Saturday, January 3rd, 2009

Nathan Runkle, founder of Mercy for Animals, was brutally assaulted last Saturday. Nathan is an openly gay man, and was apparently the victim of a hate crime.

From MFA’s press release:

Dayton, OH – Nathan Runkle, the 24-year old openly gay founder and Executive Director of the national animal advocacy organization, Mercy For Animals, was brutally assaulted on Saturday morning in an apparent hate crime. Runkle is a nationally recognized leader in the animal protection movement, who was recently named one of the world’s “25 Most Fascinating Vegetarians” by VegNews Magazine. The assault, which occurred at Masque, a gay night club in Dayton, Ohio, was completely unprovoked.

The attacker, believed to be a heterosexual white male with no previous relationship to the victim, has not yet been identified or apprehended. Runkle was briefly hospitalized after sustaining two facial fractures, a broken nose, deviated septum, and severe facial bruising. The incident has been labeled a felonious assault and is currently under investigation by the Dayton Police Department. Runkle believes the assault was motivated by hatred toward gays and was intended to send a fearful message to the local gay community.

Sexual orientation-motivated crimes are currently not addressed under Ohio hate crimes laws. The laws address only crimes motivated by race, color, religion, or national origin. Gay rights advocates have long urged state legislators to follow the lead of 31 other states who have already enacted specific legislation protecting gays from hate-based violence.

I’ve never met Nathan, but my heart goes out to him, his family and his friends. Hate is hate – and, for the life of me, I’ll never understand how humans can be so intolerant and cruel. In a word, this is heartbreaking.

As pattrice – who knows Nathan personally – observes,

A lot of people in the AR movement have been calling me, wondering what we can do. Gay bashing is a lot like rape in that it’s especially important to be mindful of what the victim wants when framing a response. So, first, we can all look out for what Nathan and Mercy for Animals say about what should be done. Next, we can use informed inference to figure out what else might be appropriate.

The press release says that Nathan wants sexual orientation included in Ohio’s hate crimes legislation. So, one thing that those of us who know and love — or just know of and respect — Nathan can do is join the effort to make that happen.

Next, we know that Mercy for Animals, as the press release states, “has long worked to bridge the gap between the common prejudices which lead to oppression and abuses faced by both animals and minorities.” MFA has marched in gay pride parades carrying a banner reading “NO ONE IS FREE WHILE OTHERS ARE OPPRESSED” and has picketed gay rodeos.

So, if you’re somebody who cares about or works on LGBTQ issues but has not (yet) integrated the animals into your analysis of oppression, let this attack on a gay man who has dedicated himself to animal rights motivate you to educate yourself about the connections. And, if you’re a straight animal liberationist or veg*n advocate who hasn’t thought deeply about your heterosexual privilege and what obligations you might have to divest yourself of that, let this near-deadly attack on a gay animal advocate remind you (if Proposition 8 and Obama’s selection of a homophobic preacher to speak at his inauguration did not) that homophobia is still alive and dangerous.

In both instances: Educate yourself about the intersections and then figure out how you might integrate what you learn into your activism and your daily life. Those of us who are already hip to that particular intersection ought to realize that there’s always more for us to learn too. Finally, all of us can be inspired by Nathan’s relentless activism and take up the charge to do just a little bit more while he’s recovering from this terrible trauma.

With so much suffering and oppression in the world, we all have to set priorities, decide which causes are most worthy of our time, money and support, and make some touch choices in the process. However, whether we choose to throw our resources behind animal advocacy, women’s rights, civil rights, GLBT rights, whatever – we must all remain mindful of our own privilege, whatever form(s) it may take, and refrain from engaging in and encouraging “isms,” if not actively campaigning against them. This means voting against hate-mongering legislation such as Proposition 8, encouraging Ohio to include sexual orientation in its hate crimes legislation and speaking out against homophobia in our daily lives. Especially when it emanates from fellow activists.

Violence is violence, no matter the target, and prejudice poisons us all. No one is free while others are oppressed.