There’s a topic in the vegan community that gets brought up every so often which stirs rather immediate controversy, until it slowly sinks into the background until someone brings it up again. At least, that’s how the phenomenon has looked like from this end. It seems to have become a sort of taboo to even mention him in good company, and a vegan sin to even whisper his name, like the meat-free Voldemort of our times.
That topic is Gary Yourofsky, of the “Most Important Speech You Will Ever Hear” fame. Initially, Yourofsky is a vegan activist and lecturer who visits schools and events to talk about the kind of animal cruelty that takes place in industries that the majority of the population supports every day: the dairy, egg, and meat industries, leather and fur production, animals used for entertainment and experimentation, and all other forms of animal exploitation that vegans oppose. Yourofsky is also the founder of ADAPTT, an animal advocacy organization.
Although he is well-known by many for his speech on veganism, and also his activism in Israel (which has a prominent vegan community)… what primarily makes Yourofsky a controversial figure among non-vegans would be his adamant, unflinching support and advocacy of veganism and the total abolition of animal exploitation.
But what makes him controversial to vegans (especially long-term vegans, and vegans who did not go vegan because of his speech) would be the fact that he has been cited saying things like “Every women ensconced in fur should endure a rape so vicious that it scars them forever” and “every man entrenched in fur should suffer an anal raping so horrific that they become disembowelled” (The Gary Yourofsky Interview by Claudette Vaughan is the source of these quotes, and Yourofsky has not claimed that this interview is falsified, although he does like to claim ad nauseum that he has never said anything promoting or condoning rape :\).
Recently, a link to a video Yourofsky released in defense of these claims has surfaced, in which he is found saying (warning: fucked up), “I honestly think every rapist should have his cock and balls sliced off with a cuticle-remover while he’s fully conscious. Then, he should be forced to eat his severed genitals after they’ve been dipped in puke. After he takes the last bite, I personally want to be there to shove two 12-inch metal skewers through each eyeball, and then drag him into a room filled with 10,000 flies so he can be eaten alive. Go rent the movie Law Abiding Citizen and watch Gerard Butler’s character carry out some poetic justice on the man who raped his wife and daughter. It warms my heart to no end”.
He is using these statements to deny the “false” “accusations” that he has ever condoned rape. Clearly we can see he has condoned rape in the past by wishing rape on people (whether they be animal abusers, rapists, or neither), and him saying that he wishes excruciating harm onto rapists as well does not change this fact.
Everything he says at the beginning of the “I don’t condone rape” video further validates the reasons why people don’t trust Gary Yourofsky. It’s not necessarily just because he has just made some rape apologist statements or wished rape on someone (though that doesn’t exactly make him look like a good man). He simply has a violent mind and he frequently wishes disgusting and unspeakable harm onto others, whatever kind of harm and whatever kind of person they may be. What’s worse is that he describes this harm calmly, in the same manner a serial killer would.
I cannot listen to Gary Yourofsky speak of these issues without thinking that I would not want to be in a room alone with that man. Or even in the same building.
He also has no concept of apologizing for his words or his behaviour in a rational way. If his words didn’t make him sound like a manic serial killer, they would make him sound like a disturbed child. In order to show people he doesn’t condone rape, instead of saying “that was a huge mistake on my part, I am sorry for the harm it may have caused others. I just have very strong feelings about animal abuse and sometimes those strong feelings make me say inappropriate things” he simply goes on to say that he’d like to torture, mutilate, and slaughter rapists. That doesn’t show you don’t condone rape - it just shows that you want fur wearers to be raped, and then you want the rapists to be brutalized. What kind of world would we live in if Gary Yourofsky’s dreams came true? I shudder to think.
I’m not saying veganism is about “peace and love” and we all need to feel happy thoughts for animal abusers and rapists (my personal perspective is that veganism is about justice, and although compassion and non-violence can be strong motivators, they’re not what I hold central to vegan ethics) nor do I think victims ever have a duty to “forgive and love their rapists” (FUUUCK that mentality), but I feel confident saying that most vegans should act more sane than Gary Yourofsky does. Yourofsky’s worldview is neither situated in compassion nor in justice: it is situated in revenge.
I can recognize that a lot of people have gone vegan as a result of that one popular video of his, but it hurts us more than helps us to raise him to some sort of untouchable level. He, nor any other activist or figure in the vegan community, should ever be immune to criticism. Positive criticism leads to change.
Something I’ve always thought to be central to veganism was our ability to see the hard truth even in places we don'twant to find it. That’s how we can look at products and practices we once enjoyed, see what is required for those things to happen, and choose to do something about it. And seeing the truth means seeing people for what they are, never ignoring harmful things they’ve said or done for our own sake. This doesn’t mean that forgiveness is off the table for us - people can change, and people who have once said horrific things can learn why it was wrong to say that. But you know someone doesn’t acknowledge what was wrong about their statement if they refuse to apologize for it, or constantly deny saying it, or mask their former statements in a circus of backpedaling and gaslighting.
I think if we try to pretend that Yourofsky’s other videos and statements don’t exist - his proclaimations of wishing rape on people, of torturing people and murdering people with great pleasure - then they’ll only become a stronger weapon against us. Ignore them, and they will be used by non-vegans as the “shocking thing vegans don’t want you to know about!” To avoid facing these misdemeanours head on, and treating them justly, makes us look deceptive. We need to show people that we know what he has said, and how what he has said does not change the fact that going vegan is still the right thing to do. (Would you stop donating to charity if you saw a man who regularly donates to charity kill puppies? Just because someone who promotes something right does something wrong doesn’t make that good action any less good, it just makes that individual’s behaviour contradictory)
So I will never ignore what he’s said, but I want to take what he’s said in the whole of his statements. He has condoned the rape of people, and he has also condoned the mutilation and murder of rapists, and he has condoned severe harm against those who disagree with him, vegan or not. This cannot be summed up as the mentality of a rape apologist. I can’t call him simply “a rape apologist” without feeling like I’m ignoring all of the other statements he’s made where he wishes brutal harm upon people, or saying that rape is de facto worse than all of those other types of brutality he condones. His is the mentality of someone who fantasizes about harm in all its forms. The first thing I would tell people about him is that he is a sick man who needs help.
The second thing I would tell them is that he is still right about veganism being a necessary change.