only for the equal rights of gender and sexual minorities but also for environmental and animal rights causes.
That's why PETA India, upon reading news of the matchmaking ad and resulting controversy, approached the activist with an offer to pick up the tab for a vegan lunch if (and when) a good prospect for his future husband appears.
To find out more about this "quirky" story, The Advocate contacted Poorva Joshipura, PETA India's CEO, to glean some insight about the organization's motivation for offering to pay for Iyer's big gay vegan lunch — and the nexus between the LGBT equality and animal rights movement.
The Advocate: Why did PETA reach out Harish Iyer?
Poorva Joshipura: Harish is known in India as an activist for numerous causes. He spends most of his time advocating for the rights of others, including animals, despite likely facing cruelty in his own life purely because of his sexual orientation. He has worked so hard to make this world a kinder place, and PETA India simply wanted to give some of that love back.
What, if any, was his response?
This was Harish's response:
There is nothing more sexy in a human than his / her / hir kindness towards animals. I believe animals are not for us to wear or eat. I understand that I will be compatible only if this is a shared value with my partner. Do let me know if you find a man in your organization or in your knowledge. I would bend on my cotton trousers and mock leather shoes to offer him a sapling. I like being with sexy people. I thank you for being sexy too.
I accept your offer. Thank you love.
How is India both unique and similar to other countries with regard to LGBT people and vegetarians and vegans?
India is known throughout the world for its cultural reverence for animals, and it's estimated that 42 percent of its population is vegetarian. What's more, Article 51A(g) of the Indian Constitution says it's the duty of every Indian citizen to "protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife, and to have compassion for living creatures." And because of efforts like this PETA India video, more people than ever are learning how cruel the dairy industry is to mother cows and their calves — and so they're taking the step of going vegan.
But while things are gradually changing for the better in India, members of the LGBT community there — as in many parts of the world — still face tremendous challenges in their struggle for basic rights.
Many LGBT vegans cite their own struggles against discrimination as part of their decision to go vegan. As Peter Singer, professor of ethics and philosophy at both Princeton University and the University of Melbourne, points out, "The most blatant racists or sexists ... think that those who belong to their race or sex have superior moral status, simply in virtue of their race or sex, and irrespective of other characteristics or qualities." That's a prejudice, Singer explains, that survives because "it is convenient for the dominant group." He also says that if we ignore or discount the interests of animals simply on the grounds that they're not members of our species, the logic of our position is similar to that of racism or sexism — it is speciesism.
Many vegetarian and vegan members of the LGBT community, both in India and around the world, recognize that if we accept and condone abuse simply because an individual is different from us, then what's stopping someone else from abusing us based on the same twisted logic?
As a vegetarian (former and probably soon-to-be-recommitted vegan) myself, I was wondering, does PETA have any statistics relevant to its mission that are specific to the LGBT community, in terms of membership or outreach?
PETA has always been proud to work with the LGBT community. As far back as our founding in the 1980s, PETA was the first large non-LGBT international charity to have proud LGBT spokespeople. PETA U.S.'s senior vice president Dan Mathews wrote in his memoir, Committed, that his struggles as a young gay man made him sympathetic to animal issues. Many of our LGBT members and supporters have reflected that sentiment — as have many of the LGBT icons we've worked with, including Lady Bunny, Sharon Needles, Ellen DeGeneres, Tim Gunn, Perez Hilton, Martina Navratilova, beauty pageant star Jenna Talackova, and many more.
What role does sharing the same or similar ethics about food and animals play in relationships?
Everyone's relationship is different, so it's difficult to say, but a study in 2014 found that 35 percent of vegans are in a relationship with someone who isn't vegan. Of course, many vegans credit a former (or current) vegan partner for inspiring them to go vegan — that was the case for one of PETA's 2015 Sexiest Vegan Next Door finalists!
Are there any online dating sites to match vegans and vegetarians?
Almost every online dating site gives people the option to identify themselves as vegan to help other vegans find them, and there are various dating sites for those looking for a partner to eat their veggies with.
Is there a term for relationships in which partners' eating preferences correspond?
We've never heard of one, but if both partners are vegan, we'd just call them compassionate.
Anything else you'd like to add?
Prejudice is always wrong, whether it's based on someone's sexual orientation, race, or species. Animals are individuals who feel pain and fear, just like humans do, and the best way to help them is to go vegan. To get started, people can download PETA's free vegan starter kit here.