As a teenager, I looked up to you as an example of a media figure who put good into the world and made it your mission to embody positive values in our culture. Attitudes around LGBT rights were beginning to shift, and you served as the jovial but unapologetic face of equality. You made people smile and posed necessary, sometimes uncomfortable, questions that forced America to evaluate its deeply held prejudices. (Who can forget the exchanges you had with Sen. John McCain and Caitlyn Jenner about marriage equality?)
Your brand included an acknowledgement that equality extended beyond the bounds of species. You became a vegan and quickly took it upon yourself to let others know that exploiting animals was, without exception, an unacceptable option. You used your website, talk show and even wedding to forward the values of animal rights. "They're all in pain. They're all treated badly [...] I saw the reality and I couldn't ignore it anymore [...] Every time you think of what's on your plate, what it was, you just can't do it," you told Katie Couric in a sit-down about animal rights. You highlighted the movie "Earthlings," saying it made the popular "Food, Inc." look like a "Disney movie" by comparison.
More than 100,000 Care2 members have signed my petition protesting your decision to include the skins of animals in the ED by Ellen clothing line, which is confirmed to feature leather and may include other animal-derived products. Fans are bewildered by your abandonment of what they thought were deeply-held personal values.
"Beauty is about being comfortable in your own skin," you're quoted as saying on the ED by Ellen website. I couldn't agree more. I'd like to echo People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and ask you: "Whose skin are you in?" I explain in my petition, which I hope reaches your desk:
"Cows used for leather are castrated, burned, dehorned and generally tortured. Pigs have their tails cut off, ears mutilated and testicles cut out. All of these awful procedures happen without painkillers, not that any of them would be okay either way.
Animals are emotionally complex. They think and feel in similar ways to humans. Cows have families, and mothers will search miles for their children when taken. Pigs have intelligence levels that surpass young human children. They recognize their names and [...] have social structures that rival primates."
The exploitation of animals for food, clothing, entertainment, testing and other totally unnecessary forms of consumption is something that each of us should categorically reject. And we vote for or against animals each time we go to the grocery store or purchase a new addition to our wardrobes.
To fully realize equality, we must first ask ourselves if the way we're treating the most vulnerable among us reflects a dedication to the respect of sentient life. Our speciesist attitudes are a symptom of the same misguided instincts that have caused us to enslave and exploit members of the human species.
We have a responsibility to become the change we want to see in the world. Those of us who take our values seriously can't allow anyone to co-opt the language of advocates to forward their own interests while hypocritically profiting from the very exploitation they've paid lip-service to condemning. We will stand up, even when it's to an icon we've adored for many years.
Please make the right decision, Ellen. It's not too late to change course and use your voice for the good of all creatures, human and animal alike.
Note to readers: Click here to learn more about how to easily adopt a healthy, plant-based ("vegan") lifestyle.
This post is adapted from an article originally published at Care2.