Each month, the Compassion Consortium offers an essay on a topic related to our tenets. These are authored by the Compassion Consortium Spiritual Team as well as guest writers.
All Means All
by Rev. Erika Allison
This June, communities across the globe are celebrating LGBTQ+ Pride month. It is a time of visibility for the beautiful diversity, the vibrant resiliency, and the residual injustices that co-mingle within LGBTQ+ experiences. As a lesbian vegan minister, as well as part of the spiritual leadership team at Compassion Consortium, I would like to connect with you on the topic of human and animal compassion through a queer lens. How do we extend the circle of compassion a little broader and help others do the same? Let’s explore.
“Until we extend our circle of compassion to all living things, humanity will not find peace.” Albert Schweitzer
To provide a little history, June is celebrated as Pride month in honor of the small group of LGBTQ+ people that rioted in 1969 after police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City. Demonstrations took place the following June in several cities to commemorate “Christopher Street Liberation Day,” and this phenomenon has continued into the global Pride celebrations, parades, and festivals we have today.
In my book Gay the Pray Away: Healing Your Life, Love, and Relationships from the Harms of LGBT Conversion Therapy, I tell my personal story of experiencing conversion therapy as a teenager in Texas because my church and family believed being gay was wrong. If you don’t know, conversion therapy uses practices that attempt to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity, often based on the idea that anything other than heteronormativity is unnatural and sinful. The practices have long been deemed “improper, ineffective, and detrimental” by every major medical and mental health agency, yet conversion therapy continues today. The Family Acceptance Project found that those who experience conversion therapy are more than 8 times more likely to attempt suicide. UCLA Williams Institute found those who survive have 92% greater odds of lifetime suicidal ideation.
The way I see it, a long tradition of humanly-designed doctrine determined my fate. As a particular view became dominant, certain interpretations of sacred texts were used to justify that view. This dominant view then became the influencing culture which then became the default conditioning. That conditioning creates a cognitive dissonance that prevents us from fully conscious behavior and perspective. In my case, this meant people felt normalized in condemning me because of my sexuality. I break it down this way because of the glaring similarity within the issue of animal rights. Our society also determines the fate of nonhuman animals on a daily basis. Mainstream society systemically decides that some animals should be loved as companions and others enslaved, eaten, experimented on, and used for fashion, labor, or entertainment. As part of my healing awakening, I realized that I was part of this system. I became vegan as soon as I became aware of my societal conditioning and was able to make a more conscious choice.
Whether we are discussing homophobia/transphobia or specism, our historical and current religious and cultural conditioning has created long-standing systems of injustice. When we allow ourselves to see one group as “other” or “less worthy,” it’s easier to exclude them from our personal circle of compassion. The Albert Schweitzer quote above, which is also displayed prominently on a wooden sign at Farm Sanctuary, reminds me that limited circles of compassion lead to suffering. Peace remains a temporary and fleeting state as long as we continue to inflict suffering on one another.
I would like to offer three invitations, which have been sourced from my experiences as a queer spiritual vegan, that may help move the collective needle towards more compassion and justice.
First, an invitation to bring more consciousness to our compassion practice. We can see a version of this invitation in the Christian Bible in Matthew 5:47 (ESV), “And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others?” We must challenge ourselves to push beyond the edge of our awareness, our familiarity, the dominant thinking around us, and our comfort zones. Whose suffering are we not noticing? What people, causes, and environments do we need to understand more deeply? Who are we harming, possibly unintentionally, because of our conditioning, views, superiority, or self-indulgence? How can we widen our view to extend our circle of compassion to ALL beings?
Secondly, an invitation to spend more time getting quiet, going within, and listening to that small, still inner voice. I first discovered my conditioned specism during mediation. A small voice whispered to me in the silence that my consumption choices were out of alignment with my heart’s desire for awakened peace and nonviolence. When I became vegan, I heard Spirit say to me, “Ahh, now you see through my eyes.” I eventually discovered what Spirit meant by that. These are the eyes of true compassion. Deep listening in prayer and meditation has brought me more and more into my authentic inner alignment, which has led to peace and harmony.
Finally, an invitation to be the personal access point. A key lesson I’ve taken from the LGBTQ+ rights movement over the past years is that people more easily awaken from conditioning and change their views when an issue touches their hearts. Usually, this looks like a family member or someone they know and love coming out or being harmed. I have also seen the same in the animal rights movement. Once there is a face, a being, or something personal attached to an issue, it is much harder to follow conditioned views unconsciously. But without a connection, it’s hard for any messages like these to make it through the noise and defenses into the heart. How can we act as that bridge of connection into the heart space? How can we live the example that vegans are caring and compassionate people radiating the freedom and joy of being in conscious alignment with our highest truth? And how can we act as the embodied and loving invitation, drawing others to more consciously uncover their dominant views and conditioning? How can we be allies for LGBTQ+ and animal liberation to our circles of those who know, love, and trust us?
Wishing everyone a happy Pride month! We celebrate with the giraffes, penguins, clownfish, lizards, hyenas, and hundreds of other species who express sexual and/or gender diversity. May our conscious practice extend our circle of compassion to all living things, and may humanity find peace. And so it is.
Rev. Erika Allison
Queer Interfaith Minister & Spiritual Coach
Author, Gay the Pray Away: Healing Your Life, Love, and Relationships from the Harms of LGBT Conversion Therapy