Of course, I'd heard of Nathan before. As the founder and Executive Director of Mercy for Animals, most animal advocates have heard of Nathan, and, like me, many are big fans. I first learned about Nathan's activism when I wrote an article entitled "Coming Out for Animal Rights" for Satya Magazine. As I was first learning about the various intersections between animal rights and gay rights, I read about MFA's inspiring work to help bridge the connections--efforts that were led by Nathan. Each year, MFA marches in Chicago's Gay Pride Parade, holding a banner that says "no one is free while others are oppressed."
Throughout the weekend of the conference, I found myself drawn to MFA's table--mostly because of the good company. Aside from Nathan, the table was staffed by Freeman Wicklund, Director of Campaigns--another friend and compatriot--whose work in the animal rights movement is ground-breaking and awesome.
The next time I saw Nathan and Freeman was a month later at the Farm Sanctuary Hoe Down, when they pointed my car into Parking Lot A. The two were volunteering for the weekend, and their delegated responsibilities were parking lot attendants.
It was while hanging out that particular weekend when I asked Nathan if the story I heard about him was true, the one I tell at nearly every single workshop I lead. This story is the one that is used to show activists that one leaflet can make a huge difference. It did for Nathan--who picked up one leaflet about animal cruelty, read it, realized he had to act, and went on to change the world. Nathan modestly assured me that the story was true.
So a few days ago, when I heard that Nathan was brutally gay-bashed while leaving a club in Dayton, Ohio, I felt as though my heart might shatter--and I'm still not sure it hasn't. In a press release issued today, Mercy for Animals states:
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.
I am sickened to death over this attack, and over the attacks of countless others who are continually subjugated in violent, demeaning, and life-threatening ways. I hope that this crime helps to shed light on the harsh prejudices that are still rampant, and on the issue of personal responsibility when it comes to injustice. When crimes like this happen, it is not enough to shake our heads and say "what a shame."
It's exactly what Nathan stands for and works so hard to advocate to others. The Mercy for Animals mission is loud and clear here: MFA works to create a society where animals are treated with the respect and compassion they so rightly deserve. Nathan leads efforts to establish and defend the rights of all animals--both human and non, and in so many ways, these rights are one in the same. Gay people continue to be attacked for no good reason because they are still considered objects and it is still considered acceptable, just as non-human animals are continually, repeatedly, and unfathomably abused and murdered, and it's still somehow considered okay. At Oregon University, vivisection was performed on gay rams to "to know whether sexual preferences can be altered by manipulating the prenatal hormone environment, for instance by using drugs to prevent the actions of androgen in the fetal sheep brain." So, scientists are cutting up live animals as a means to cure gayness. These things are happening. For no good reason, animals--both human and non--are being cut up and cast aside.
Oh, Nathan... I wish I could reverse time and take this all away. I wish I could reverse time long enough to take away the seeds that made all this seem like a good idea to your attacker, or a good idea to the scientists in Oregon, or to the woman I saw wearing a fur coat today, or to Sakia Gunn's killers. Though I can't reverse time--none of us can--we can all start to see what you've seen for so long, that truly, "no one is free while others are oppressed." And we can all start to up the ante of our activism so that when we die, we know we did everything in our power to try to create justice in a big bad world.