Dan Mathews Wedding

Interview: Barbi Twins

Barbi Twins: You are Senior Vice President of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the largest animal activist organization in the world, leading the most successful media campaigns—with some very controversial ads—and you have become a major celebrity of the animal rights movement. What prompted you to dedicate your life to fight animal cruelty?

Dan Mathews: Most people are sensitized to animals through their cats and dogs, but for me it was a flounder. I used to go fishing with my dad as a kid and always felt bad about yanking these panic-stricken creatures from the water. I stopped eating fish as an adolescent and went vegan at twenty.

BT: Aside from just loving animals, what else does it take to work for the biggest animal organization, which is a mainstream brand, draws monster TV ratings, and has the endorsements of every major Hollywood celebrity?

DM: It takes a lot of patience to work at PETA, because we ask a lot of society and most people are only part of the way there. Most people, especially activists, recognize their differences with others rather than what they have in common and that leads to frustration more than persuasion. It’s a challenge, but even when I meet a hunter, rather than engage in a useless argument about that, I’ll find an animal issue they support and talk about that first to set a friendlier playing field. I’ve seen much better results like this, and from the unlikeliest people.

Dan Mathews

BT: Aside from being an animal activist, you’re openly gay. Can you help us draw parallels between gay rights and animal rights? Does one cause help the other?

DM: As someone who was gay bashed as a kid, I learned firsthand how a lot of people only feel good about themselves when they sense that someone or something is on a lower rung than they are. This inferiority complex drives racism and sexism as well as outdated attitudes about animals.

BT: You recently hit the news in what was called your own “vegan gay marriage.” Explain to us exactly what that was. What was the main animal rights message you were trying
to convey to others with this event?

DM: We got hitched on Thanksgiving. It was a thrill to turn this traditional family holiday around with a gay wedding and a vegan Thanksgiving reception afterward, which was mentioned in most of the press I saw. Jack and I waited for the gay marriage ban to be overturned in Nevada so we could have a tacky wedding in the “marriage capital of the world.” Even after the law was changed, some chapels still refused gays, so we opted to tie the knot right in the middle of the street under the “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign. And with Chrissie Hynde as our best man and Pamela Anderson the maid of honor, it was a surreal dream come true!

BT: What does it take to win the heart of Dan Mathews? Tell us a bit about your husband and a day in the life of a vegan marriage.

DM: I’ve never dated anyone because they were vegetarian, just like I’m gay but don’t only go to gay bars. I hang out with people because they are fun, smart, and kind, and if they happen to be veg I’m thrilled. Jack wasn’t veg when we met, but he never ate meat in front of me and I never pressured him. Instead I just cooked a lot and showed him the wonders of spicy vegan mock meats. I’m a seitan worshipper! He got really into it and is a great cook himself. In less than a year he stopped eating meat and just mentioned it to me casually. Now, seven years later, people invite us to dinner just so we’ll cook for them! Jack has far exceeded me as a vegan chef.

Dan Mathews

BT: If Dan Mathews had his own controversial animal rights campaign, what would your tagline be?

DM: I’ve always thought it would be fun to have a vegan campaign aimed at gays called “Don’t be a Dairy Queen.”

BT: How do you want Dan Mathews to be remembered in the future of animal rights history? (Besides being “h-o-t!”)

DM: I’d like to be remembered by two simple words: any two words, as long as they’re simple.

BT: In your experience, do you think compassion for animals can be taught or are you just born with it? What in your experience may be the best technique for people to finally feel empathy for animals?

DM: Compassion for animals is something that every child has naturally but they are lured away from these instincts by society’s nasty habits. Our job as a movement has been to make animal rights mainstream enough that parents no longer tell kids they must eat meat or hunt or fish or wear animal skins. And it’s working! The reason I don’t get burned out after thirty years working at PETA is because I have seen so many huge shifts in our culture. Back in the eighties, people thought a vegan was someone from Vegas. It’s a different world now and I feel lucky to have been a part of the revolution, both for animal rights and gay rights.

“Back in the eighties, people thought a vegan was someone from Vegas. It’s a different world now and I feel lucky to have been a part of the revolution, both for animal rights and gay rights.”

BT: Do you think being gay gave you an advantage to have empathy towards animal cruelty? How and why?

DM: Attitudes toward gays have shifted much like they have for animals. People have a hard time relating to those who are different and often strike out against them in ignorance. But society is really starting to wise up at last as more enlightened generations emerge.

BT: What are some future projects that Dan Mathews fans can look forward to?

DM: The project I’m most excited about is promoting vegan eating in jail: not just because it’s a captive audience, but because inmates really struggle with how to better their lives. Maybe I’m inspired by people I’ve met in lock-ups after protests. I’ll soon be serving a vegan lunch to eight thousand inmates in Arizona; the food ain’t bad, but it is a bit bland. I might smuggle in some Sriracha.

Photos: Denise Truscello / Film Magic

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