The Trans Rights Issue: Equality Claims and Belief Claims

Note: Principle Five of the Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights maintains human rights and nonhuman rights are inextricably intertwined and that:

Abolitionists reject all forms of human discrimination, including racism, sexism, heterosexism, ageism, ableism, and classism—just as they reject speciesism.

Many Abolitionists have asked me about what the Abolitionist position is about transphobia. The answer is clear: Transphobia is wrong. We should not discriminate against anyone based on their gender identity. Trans people should not be discriminated against in terms of access to jobs, renting/buying living accommodations, education, and elsewhere, etc.  This makes perfect moral sense. The fact that someone is a trans person is completely irrelevant to their access to employment, housing, education, etc.

We do not, however, discriminate wrongly against trans persons by failing to believe their metaphysical/spiritual claims that trans women are literally women or that trans men are literally men, and by failing to eliminate all single-sex spaces and activities or otherwise not living our lives in conformity with their metaphysical spiritual beliefs. That is, it is not “transphobic” to refuse to embrace trans belief claims any more than it is “Christianphobic” not to accept that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, or “Catholicphobic” not to believe that when a Catholic priest says Mass, transubstantiation occurs and the bread and wine become the body and blood of Jesus.

To the extent that trans ideology requires us to ignore the basic human rights of biological women and girls, or to maintain that lesbians and gays who are not really bisexual are bigots, or to threaten the welfare of children, trans ideology violates Principle Five.

The following represents a more detailed discussion of my views.


(source: Wikimedia Commons)

The Controversy

To say that the trans-rights issue is controversial is very much an understatement. Part of the problem is that there is a great deal of confusion about exactly what issues are at stake. I would like to propose that the crux of the debate centers on whether respecting the equality claims of trans persons and not discriminating against them requires that we accept certain belief claims that at least some trans persons make. That is, does not discriminating against trans persons require we accept as literally true certain claims that they make, or, at the very least, that we live our lives as if we believe those claims to be literally true.

majority of us believes that trans people should not be discriminated against in terms of access to jobs, renting/buying living accommodations, education, and elsewhere, etc. This makes perfect moral sense. The fact that someone is a trans person is completely irrelevant to their access to employment, housing, education, etc.

The problem is that some trans-rights activists (TRAs) maintain that it is “transphobic” (among other bad things) to not accept as factually or literally true the claims that biological males who identify as women are women and that biological females who identify as men are men. They also claim that, in light of the literal truth of these claims, it is transphobic to maintain single-sex spaces. They demand that we eliminate all single-sex spaces, such as toilets, changing rooms, shower facilities, prisons, rape crisis centers, domestic violence shelters, etc., as well as eliminate single-sex sports, and make other changes that are intended to eradicate the concept of biological sex from society.

So the issue is whether respecting the equality of trans persons and not discriminating against them requires that we accept these claims as true, or at least act as though we do, and eliminate single-sex spaces and activities as well as make whatever changes would follow from our believing in the literal truth of those claims.

Gender-critical feminists (GCFs), such as Kathleen StockHolly Lawford-SmithHelen JoyceAndrew Doyle, and many others clearly and unequivocally support the equality claims of trans people but reject TRA belief claims. That is, they maintain that an open and decent society should not discriminate against trans people but they reject that we wrongly discriminate against trans people by refusing to believe that trans women are women or that trans men are men. They do not support changes, including, but not limited to, the elimination of single-sex spaces and activities, or other changes that require that we reject the existence and importance of biological sex.

GCFs are sometimes referred to as “trans-exclusionary radical feminists” or “TERFs.” “TERF” is viewed as a slur by many and suggests that those with gender-critical views reject both the equality and belief claims of trans people. But that is not the case. The leading spokespersons for the GCF position strongly support trans equality claims; they reject just the belief claims. Also, GCFs do not necessarily embrace radical feminism so that’s yet another reason to not use “TERF.”

It must be emphasized that not all trans people are TRAs. Many are not. An example is Debbie Hayton, a physics teacher and trade unionist from the U.K. who has been vocal in maintaining that we can respect the equality claims of trans people without compromising the equality rights of others. In other words, people like Hayton are asking for equality; they are not asking us to believe that TRA claims are literally true or that we must live our lives, and restructure social institutions, as if their claims were literally true.

Must We All Be Christian?

In order to explore the issue here — whether the equality of trans persons requires that we accept as literally true their belief claims — it would be useful to explore another context in which a similar issue is presented. I have chosen an example that involves an important and prevalent institution — Christianity — that very much concerns the fundamental identity of many involved in it.

Most of us think that discrimination on the basis of religion is wrong. Indeed, discrimination on the basis of religion is prohibited by law in the U.S., U.K., and many other places. We should not, for example, discriminate against Christians in employment, education, and elsewhere in society. We accept the equality of Christians.

Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. They do not believe that Jesus is a prophet, or a “special” human. They believe literally that he is divine. Many Christians maintain that they have the experience of a personal relationship with Jesus. Does our not discriminating against Christians require not only that we not place them at any disadvantage in employment, education, or other contexts, but that we also accept that Jesus is the Son of God and live our lives as though we believed this to be literally true?

We may find out someday that Christians were right and that everyone else was wrong and Jesus is the Son of God. But we certainly cannot say that now, and we cannot maintain that others should be required to believe it, or at the very least, to live as though they believed it, as a condition of not discriminating against Christians. That is, we do not discriminate against Christians if we refuse to believe in the divinity of Jesus. We do not discriminate against Christians if we refuse to eliminate other non-Christian religions. If Christians want to attend a Jewish, Muslim, or Hindu service and proclaim that Jesus is the Son of God over the objection of the Jews, Muslims, or Hindus, we do not unjustifiably discriminate against Christians by prohibiting them from doing so.

To not believe that Jesus is divine does not make one “Christianphobic.” To the extent that some Christians suggest that we should all convert to Christianity, or that the practitioners of other religions are “doomed” or are “evil,” we regard those people as zealots and cranks. We certainly don’t think we have to agree that their beliefs are true or that we must live in accordance with them. For example, the debate about regulating abortion from conception or very early in the pregnancy term focuses in part about whether those seeking to restrict access to abortion are doing so for religious reasons and, to the extent they are, that forms the basis for an objection, at least in the United States, that the government cannot establish a religion.

In any event, Christians have a right to believe what they want; everyone else has an obligation to not engage in wrongful discrimination against Christians. But respecting the equality claims of Christians does not require that we accept Christian belief claims that Jesus is God or allow Christians to act out their metaphysical or spiritual beliefs in the spaces of others.

Now let’s apply this to the trans issue, which involves the same issue: does not discriminating require the acceptance of certain belief claims as literally true?

Sex and Religion

Sex is biologically determined and it is binary. There are only two sexes — male and female. Males are those whose function is to produce the small gamete (sperm); females are those whose function is to produce the large gamete (ova). This is not up for grabs. This is not a poststructuralist issue about how one uses language. This is the biological fact of the matter. If you want to have offspring, you must find a member of the opposite sex.

There are instances in which sex is ambiguous, but cases involving “intersexed” persons are rare and do not establish that there is a third sex or that sex is on some sort of spectrum. There are only two kinds of gametes and, therefore, only two sexes. Variations within males and within females concern variations in anatomy, not variations in sex, and do not support the position that there are more than two sexes. “Male” and “female” are real categories.

Some TRAs may choose to reject the fact that sex is binary and that the categories of biological male and biological female are real. They may claim that, despite their biological sex, they have the soul or spirit, or intangible feeling of identity, of the other sex, or of no sex (non-binary), or of alternating sexes (gender fluid). That’s fine. They may believe that if they wish. They may live their lives as though their beliefs are literally true.

But that does not mean that we must live our lives as though their beliefs are literally true any more than we must all accept as literally true Christian beliefs about the divinity of Jesus.

I chose Christianity as an example but there are many other religions and other spiritual belief systems that represent truth to their adherents and provide those adherents with a sense — often a very strong sense — of identity. In a pluralistic society, we do not question the right of people to believe what they wish to believe and to live their lives in accordance with their spiritual beliefs. But, in a pluralistic society, we also do not question the right of others to choose to reject those beliefs and to not live their lives as though those beliefs are literally true.

No one has the right to demand that others accept their metaphysical beliefs as literally true, and to change their conduct to accommodate the supposed truth of those beliefs.

But that is exactly what TRAs demand. They are demanding adherence to a belief system that is indistinguishable from a religion (1,2). Trans women may claim to be women but they cannot deny that they are biological males. That is a simple, indisputable, and undeniable fact. They are trans women precisely because they have “transed” from being something else — biological males. To pretend that trans women are not biological males is to do just that — pretend. Trans men may claim to be men but they cannot deny that they are biological females. That is a simple, indiisputable, and undeniable fact. They are trans men precisely because they have “transed” from being something else — biological females. To pretend that trans men are not biological females is to do just that — pretend. If that is what trans people and others want to do, they can do that. But there is no way that we can require others who are unwilling to embrace this belief to do so any more than we can require Jews to accept the divinity of Jesus.

It has been noted that TRA ideology is similar to the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation. This doctrine, which is not shared by other Christian sects, holds that when the priest celebrates the Mass, the bread and wine are literally transformed into the body and blood of Jesus. This is not just a matter of symbolism; it is a matter of spiritual ontology — the bread and wine becomes the spiritual body and blood of Jesus. Trans persons believe similarly that they have somehow transcended beyond the physical world and their biological reality. They can believe that they have “trans-substantiated” if they wish just as Catholics believe in transubstantiation. But just as Catholics cannot make the rest of us believe in transubstantiation and live our lives as if it were true, TRAs cannot make the rest of us believe in “trans-substantiation” and live our lives as if it were true.

TRA ideology traces its origin to postmodernism, which declares that there is no truth and that everything is a matter of social construction. Facts don’t matter; “lived experience” and choice do. Postmodernism has certainly been useful to challenge the notion that certain hegemonies (e.g., that of the Western white male) are universal or represent truth. The past few years of listening to politicians denying what are clearly facts by invoking the mantra of “fake news” should make it clear that postmodernism understood as a rejection of all universals is, at best, an intoxicating distraction for some undergraduates but is an absolute nightmare for the rest of us — and a most serious threat to society. I am happy to concede (as most scientists do) that even science embraces some metaphysical elements (e.g., causation), but there are facts. And if you are going to be skeptical about the claim that biological males and biological females are real categories, you cannot arbitrarily restrict your skepticism, and you need to accept that you may be a disembodied brain in a vat being stimulated by electrodes to believe that you are reading this. But, in that case, discussions about sex would be largely irrelevant.

In sum, postmodernism, which rejects facts, is no more a source about facts than is the Bible. Saying that trans women have “transed” from being biological males or that trans men have “transed” from being female is not an act of discrimination. It is a statement of fact. “Lived experience” has nothing to do with it.

Sex and Gender

Sperm and ova certainly do not tell us the entire story about human sexual behavior and identification, which involves a complicated combination of biological sex and gender. Gender is different from biological sex. Gender is a set of cultural ideas and practices that are imposed on us on the basis of our biological sex. We can think of gender as involving cultural stories about what it is to be male and female. Gender stories often become generalized into various standardized stories or stereotypes. These stories or stereotypes can and often do vary within societies and between societies, and can and often do change over time.

Sex and gender are different. That is the fact of the matter.

TRAs ritually invoke the quote from Simon de Beauvoir’s quote, “One is not born, but rather becomes, woman,” as proof that sex is not something one is born with. They conveniently neglect the rest of the quote: “No biological, psychic, or economic destiny defines the figure that the human female takes on in society; it is civilization as a whole that elaborates this intermediary product between the male and the eunuch that is called feminine.” In other words, women are born with a sex but gender is a matter of social or cultural construction.

Simone de Beauvoir, who, despite claims to the contrary, understood the difference between sex and gender (source: Wikimedia Commons)

TRAs use the expression “cis-gendered” to describe a person who has the gender that person was “assigned at birth.” But no one is “assigned” a gender at birth. One’s biological sex is recognized at birth because sex is a fact that can be ascertained in all but a very minute number of cases where there are severe anatomical variations. So one is identified as male or female. There is no “assignment”; there is a factual determination that is made. What sort of male or female person that person will become — how that person will express his or her sexuality through whatever gender roles or stereotypes will be imposed on that person or that person will adopt — is not a matter that can be “assigned at birth.” That will happen afterward as that person interacts with his or her family, friends, society generally, and the world as he or she encounters it.

Evolutionary and developmental psychologists may debate about whether, for example, the attraction of many male children to things that can serve as weapons or of female children to dolls is a matter of instinct that has evolved or is solely a matter of cultural exposure, or of some combination thereof, but no one — other than TRAs — is saying that biological sex is a matter that is “assigned” at birth. Biological sex is recognized at birth.

If a biological male adopts the gender stereotypes of a female, that does not mean that the male was wrongly identified as male at birth and is really a biological female. It means that the biological male does not identify with, or feel any affinity for, male stereotypes. In any event, biological sex is not up for grabs at birth or at any other time. What is up for grabs is what gender stereotypes (including a rejection of any particular gender stereotype) someone may embrace. But that is going to occur after birth.

To the extent that the trans belief claim is that we are born with some “innate” sense or “feeling” of gender that is separate from our biological sex and that biological sex is irrelevant, that claim is and can be nothing more than a metaphysical belief. It is akin to the claim that despite our having physical bodies that have biological sex, we have souls or spirits or feelings that have a sexual identity that has nothing to do with our biological sex. If that is what someone wants to believe, it is fine. But to say that we must all believe that, and that we must change social institutions to accommodate that belief, is decidedly not fine. There is no requirement that we believe in souls or in what appears to be analogues of souls.

There are people who suffer from a recognized psychological condition called dysphoria. But genuine dysphoria, which, until very recently, has been rare, is a matter of distress or discomfort with one’s biological sex and not a matter of gender identity, and not any “proof” that biological sex is not a fact or that gender and sex are the same. They are not. There is sex. And there is gender. TRAs cannot abolish the fact of sex, try as they may.

Abolishing Biological Sex Perpetuates Sexism and Misogyny.

Although gender stereotypes differ from culture to culture, there is a disturbing constant: gender stereotypes of women are predominantly sexist; that is, the cultural story they often tell is of the inequality of women. That is why many people have been working hard for decades to bring about a social rejection of gender stereotypes, or at least of the more egregious ones that that objectify women as sex objects and otherwise as commodities. If we reject sex as a biological fact, and say that only gender determines one’s sexual identity, then we make gender the only reality for who we are sexually. And for women that means that being a woman is only and necessarily a matter of being some sexist and misogynist cultural stereotype. These stereotypes include, but certainly are not limited to, being submissive, weak, nurturing, intellectually inferior, obsessed with appearance, overly emotional, terribly fond of doing unpaid menial labor, etc.

We have made progress. Sexist/misogynistic stereotypes have less hold than they have had in the past. But making sexuality a matter of gender alone will necessarily affect that progress in an adverse way.

By the way, gender stereotypes may not be a great thing for biological males either. The idea of being the strong, silent tough guy who never shows emotion and controls or destroys anything in his path may, in fact, be making at least some men miserable. I have never much cared for traditional male stereotypes, to be honest. I reject completely the emotional limitations that gender stereotypes impose on men. I don’t think you should trust a man who can’t cry in the face of tragedy. I have never owned a gun or gone hunting. I have never been able to engage with cab drivers who often attempt to talk with male passengers about sports because, apart from knowing the different shapes of the things that people throw or kick around, I know nothing about sports.

If you are a biological male and don’t identify with male stereotypes, but you do identify with gender stereotypes associated with being female, or if you think all gender stereotypes are nonsense, or you want to pick and choose, that’s fine. Identify with whatever gender stereotypes you want, and live your life accordingly. But that does not and cannot change the empirical fact that you are a biological male. Your adoption of a gender stereotype associated with biological females does not make you a biological female. It makes you a biological male who identifies as a female. Moreover, and very importantly, whatever female gender stereotype you may adopt does not in any way define what a “woman” is for anyone else except you. It’s just a cultural convention you have adopted. It is not a reality that you can impose on anyone else or expect anyone else to adopt.

Abolishing Biological Sex Makes Gays and Lesbians Bigots.

A particularly bizarre manifestation of the TRA treatment of sex and gender is found in claims that it is bigotry or “sexual racism” for lesbians to be same-sex attracted rather than be same-gender attracted. That is, some TRAs claim that lesbians are bigots if they do not want to have sexual relationships with biological males who identify as trans women and as lesbians. The same thing is happening to gay men, who are being shamed for not wanting to have sexual relationships with biological women who identify as gay men. This is unquestionably a violation of the equality rights of lesbians and gays.

Homosexuality is a matter of being same-sex attracted, not being same-gender attracted. Trans women may claim to be women but they are biological males who do not appeal to lesbians. That does not make lesbians transphobes. It just makes them lesbians. If a lesbian decides that she is really bisexual and is attracted to trans women, that’s obviously her right. But it beggars belief to say that if a lesbian is not really bisexual, then she is a bigot. It beggars belief to say that unless a gay man is really bisexual and willing to have sex with a biological woman who identifies as a gay male, he is a bigot. That would be to declare as bigots or “sexual racists” all same-sex attracted people. That would be to erase homosexuality. That is bigotry.

Some argue that if a lesbian is not attracted to a trans woman, or if a gay man is not attracted to a trans man, that is merely a cultural prejudice that is no different from not being attracted to members of other races, and that reflects a morally objectionable prejudice. I accept that sexual attraction is, at least in part, a matter of cultural conditioning. And I have no doubt that, in a place like the United States, which had race-based slavery until 1865, “Jim Crow” laws that enforced racial segregation until the 1960s, and miscegenation laws until 1967, sexual attraction based on race was and is still influenced by all of that. I am not sure that I would say that blacks or whites are “racists” or “bigots” for not being attracted to each other as a regular matter, but that is already in the process of changing significantly as we get further away from the racism that has so adversely affected society.

But I do not think that recognizing that our sexual attraction to members of other races can be and in some cases certainly is shaped by prejudice and that in an ideal society, prejudice would cease to be a factor at all in attraction, commits us to say that, in an ideal society, we would all be bisexual. To say that anything other than bisexuality is bigotry is nonsense — and homophobic.

The Issue of Female-Only Spaces

Another empirical fact that cannot de disputed is that biological males engage in a great deal of violence against biological females. And violence against women and girls is increasing. Let’s be clear: violence against women is based on their biology, not their gender identity. That is, sexual batteries are performed with sex organs and larger body size/strength. It’s not a matter of gender. It’s a matter of sex.

(source: Wikimedia Commons)

One of the primary reasons that female-only spaces were established was to address concerns about violence from biological males. In addition, these spaces provide some protection for women from the exhibitionism and voyeurism of biological males — behaviors that may not involve physical violence but certainly involve psychological violence and are extremely common. Until the advent of trans activism, we have accepted without question that it is the right of biological women to not have biological males in toilets, changing rooms, shower rooms, rape crisis centers, domestic violence shelters, prisons, and in other situations in which biological women are vulnerable as biological women. This is not to say that society has provided sufficient protection to women and girls by any means in light of the considerable violence that they suffer. But it has provided some protection.

This minimal protection in the form of single-sex spaces for females is now the target of TRAs. Why? The answer is that at least some trans women do not feel safe in male-only spaces because they fear violence from biological men. Trans women want to be protected from biological males who may seek to do harm to them. Alternatively, they may just feel uncomfortable around biological males who don’t identify as trans women.

But those are exactly the reasons that biological females do not want biological males in their private spaces.

Please think about this for a second. TRAs are demanding that biological women welcome biological males into their private spaces because trans women, who are biological males, don’t feel safe or comfortable with/around other biological males. But neither do many biological women. The TRA demand is that we must ignore that biological females also do not feel safe or comfortable around biological males irrespective of how they identify in order to satisfy the demands of TRAs. There is a clear problem here: the TRA insists on the very same right — to not be with biological males — that they maintain we must deny to biological females.

And which biological males are women supposed to welcome into their private spaces? Part of trans ideology is that gender is a matter of self-identification. If someone says (or just thinks) that they are a woman, then they can freely use the private spaces of biological women. That is, any biological male can identify as a woman and insist on entry into single-sex spaces. Indeed, a biological male who is “gender fluid” may identify as a man today and be happy to use the men’s toilet, shower, or changing facilities but may identify as a woman tomorrow and want to use the women’s facilities. In those places where self-ID applies, depending on the jurisdiction, there may be steps required to change one’s sex or gender legally on government documents such as birth certificates, driver’s licenses, and passports. But the principle of self-identification means no medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria or medical treatment is required and, as a practical matter, self-identification means any biological male can enter women’s spaces.

Is there a violation of equality rights here? You bet there is. There is a blatant and egregious violation of the rights of biological women. It is discrimination against them because the similar interests of biological women are treated differently and accorded less protection than the interests of trans women. Treating similar cases in a different way is the very definition of being unfair. It is discrimination because biological women are being forced to believe someone else’s metaphysical or spiritual belief and to rearrange their lives on the basis of that belief and to give up a right they have.

It makes no sense to claim that you are being discriminated against if what you are asking for is the same right you want take away from someone else and you have no plausible argument that your claim of rights trump their claim of right.

Both biological women and trans women are asserting the same interest: to be in a space without biological men. But this interest cannot be satisfied for both biological females and trans women if they are going to be in the same space. So, if biological females and trans women are going to be in the same space, biological females are going to have to relinquish protection for their interest. There is no legitimate basis on which to argue that trans women have a right to feel safe or comfortable that involves their not being in the presence of biological males, but that biological females do not have this same right. That is, in order to treat trans women equally, we have to treat biological women unequally and compel them to accept as literally true the claim that trans women are women and admit them into their private and intimate spaces.

In an effort to claim that TRA rights should trump the rights of biological females, some claim that trans women are more likely to be the target of violence than are the biological women in the spaces trans women want to share and so, the claims of trans women is stronger. But that claim ignores that trans women are not at risk of being harmed by biological women; they are at risk of being harmed by biological males — the very same group that put biological females at risk.

It also unfair to say that the concern expressed by women to preserve their private spaces is a manifestation of “transphobia.” The fact that women are happy to share their private spaces with trans men, many of whom, by the way, also don’t want to use the spaces of biological men, shows that biological women are not “transphobic”: their concern is not about people being trans; the concern is about people being biological males regardless of how they self-identify.

Are Single-Sex Spaces Analogous to Apartheid?

I have heard some TRAs claim that excluding trans women from women’s toilets, changing rooms, shower facilities, etc. is analogous to racial apartheid. That claim is nonsense. Apartheid is morally wrong because it denies full membership in the moral and legal community based on the irrelevant criterion of race. Biological sex is not irrelevant to concerns about violence toward biological females. On the contrary, it is the characteristic most relevant to those concerns. No one is saying that racial discrimination is wrong because black people are really white people. But that is exactly what the trans activist claim is: separating biological males and biological females is wrong because some biological males are really women. That requires the acceptance of a metaphysical belief claim that no one is required to accept.

In response, a TRA may argue that we do not, say, allow sexist, racist, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, etc. views to be expressed in, say, state schools because those views are bigoted and are based on views about equality that are also metaphysical or spiritual in nature. Therefore, even if TRA belief claims about trans women being women are metaphysical, they are no more so than those other statements about equality and denying TRA belief claims is no less bigoted than denying those equality claims.

But this analysis would be wrong. Statements about equality are not necessarily based on metaphysical or spiritual views. They may reflect certain spiritual beliefs, such as that the equality of all humans is ordained by God. But those statements may also be entirely secular normative statements that we ought not use demonstrably irrational prejudice to deprive anyone of benefits. TRA belief claims are offered as statements of fact that are no more verifiable than saying that Jesus Christ is the Son of God or that the consecrated bread and wine are really the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Denying TRA belief claims is not, like denying claims about racial or other sorts of equality, intended to deprive trans women of any benefit; denying those claims is required if we are going to provide biological females protection for their legitimate interests in physical safety, privacy, and dignity.

This is not to say that trans women should not also receive that protection. In my view — and in the view of the GCFs I have read — they should. The problem is, as we saw above, the protection cannot be offered in the same space. That is, the rejection is not intended to privilege biological females; it is only intended to provide them with the exact same protection that trans women want and that cannot be provided if that protection is provided to trans women in the same space. The denial of the TRA claim is simply a statement that the rights of biological females are not going to be trumped by biological males who want the same right. Biological women and trans women want the same right but we cannot give it to both in the same space.

Again, the analogy to Christians and other religions is instructive. Excluding the Christians from proclaiming that Jesus is divine in a Jewish service is not an effort to privilege Jews. It is an effort to respect the freedom of religion of both sects and that cannot be respected if the right of Christians to proclaim their truth trumps the rights of Jews to have their service be free of non-Jewish elements.

And requiring biological women to allow biological males who identify as women into single-sex spaces is clearly worse than Christians entering a Jewish space and proclaiming that Jesus is the Son of God. The Jews may be offended — perhaps very deeply offended — by the invasion of their space by the Christians. But barring a fist fight, there isn’t a risk of physical danger. On the other hand, biological males in the spaces of biological women does portend physical harm; that is precisely why the latter want to keep their separate spaces.

Separate But Equal?

The solution appears to be to have single-occupancy toilets, changing rooms, and showering facilities for everyone. Prisons, homeless shelters, and other institutions segregated by biological sex present a more complicated problem because trans women are at risk of being victims of violence from biological males in those places. A possible solution is to have separate institutional facilities for trans women. Some trans activists claim that this is objectionable because it is analogous to the “separate but equal” situation that characterized racial segregation.

Again, this objection ignores that racial segregation rested on an unjustifiable prejudice. Trans women do not want to be subjected to violence from biological males. But that is exactly what biological females want. The fear of violence from biological males is not analogous to an irrational prejudice based on race; it is a fear that is well-grounded and is shared by biological females and trans women alike.

What About Single-Sex Sports?

The evidence is overwhelming that there is a significant difference between male and female athletic performance. That is the fact of the matter. According to the authors of a 2020 study in the Duke Journal of Gender Law and Policy: “depending on the sport and event, the gap between the best male and female performances remains somewhere between 7 to 25 percent; and even the best female is consistently surpassed by many elite and nonelite males, including both boys and men.”

Women-only sports were created so that biological females would have a chance to compete fairly. If biological males who identify as women do not want to compete against other biological males, then perhaps the solution is to have a separate category for competition among trans women and a category limited to those who are biological females. The solution is not to require that we believe that a biological male is a female, ignore the fact that biological males have certain biological advantages over biological females, and then allow biological males to compete against biological females despite the fact of biological advantage. That makes no sense. And it undermines entirely the purpose for having sports contests that are limited to females.

What About Claims About Race? Age? Species?

The TRA claim is that we can ignore biological facts because our sex is a matter of our “lived experience” or choice or innate feeling of sexuality or whatever. The facts are irrelevant; all that is relevant is how we identify. But the postmodern rejection of facts cannot be limited to just the “lived experience” of sex. If we accept the claim that one can be a woman or a man simply by identifying as a woman or a man, what about other identity claims based on “lived experience,” choice, etc.? That is, we are being asked to accept as literally true that biological men are women and biological women are men based on their claims of gender identity. So on what basis can we exclude other claims that ignore physical reality but are as sincerely held as matters of gender self-identification? What is the principle that limits the ability to make claims based on identity?

That’s easy. There is no basis. There is no limiting principle here. There can be no limiting principle here. We can exclude other identity claims only in an unprincipled or arbitrary way.

For example, as Richard Dawkins and others have asked, if sex, which is biologically determined and binary, is really a matter of self-identification, then why isn’t race, which is also biologically determined but much less binary, also a matter of self-identification? So if I identify as black, why aren’t I really black? Why aren’t you “transphobic” if you don’t accept my trans-racial claim as literally true? People excoriated Rachel Dolezal, a white woman who had long been a campaigner for civil rights and had consistently claimed to be black, and who did not want to experience life as a white person. Why was she excoriated? There is no good answer to this question.

Rachel Dolezal. How can her identity claim be any less valid? (source: Wikimedia Commons)

Some say that trans people are just recognizing their “innate” sense of gender and there is no “innate” sense of race. Who says? Once we say that a biological male can have the spirit or soul or innate feeling or whatever of being a woman, and that makes the trans person a woman, what possible argument can be made that a white person (and keep in mind that race is less binary than sex) cannot have the soul or spirit or innate feeling of being black? Or of being Korean? As I was finishing the final draft of this essay, I saw a news report about those who practice RCTA (“race change to another”). There is now a debate about this. But then, how could there not be a debate about this? That’s my point.

Dylan Mulvaney can be a six-year-old girl; why can’t I get lower insurance rates based on my “lived experience”? (source: Wikimedia Commons)

And it does not stop at trans-racialism. Trans woman Dylan Mulvaney sometimes identifies as a six-year-old girl (as well as a toy doll). I have been a vegan for decades. I do not feel my age or anything near it. My “lived experience” is very much that of a younger person. Can I identify as a younger person, get a re-dated driver’s license, and demand lower life insurance rates? If I had not been a vegan, and l felt older than my chronological age (as do many of my non-vegan friends), should I be able to collect Social Security payments sooner?

There have been reports of humans identifying as animals. Why can’t humans be trans species? I have seen TRAs dismiss the trans-species situation as “silly.” But it wasn’t long ago that the position that a biological man can really be a woman was considered as “silly.” I remember seeing Monty Python’s Life of Brian in 1981. There was a skit about the claim of a biological man wanting to be a woman and have a baby. The audience was roaring with laughter. Who would have thought that a mere 42 years later, this would be the subject of serious controversy and that anyone who questioned it would be at risk of receiving death threats?

A Note About Children

I assume that, if you accept what I am saying up to this point, I do not need to convince you that we at least need to be having a serious social discussion about whether and under what circumstances we should be administering hormones to, and doing surgery on, gender non-conforming children, involving irreversible body changes and life-long medicalization. There are a number of issues here, and medical authorities are increasingly questioning the science behind and benefits provided by these procedures.

We at least need to be having a discussion when government-funded (reported to be in the amount of £500,000) sociologists/psychologists tell us that we need to consider prioritizing gender-affirming care over the health of a child and let pregnant trans men take testosterone despite it being a known risk to the children. But the TRA crowd is having none of it, and is continuing to promote these procedures and to fight legal attempts to restrict access to them, and to claim that anyone who even thinks we should be discussing this matter is condemning trans kids to death and denying gender affirming care. If you don’t accept what I am saying up to this point, my guess is that there is nothing I could say to convince you that we at least need to be having a social discussion about those matters.

Universities: Education or Entertainment?

It was appalling to see the efforts to block and then disrupt the appearance at the Oxford Union of philosopher Dr. Kathleen Stock on 30 May 2023. The Union has been a place where controversial positions have traditionally been welcomed. Indeed, back in the early 1990s, I debated at the Oxford Union on the matter of using animals in experiments despite widespread disagreement with, and rejection of, my views on animal rights. The spectacle of students and others at one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in the world trying to shut down discussion of Stock’s ideas was both shocking and sad.

It was encouraging to see more than 40 Oxford academics support Stock’s appearance. But it was disappointing to see more than 100 Oxford academics oppose her appearance. Whatever you think about the merits of Stock’s position, there can be no doubt that she expresses her views in a way that comports with the norms of academic discourse however you understand them. She is a scholar who conducts herself accordingly and her performance at the Union stands as a shining example of how to deal in a calm and reasoned way in a difficult situation.

That Stock was, in effect, forced to leave her university teaching position because of her views on TRA belief claims is a sad comment on how universities are less and less places of education and rigorous thinking and more and more places where young people go for increasingly expensive entertainment, and where the performers can get booed off the stage and are obsessed to keep the audience happy at any cost. This includes failing to teach students that they are going to have to learn to function in a world in which they will encounter disagreement, and that disagreement requires reasoned discourse and not just preventing your opponent from speaking or shouting your opponent down. The students of today are going to face a world that has many more serious challenges and more uncertainty than any prior generation has faced in terms of economic and environmental chaos. It is not clear that we are doing those students any favor by encouraging them to be traumatized and to feel unsafe as a result of having to encounter ideas with which they disagree.

As an academic for 40 years now, I am very concerned at what can only be considered the blatant censorship, violation of academic freedom, and viewpoint discrimination that are unquestionably occurring in higher education these days. Frankly, if there is anything that ought to be excluded from discussion within the academy, perhaps it is postmodernism. That’s tongue in cheek. I am not really advocating that we ought to stop the teaching of postmodernism because that would be to infringe the academic freedom of colleagues who regard that as worthy of teaching and scholarship. I am, however, saying that if we have to choose between an academy that reduces the concept of truth to a social construction and “lived experience” (excluding the “lived experience” of biological females, of course), and that actually penalizes anyone who doesn’t get in line with that, or an academy that excludes the idea that the postmodern rejection of truth is unquestionably true, that’s a no-brainer. I will choose the latter. And that’s the truth.

Who’s Right About Who’s Right?

TRAs claim that opposition to their position comes from the extreme right and, therefore, to oppose their position makes one an ideological ally of fascists, Nazis, etc. Many of the most thoughtful critics of trans ideology — Kathleen Stock, Holly Lawford-Smith, and Andrew Doyle to name just three — are anything but right wing, much less far-right wing. Irish journalist Helen Joyce used to be an editor for The Economist but that hardly qualifies her as a right-wing extremist.

It certainly is true that the far right focuses a lot on trans ideology, but I suspect that is more because they see the belief claims of TRAs as so disconnected from the lives of most people that those belief claims can be used to tar all other progressive issues. After all, if the right can point to progressives who think that it’s fine for a naked trans woman to be in the shower with 14-year old girls because the trans woman, despite having a penis that is on display for the girls, is really just another female, then, if those progressives also have a problem with institutional racism, the right can more easily marginalize or denigrate the latter, legitimate concern. It should not be that way but it is. Trans ideology is a gift for the far right.

And, if anything, TRAs often behave very much like the far right. Try arguing with someone from the far right. They ignore or dismiss facts and call you a “communist,” “socialist,” or “Marxist,” or at the very least question your patriotism. There is no reasoned analysis. Try arguing with a TRA. There is no discussion. They just call you a “transphobe,” “Nazi,” or “fascist,” or declare that even questioning TRA belief claims represents part of the genocidal “final solution” for trans people.

And TRAs, like the right, want to link “woman” with the same sexist, misogynistic stereotypes.

I consider my views progressive and left wing. When I first thought about this issue — about four or five years ago — I took my cues from other progressives, went along with the left groupthink, and believed that those rejecting TRA belief claims were making a mountain out of a molehill. I supported the idea that people could claim to be whatever they want and live however they want as long as they did not infringe on the rights of others. It was not clear to me then — but is clear to me now — that there are aspects of trans ideology that very much infringe on the rights of others. I was wrong. I stand corrected.

As a progressive, I am very concerned about changing language to remove words referring to females (e.g., “mother”) from the vocabulary and reducing women in a dehumanizing way to their body parts and functions, such as “womb carrier” and “menstruator,” or as possessors of a “bonus hole” or of “soft tissue” used to “chestfeed” babies. There is something terribly wrong when we are told that we must acknowledge that trans women, who are biological males, are women but that we cannot refer to biological females except as body parts or body functions. How is this not a return to commodifying biological females? That’s a rhetorical question.

As a progressive, I am concerned about the blatant inequality of ignoring the concerns of women about privacy, safety, and dignity so that those exact concerns as expressed by TRAs can be accommodated.

As a progressive, I am concerned that biological women and girls are, in effect, being stopped from expressing their views about what it means to be female, and that they are being marginalized and are becoming an inferior subclass of their own gender. Anyone who does not see that there is a massive suppression of free speech occurring around this issue isn’t paying attention.

As a progressive, I am concerned about imposing a new homophobia based on substituting same-gender attraction for same-sex attraction.

As a progressive, I am concerned about the violent misogyny that is promoted by some TRAs, and the failure of progressives, including supposedly progressive politicians and the police, to respond appropriately. Yes, there is certainly violence against trans people and it must be condemned by all of us and stopped. But the “both sides are violent” claims from progressives are unfounded. Violence against the trans community is not coming in any significant way from GCFs. It’s coming primarily from male bullies who feel threatened by trans people, gay people, black people — anyone other than straight white males. Violence against those who reject TRA belief claims is coming primarily from TRAs.

Women in the Scottish prison to which Isla Bryson was initially sent were concerned about the violence of Bryson, a biological male who had committed two rapes before identifying as a woman. That is, they were concerned about being imprisoned with a biological male who had battered women sexually. Bryson was relocated to an all-male facility and is complaining that the facility is “full of transphobic people.” That is, Bryson is concerned about biological men who have a prejudice against trans people. But the one constant thread in this narrative is the violence of biological men. It is a matter of concern to biological women and trans women. The source of the violence is not biological women who reject TRA belief claims.

And as a progressive, I am concerned that the ramifications for public policy of all of this are seriously problematic. The fact that many on the left do not see this (at least as of yet) is an indication that the left is sometimes every bit as knee jerk as the right, and a lesson that progressives should not outsource their thinking on issues like this if they don’t want to risk becoming a cult. There are signs that this may be changing. We can only hope.


I am a strong and longtime believer in the rights of nonhuman animals not to be treated as commodities or things. A central focus of my work for forty years has been that human and nonhuman rights are inextricably intertwined and that we should reject all forms of wrongful discrimination, not just speciesism. Indeed, this essay began as a (much) shorter statement to respond to questions I have been asked about discrimination against trans people. Let me be clear: I am unequivocally in favor of full equality for trans persons and I reject any discrimination against them. If you are a biological male and want to live as what you see as a woman, go for it. If you are a biological female and want to live as what you see as a man, go for it. No one should discriminate against you or harm you.

But I am also a strong and longtime believer in feminism, having resigned a tenured professorship at an Ivy League university back in 1989 over the failure to tenure a feminist academic. I have fought against sexism, misogyny, and sexual harassment during my entire academic career. I support the equality claims of biological females and I reject any discrimination against them. I do not believe that we wrongly discriminate against trans persons if we do not accept TRA belief claims as literally true or refuse to capitulate to TRA demands that we eliminate single-sex spaces, sporting activities, etc. We do not wrongly discriminate against trans persons if we refuse to demand that lesbians and gays must be bisexual.

We need to put our heads and hearts together to figure out how to ensure that trans people feel safe and comfortable. TRA ideology is an obstacle to that goal, just as the most extreme religious zealotry is an obstacle to the goal of religious tolerance and the harmonious coexistence we want it to foster.

NOTE: This essay was originally posted on I have been writing on for several years. The essay was removed because “We do not allow content that may undermine the dignity and rights of transgender and/or non-binary individuals. This may include misgendering, dead-naming, claims that transgender individuals are not their gender identity (“trans women are men”), or erroneous claims based on disinformation or pseudoscience.” I apparently violated the rules because I stated the fact that trans women are biological males. I will have more to say about this at a later time.


My essay, Are You a Vegan or Are you an Extremist?, published in Think (Cambridge University Press/The Royal Institute of Philosophy) is now available online.

Animal Advocacy and Effective Altruism: A Review of ‘The Good It Promises, The Harm It Does’

By Prof. Gary Francione

Effective Altruism (EA) maintains that those of us who are more affluent should give more to solve the problems of the world, and we should give to the organisations and individuals who are effective at solving those problems.

There are a not inconsiderable number of criticisms that can be and have been made of EA. For example, EA assumes that we can donate our way out of the problems we have created and focuses our attention on individual action rather than system/political change; it is usually linked with the morally bankrupt, just-about-anything-can-be-justified ethical theory of utilitarianism; it can focus on the interests of people who will exist in the future to the detriment of people who are alive now; it assumes that we can determine what is effective and that we can make meaningful predictions about what donations will be effective. In any event, EA is a most controversial position generally. 

The Good It Promises, the Harm It Does, edited by Alice Crary, Carol Adams, and Lori Gruen, is a collection of essays criticising EA. Although several essays focus on EA on a more general level, they for the most part discuss EA in the specific context of animal advocacy and maintain that EA has adversely affected that advocacy by promoting certain individuals and organisations to the detriment of other individuals and organisations that would be as effective, if not more effective, in achieving progress for nonhuman animals. The authors call for a revised understanding of what it is for animal advocacy to be effective. They also discuss how those disfavoured by the EA gatekeepers—those who purport to make authoritative recommendations on which groups or individuals are effective—are often community or indigenous activists, people of colour, women, and other marginalised groups. 

1. The discussion ignores the elephant in the room: what ideology should inform animal advocacy?

For the most part, the essays in this volume are primarily concerned with who is being funded to do animal advocacy and not with what animal advocacy is being funded. Many animal advocates promote some version or other of reformist ideology that I regard as detrimental to animals irrespective of whether it is promoted by a corporate charity that is favoured by EA gatekeepers or by feminist or anti-racist advocates who aspire to be favoured by those gatekeepers. In order to understand this point, and to understand the debate about EA in the animal context to see how much—or how little—is really at stake, it is necessary to take a brief detour to explore the two broad paradigms that inform modern animal ethics. 

By the early 1990s, what was loosely called the modern “animal rights” movement had embraced a decidedly non-rights ideology. That was not a surprise. The emerging movement was inspired in large part by Peter Singer and his book, Animal Liberation, first published in 1975. Singer is a utilitarian and eschews moral rights for nonhumans. Singer also rejects rights for humans but, because humans are rational and self-aware in a particular way, he maintains that at least typically functioning humans merit right-like protection. Although activists who follow Singer may use the language of “animal rights” as a rhetorical matter and maintain that society should move in the direction of ending animal exploitation or, at the very least, of significantly reducing the number of animals we exploit, they promote as the means to achieve those ends incremental steps to reduce animal suffering by reforming animal welfare to make it more “humane” or “compassionate.” They also target particular practices or products, such as fur, sport hunting, foie gras, veal, vivisection, etc. I identified this phenomenon as new welfarism in my 1996 book, Rain Without Thunder: The Ideology of the Animal Rights Movement. New welfarism may use the language of rights and promote an ostensibly radical agenda but it prescribes means that are consistent with the animal welfare movement that existed before the emergence of the “animal rights” movement. That is, new welfarism is classical welfarist reform with some rhetorical flourish.

New welfarists, led by Singer, promote reducing the consumption of animal products or consuming supposedly more “humanely” produced products. They promote “flexible” veganism as a way of reducing suffering but do not promote veganism as something that is necessary to do if one maintains that animals are not things and have moral value. Indeed, Singer and the new welfarists often refer in a derogatory manner to those who maintain veganism consistently as “purists” or “fanatical.” Singer promotes what I call “happy exploitation,” and maintains that he cannot say with any confidence that it is wrong to use and kill animals (with some exceptions) if we reform welfare to provide them a reasonably pleasant life and a relatively painless death. 

The alternative to new welfarism is the abolitionist approach that I started to develop in the late 1980s, in the first instance with philosopher Tom Regan, author of The Case for Animal Rights, and then on my own when Regan changed his views in the later 1990s. The abolitionist approach maintains that “humane” treatment is a fantasy. As I discussed in my 1995 book, Animals, Property, and the Law, animal welfare standards will always be low because animals are property and it costs money to protect animal interests. We generally protect the interests of animals who are used and killed for our purposes only to the extent that it is economically efficient to do so. A simple review of animal welfare standards historically and continuing up to the present time confirms that animals receive very little protection from animal welfare laws. The idea that welfare reforms will lead in some causal way to the significant reform or end of institutionalised use is unfounded. We have had animal welfare laws for about 200 years now and we are using more animals in more horrific ways than at any point in human history. Those who are more affluent can purchase “high-welfare” animal products that are produced under standards that supposedly go beyond those required by law, and that are celebrated as representing progress by Singer and the new welfarists. But the most “humanely” treated animals have still been subjected to treatment that we would not hesitate to label as torture were humans involved. 

New welfarism fails to appreciate that, if animals are property, their interests will always be accorded less weight than the interests of those who have property rights in them. That is, the treatment of animal property cannot as a practical matter be governed by the principle of equal consideration. Abolitionists maintain that, if animals are going to matter morally, they must be accorded one moral right—the right not to be property. But the recognition of this one right would require morally that we abolish and not merely regulate or reform animal use. We should work toward abolition not through incremental welfarist reforms but by advocating veganism—or not deliberately participating in animal exploitation for food, clothing, or any other use to the extent practicable (note: it’s practicable, not convenient)—as a moral imperative, as something we are obligated to do today, right now, and as a moral baseline, or the least we owe animals. As I explain in my 2020 book, Why Veganism Matters: The Moral Value of Animals, if animals matter morally, we cannot justify using them as commodities irrespective of how supposedly “humanely” we treat them, and we are committed to veganism. Reformist campaigns for “humane” treatment and single-issue campaigns actually perpetuate animal exploitation by promoting the idea that there is a right way to do the wrong thing and that some forms of animal use should be regarded as morally better than others. A shift of the paradigm from animals as property to animals as nonhuman persons with a morally significant interest in continuing to live requires the existence of an abolitionist vegan movement that sees any animal use as unjust. 

The new welfarist position is, by far and overwhelmingly, the dominant paradigm in animal ethics. New welfarism became thoroughly entrenched by the later 1990s. It provided a perfect business model for the many corporate charities that were emerging at the time in that just about any animal welfare measure could be packaged and sold as reducing animal suffering. Any use could be targeted as part of a single-issue campaign. This provided a virtually endless number of campaigns that could fuel the fundraising efforts of these groups. Moreover, this approach allowed groups to keep their donor bases as broad as possible: If all that mattered was reducing suffering, then anyone who was concerned about animal suffering could consider themselves as “animal activists” merely by supporting one of the many campaigns on offer. Donors did not need to change their lives in any way. They could continue to eat, wear, and otherwise use animals. They just had to “care” about animals—and donate.

Singer was (and is) the primary figure in the new welfarist movement. So when the 2000s came along, and EA emerged, it was no surprise that Singer, who was also a leading figure in the EA world from the outset, took the position that what was “effective” in the context of animal advocacy was to support the new welfarist movement that he created by supporting the corporate charities that promoted his utilitarian ideology—and that was most of them. Gatekeepers like Animal Charity Evaluators (ACE), which is discussed throughout The Good It Promises, the Harm It Does, and is criticised because it has close ties with large corporate animal charities, accepted Singer’s view and decided that it was “effective” to persuade potential donors to support those organisations Singer thought would be effective. Singer looms large in the EA movement. Indeed, he is an Advisory Board Member and “external reviewer” for ACE, and financially supports charities named by ACE. (And I am proud to say that I have been robustly criticised by Animal Charity Evaluators for promoting the abolitionist perspective.)

A number of the essays in the book are critical of these corporate charities that have been the primary beneficiaries of EA. Some of these maintain that the campaigns of these charities are too narrow (i.e., they focus largely on factory farming); some are critical because of the lack of diversity in these charities; and some are critical of the sexism and misogyny displayed by some of those involved in these charities.

I agree with all of these criticisms. The corporate charities do have a problematic focus; there is a lack of diversity in these organisations, and the level of sexism and misogyny in the modern animal movement, an issue on which I have spoken out going back many years, is shocking. There is a lack of emphasis on promoting local or indigenous advocacy in favour of promoting the celebrity activism of the corporate charities. 

But what I find disturbing is that very few of these authors explicitly criticise these organisations because they do not promote the abolition of animal exploitation and the idea that veganism is a moral imperative/baseline as a means to the end of abolition. That is, these authors may not agree with the corporate charities, but they also are not calling clearly for the abolition of all animal use or for the recognition of veganism as a moral imperative and moral baseline. They are critical of EA because it supports a particular sort of non-abolitionist position—the traditional corporate animal charity. They are saying that if they were funded, they could promote what is, for at least some of them, a non-abolitionist position more effectively than those who are presently favoured, and they could bring more diversity of various sorts to non-abolitionist advocacy. 

A number of the essays in the collection either explicitly express some version of a reformist position or are written by people who are generally exponents of a position that cannot be characterised as abolitionist. Some of these essays do not say enough one way or the other concerning the ideological position of the author(s) on the issue of animal use and veganism but by not being clear, these authors are essentially in agreement that EA—and not the normative content of modern animal advocacy—is the primary problem.

In my view, the crisis in animal advocacy is not a result of EA; it is a result of a movement that is not fit for purpose because it will not commit explicitly and unequivocally to the abolition of animal use as the end goal and veganism as a moral imperative/baseline as the primary means to that end. EA may have amplified a particular vision of the reformist model—that of the corporate animal charity. But any reformist voice is a voice of anthropocentrism and speciesism. 

It is telling that there is one—one—essay in the entire book that recognises the importance of the reform/abolition debate. Another essay regurgitates the substance of my economic criticism of new welfarism but does not reject the reformist paradigm. On the contrary, the authors claim that we just need to do reform better but don’t explain how this can be done given that animals are property. In any event, by not engaging with the issue of what animal advocacy should be, and by accepting some version or other of the reformist paradigm, most of the essays are just complaints about not getting funding.  

2. The matter of marginalised voices

A major theme of the book is that EA discriminates in favour of corporate animal charities and against people of colour, women, local or indigenous activists, and just about everyone else.

I agree that EA disfavours these groups but, again, the problems of sexism, racism, and discrimination generally existed before EA came on the scene. I spoke publicly against PETA’s use of sexism in its campaigns at the very outset in 1989/90, five years before Feminists for Animal Rights did. I have for many years spoken against single-issue animal campaigns that promote racism, sexism, ethnocentrism, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism. A major part of the problem is that the large corporate charities have uniformly rejected the idea, which I have always thought to be obvious, that human rights and nonhuman rights are inextricably intertwined. But that is not a problem peculiar to EA. It is a problem that has plagued the modern animal movement for decades.

To the extent that minority voices are not getting resources to promote some version of a reformist message and are not promoting the idea that veganism is a moral imperative, then, although I think discrimination is per se a very bad thing, I can’t feel terribly sorry about anyone who is not promoting an abolitionist vegan message not getting funded because I regard any non-abolitionist position to involve the discrimination of anthropocentrism. An anti-racist position, feminist ethic of care, or anti-capitalistic ideology that does not reject as morally unjustifiable any animal use and explicitly recognise veganism as a moral imperative/baseline may not have some of the more insidious characteristics of the corporate ideology, but is still promoting the injustice of animal exploitation. All non-abolitionist positions are necessarily reformist in that they seek to somehow change the nature of animal exploitation but they do not seek abolition and they do not promote veganism as a moral imperative and baseline. That is, the binary is abolitionist/veganism as a moral imperative or everything else. The fact that some members of the “everything else” category are unlike other members ignores that, in not being abolitionist and focused on veganism, they are all alike in one very important respect. 

There has been a tendency of some animal advocates who promote alternative but nevertheless reformist perspectives to respond to any challenge with an accusation of racism or sexism. That is an unfortunate result of identity politics.

I did want to mention that several of the essays mention that animal sanctuaries have been overlooked by EA and argue that EA ignores the needs of individuals. I have in the past had concerns that farm animal sanctuaries that welcome/admit the public are, in essence, petting zoos, and that many farm animals are not enthusiastic about human contact, which is forced on them. I have never visited the one sanctuary that is discussed at length (by its director) in the book so I cannot express a view about the treatment of animals there. I can, however, say that the essay does very much emphasise veganism.  

3. Why do we need EA? 

EA is about who gets funded. EA is relevant not because effective animal advocacy necessarily needs a large amount of money. EA is relevant because modern animal advocacy has produced an endless number of large organisations that employ a cadre of professional animal “activists”—careerists who have executive positions, offices, very comfortable salaries and expense accounts, professional assistants, company cars, and generous travel budgets, and that promote a mind-boggling number of reformist campaigns that require all sorts of expensive support, such as advertising campaigns, lawsuits, legislative action and lobbying, etc. 

The modern animal movement is a big business. Animal charities take in many millions of dollars every year. In my view, the return has been most disappointing. 

I first got involved in animal advocacy in the early 1980s, when, by happenstance, I met the people who had just started People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). PETA emerged as the “radical” animal rights group in the U.S. At the time, PETA was very small in terms of its membership, and its “office” was the apartment that its founders shared. I provided pro bono legal advice to PETA until the mid-1990s. In my view, PETA was much more effective when it was small, had a network of grassroots chapters around the country that had volunteers, and had very little money than when, later in the 1980s and 90s, it became a multimillion dollar enterprise, got rid of the grassroots focus, and became what PETA itself described as a “business . . . selling compassion.” 

The bottom line is that there are a lot of people in the modern animal movement who would like money. Many are already making a good living off the movement; some are aspiring to do better. But the interesting question is: does effective animal advocacy require much money? I suppose the answer to that question is that it depends on what is meant by “effective.” I hope that I have made clear that I regard the modern animal movement to be about as ineffective as it can get. I see the modern animal movement as embarked on a quest to figure out how to do the wrong thing (continuing to use animals) in the right, supposedly more “compassionate,” way. The reformist movement has transformed activism into writing a check or pressing one of the ubiquitous “donate” buttons that appear on every website.

The abolitionist approach that I have developed maintains that the primary form of animal activism—at least at this stage of the struggle—ought to be creative, nonviolent vegan advocacy. This does not require a great deal of money. Indeed, there are abolitionists all around the globe who are educating others in all sorts of ways about why veganism is a moral imperative and how it is easy to go vegan. They don’t complain about being left out by EA because most of them don’t do any serious fundraising. Almost all of them operate on a shoestring. They don’t have offices, titles, expense accounts, etc. They don’t have legislative campaigns or court cases that seek to reform animal use. They do things like table at a weekly market where they offer samples of vegan food and talk with passersby about veganism. They have regular meetings where they invite people in the community to come and discuss animal rights and veganism. They promote local foods and help to situate veganism within the local community/culture. They do this in myriad ways, including in groups and as individuals. I discussed this sort of advocacy in a book that I co-authored with Anna Charlton in 2017, Advocate for Animals!: A Vegan Abolitionist Handbook. Abolitionist vegan advocates are helping people to see that a vegan diet can be easy, cheap, and nutritious and does not require mock meats or cell meat, or other processed foods. They have conferences but these are almost always video events. 

New welfarists often criticise this, claiming that grassroots education of this sort cannot change the world fast enough. This is comical, although tragically so, given that the modern reformist effort is moving at a pace that could be characterised as glacial but that would be to insult glaciers. Indeed, a good argument could be made that the modern movement is moving in one and only direction: backwards.

There are an estimated 90 million vegans in the world today. If every one of them convinced just one other person to go vegan in the next year, there would be 180 million. If that pattern were replicated the next year, there would be 360 million, and if that pattern continued to be replicated, we would have a vegan world in about seven years. Is that going to happen? No; it’s not likely, particularly as the animal movement is doing everything possible to focus people on making exploitation more “compassionate” than it is on veganism. But it presents a model that is far more effective than the present model, however “effective” is understood, and it emphasises that animal advocacy that is not focused on veganism profoundly misses the point. 

We need a revolution—a revolution of the heart. I do not think that is dependent, or at least dependent primarily, on issues of funding. In 1971, amidst the political turmoil over Civil Rights and the Vietnam War,Gil Scott-Heron wrote a song, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” I suggest that the revolution that we need for animals will not be a result of donations to corporate animal welfare charities.

Professor Gary Francione is Board of Governors Professor of Law and Katzenbach Scholar of Law & Philosophy, at Rutgers University in New Jersey. He is Visiting Professor of Philosophy, University of Lincoln; Honorary Professor of Philosophy, University of East Anglia; and Tutor (philosophy) in the Department of Continuing Education, University of Oxford. The author appreciates comments from Anna E. Charlton, Stephen Law, and Philip Murphy.

Original publication: Oxford Public Philosophy at

Is Eating Plants as Morally Objectionable as Eating Animals?

source: Wikipedia

On my FacebookTwitter, and Instagram pages, I often receive comments to the effect that we cannot morally distinguish animal foods from plant foods. Some comments are made by those who maintain that plants are sentient and, therefore, are not morally different from sentient nonhumans. This argument, which ranks up there with “But Hitler was a vegetarian,” is tiresome, pathetic, and silly.

But other comments equating eating plants with eating animals focus on the fact that mice, rats, voles, birds, and other animals are killed by machinery during planting and harvesting, as well as by the use of pesticides or other means to stop animals from consuming the seed or crop.

There can be no doubt that animals are killed in the production of plants.

But there is also no doubt that there would be many fewer animals killed if we were all vegans. Indeed, if we were all vegans, we could reduce the land used for agriculture purposes by 75%. This represents a reduction of 2.89 billion hectares (a hectare is approximately 2.5 acres) and a reduction of 538,000 hectares for cropland, which represents 43% of total cropland. Moreover, animals are harmed on pastures as well as cropland because grazing results in small animals being more subject to predation. Grazing does exactly what farm equipment does: reduces tall grass to stubbles and animals are at greater risk of pedation. Many are killed as a result of pasturing.

At the present time, we kill more animals in crop production than we would if we were all vegans, we kill animals as part of pasturing domesticated animals, we kill animals in order to “protect” domesticated animals (until we can kill them for our economic benefit) and we then deliberately kill the billions of animals we raise for food. So, if we were all vegans, the number of animals other than domesticated animals killed would be drastically reduced.

source: WAP

This is not to say that we do not have an obligation to reduce any harm to animals to extent that we can. All human activity causes harm in one way or another. For example, we crush insects when we walk even if we do so carefully. A key tenet of the South Asian spiritual tradition of Jainism is that all action at least indirectly causes harm to other beings and observance of ahimsa, or nonviolence, requires that we minimize that harm when we can. To the extent that there are any deaths caused deliberately in the production of crops, and are not just incidental or unintended, that is most definitely wrong morally and it should stop. It is, of course, unlikely that we will stop causing these deaths as long as we are all still killing and eating animals. If we were vegans, I have no doubt that we would devise more creative ways to produce the smaller number of plant foods we would need that did not involve the use of pesticides or other practices that resulted in the deaths of animals.

But most of those who make the argument that eating plants and eating animals is the same argue that even if we eliminate all deliberate harm, there will necessarily still be harm to a significant number of animals from crop production and, therefore, plant foods will always involve killing animals and, therefore, we cannot meaningfully distinguish between animal foods and plant foods.

This argument is nonsensical as we can see from the following hypothetical:

Imagine that a there is a stadium where nonconsenting humans are subjected to gladatorial-type events and they are deliberately slaughtered for no reason other than to satifsy the perverse whims of those who like to watch the killing of human beings.


We would regard such a situation as being obscenely immoral.

Now let’s imagine that we stop this horrible activity and shut down the operation. The stadium is demolished. We use the land on which the stadium existed as part of a new multi-lane highway that could not have existed if it were not for the land on which the stadium previously existed. There are a large number of accidents on this highway, as there are on any highway, and there are a significant number of deaths.

source: IQAir

Would we equate the unintended and incidental deaths on the road with the deliberate deaths caused to provide entertainment in the stadium? Would we say that these deaths are all morally equivalent and that we cannot morally distinguish deaths caused in the stadium from deaths caused on the road?

Of course not.

Similarly, we cannot equate unintended deaths in crop production with deliberate killing of the billions of animals we kill annually so that we can eat them or products made by or from them. These killings are not only deliberate; they are wholly unnecesary. It is not necesary for humans to eat animals and animal products. We eat animals because we enjoy the taste. Our killing of animals for food is similar to the killing of humans in the stadium in that both are done to provide pleasure.

Those who argue that eating animal products and eating plants is the same respond: “The field mice, voles, and other animals end up dead as a result of plant agriculture. We know with certainty that their deaths will occur. What difference does it make whether the deaths are intended?”

The answer is that it makes all the difference. We know with certainty that there will be deaths on a multi-lane highway. You can keep the speed on the lower side but there will always be some accidental deaths. But we still generally distinguish between those deaths, even if they involve some culpability (such as careless driving), and murder. Indeed, no sane person would question that differential treatment.

We certainly ought to do whatever we can to engage in plant production that minimizes any harm to nonhuman animals. But to say that plant production is morally the same as animal agriculture is to say that the highway deaths are the same as the deliberate slaughter of humans in the stadium.

There really aren’t any good excuses. If animals matter morally, veganism is the only rational choice and is a moral imperative.

And by the way, Hitler was not a vegetarian or vegan and what difference would it make if he were? Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot ate a great deal of meat.

This essay was also published on