Please help me welcome fellow vegan blogger and activist Dan Hanley of The Gay Vegans to the blog for the first time. I met Dan briefly a few years ago when we both attended the final Vida Vegan Con in Austin, Texas. While we both live in California, our paths haven’t crossed in person since. I’ve admired his blog, his love of adopting senior shelter dogs, LGBTQ rights and have invited him to share here in the form of a guest post today.
Dan is an activist who doesn’t just want liberation for animals, but for all beings. He’s passionate about human rights and social justice and shares his thoughts on non-discrimination policies and the hiring of transgender employees within the vegan business community. Read on to find out what Dan learned when he talked with many vegan businesses about these very issues– you might be surprised at his findings! Plus, Dan suggests tips on how to support vegan businesses that truly align with your values.
Thanks for tuning in and big thanks to Dan for being here today!
The past two years I have had the opportunity to receive press credentials at an international annual gathering of those involved in the natural foods industry. Tens of thousands of people and thousands of companies are present. It’s a wonderful opportunity for a vegan blogger to meet people from their favorite companies, to learn about and taste the newest vegan products and to meet other bloggers and activists from around the country.
I’m always fascinated by the crowd and always learn so much from those who are attending, all for many different reasons and motives. My specific interest these past two times was to speak with vegan companies I love about non-discrimination and transgender employees.
For some this might be a surprise. The questions around hiring transgender employees and about non-discrimination policies that support a trans-friendly work environment certainly take many by surprise.
The reason why I wanted to start this discussion was part of a bigger story for my blog about how people in one of my communities, the vegan community, treat people in the trans community. And all of this brings me to the ultimate goal of what I love thinking about, which is liberation. Not just animal liberation. In the communities I call home, liberation is in a broad sense and includes all, especially communities that fight just to exist and to stay alive.
For me it started with the people of Tibet and went broader from there to full human rights activism. From human rights activists I learned many things that would help me when I became an HIV/AIDS activist, which strengthened me more as I added animal rights activist to the list. Regardless of the issue I am working on, liberation is included in the goals.
While becoming more of an activist I learned to vote with my dollars. I educated myself about companies that supported LGBTQ communities and, more importantly, those that did not. I wouldn’t say that I “boycotted” companies that did not support my beliefs; I just found other companies selling a similar product or service that did support my beliefs, values, and me as a gay man.
“Total Animal Liberation” is what I read on the back of a t-shirt recently. I started speaking with the guy wearing the t-shirt and as we talked about liberation I realized the message has gotten watered down, especially in the animal rights community. So many different groups doing so many different things, seemingly for the same reason although that’s not even clear.
As I became a stronger activist my list of activisms increased. Before you know it I was sitting across from a trans activist who happened to be Latina and spends her life working for liberation for trans Latinas. I had no idea at that time how many trans women are murdered and face daily violence and harassment. I had no idea that so many trans women who were murdered were women of color.
As a vegan and/or animal rights activist, one might wonder why trans issues are important. For me it goes back to liberation. When I fight for liberation it isn’t a pick and choose kind of thing. I don’t attack someone if his or her fight is based on one specific type of liberation but for me it’s all-inclusive.
And so I find myself at this conference engaging with companies I love and whose products are staples in our kitchen. I had lists of questions for these companies and began to have great conversations with owners, CEOs and heads of human resources. During my first day I realized a couple of things: that my questions about non-discrimination policies offended some, angered others, and that some just did not want to talk about their human resource policies and directed me to call someone at a later date.
The most common statement I received from companies was that “of course they support trans employees and the hiring of trans people”. Of course. Very friendly people told this to me time and time again. People who were smiling and who I really believe would not discriminate against trans people. The challenge with this is that there is no way for a trans person to know that a company would be a safe and/or welcoming place to work if there was nothing in the non-discrimination policy.
“Would you consider adding “gender identity’ or “gender expression” to your non-discrimination policy?
For the most part this question was met with silence.
I was honestly surprised. These were brands that filled my refrigerator and kitchen cabinets. Brands that I loved and promoted. They were vegan brands, for goodness sake.
Just as you are saying or thinking what I am about to write, I got it. In my perfect vegan world, not all vegans were inclusive. Of course one doesn’t know what one doesn’t know, and the reality is that many non-discrimination policies change because people bring up ideas that had not been thought about. I also had to admit that I had put my lovely vegan businesses on a pedestal. They couldn’t possibly be anti-gay or against supporting my siblings in the trans community. In fact, most are not. They just haven’t gotten to the point of showing that in company policies or promoting themselves as a great place for LGBTQ people to work and thrive.
Fast forward to a second year of being at this conference and I had the opportunity to speak with dozens more companies. I checked in with people I had spoken with the year prior and to some I even got to personally thank them for making policy changes! Finishing this time, I can happily say that there is only one company whose product I would not buy again. Just one.
Whether you consider yourself an activist or think that being vegan is just the right thing to do, I urge you to take a look at the products that you consider to be staples in your home and check out how those companies do business and whether or not they match your values. It’s not always easy finding out if a company you purchase from supports your values. Start with their website and Google their company with “animal rights” or an issue important to you. You can also use Twitter to ask questions as most companies respond quickly to Twitter. This could take some time. I guarantee it will be worth your while. It will matter for your cause and it will matter for you. In some cases, even if it’s just one, it will matter to the company.
Dan Hanley is the founder of the blog The Gay Vegans and has been a human rights and animal rights activist for most of his life. Through his blog he tries to build bridges among different communities, engage people to vote and to become politically active, and inspire people to go vegan. He shares his life with his husband Mike, and three adopted dogs: Luna, Lilly and Ludwig. You can find Dan on social media via Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.