Animal liberation activists Leigh and Laura Venus were taken by surprise recently when a last-minute fancy dress idea for the Animal Rights March 2019 resulted in photos of them going viral, with a storm of controversy erupting in comments sections across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Reddit.
The Official Animal Rights March is an annual vegan march founded by the animal rights organisation Surge in 2016 to unite the global vegan community, inspire vegans to speak up for animals, and get active in their local communities.
After getting married in Northumberland in mid-August, the couple travelled to London for the march the following weekend, sharing a house for the second year in a row with twenty friends from across the thriving vegan activism scene in North East England.
This year, the activists – from volunteer groups Anonymous for the Voiceless, North East Animal Save, Free Vegan Cookout, Animal Rebellion and more – decided to march in animal-themed fancy dress, aiming for a carnival atmosphere and uniting behind a banner stating ‘We Are Animals’.
“We’d been so busy with the wedding we hadn’t had a chance to think about costumes for the march,” said Laura, “so we decided to throw our wedding outfits on. The rest of our group thought it was a great idea, plus we realised we’d never get a chance to do it again too!”
While prepping on the morning of the march, Leigh and Laura quickly created two signs as the group got ready to head in to central London, one sign reading ‘Just married and marching for the animals’, the other ‘And yes! Our kids will be vegan!’.
It was a super-quick cardboard and black marker job,” said Leigh, “combined with the wedding outfits we thought we might get a couple of people taking photos, but we weren’t prepared for the scale of what happened.”
As over 12,000 marchers made their way through the streets of London, the newlyweds found themselves stopped continuously for photographs. Later ending up sitting in front of huge crowds at the foot of Nelsons Column as Trafalgar Square was occupied for an Animal Rebellion action timed to coincide with the march, the couple also met Co-Founder and Co-Director of Surge, ’Earthling’ Ed Winters, as speeches were read out to the massive crowd.
The first sign something had happened was the next morning when Leigh and Laura went for breakfast and were recognised in the restaurant. Laura recalls, “a vegan couple in there asked us if we were the just-married pair they’d seen in photos from the march, and after that we just started getting notifications from friends and family across the world linking us to all of the places the photos were being circulated. It was bizarre!”
Shared and liked thousands of times, photos of the couple appeared across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Reddit, and were included in both Earthling Ed and ‘Feed Me Vegan’ founder Lucy Watson’s Instagram stories, seen by millions of their followers. Also spotted in multiple videos from the Animal Rights March, Leigh and Laura were taken aback by the comments they saw.
“It was startling,” said Laura, “there were thousands of incredibly supportive comments and congratulations, then there was some hateful stuff, mainly from non-vegans, but a surprising amount from vegans too. It was crazy watching all of the back-and forth between people, we learned a few new things about different perspectives on bringing children up vegan for sure.”
“The oddest part was vegans saying having children wasn’t vegan, vegans would only adopt and never have children of their own” said Leigh, “it was a big eye-opener for us how many antinatalist vegans are out there, and also massively disappointing to see vegans fighting with other vegans when now more than ever we need to be coming together in solidarity to move our cause forward.”
Considering the negative comments directed at them, Leigh is crystal-clear about the message they were promoting at the March.
“It’s straightforward. Like every parent in the world, we’ll bring up our children in-line with our beliefs and attempt to give them the healthiest, most consciousness-expanding start in life we can. That means a plant-based diet and an awareness that all of the beings we share our planet with have interests worthy of equal consideration alongside our own. If our kids, adopted or otherwise, decide to go their own way later in life, that’s up to them too, again just like every other kid in the world since the dawn of time. What’s new!?”
After Leigh delivered a talk at the Vegan Campout two weeks after the march to kick off a day of activist speakers, he and Laura continued to get recognised throughout the weekend as the just- married vegans. With the effect of the photo lasting much longer than either of them had ever anticipated, the couple have taken their small glimpse of internet fame in their stride.
“It’s just amusing to us,” said Leigh, “we’ve loved seeing vegans congratulating us, as well as defending us from the nastier stuff. Ultimately, if through this we’ve accidentally got people talking about veganism then all the better, because it’s not about us in the end, it’s about the animals and the movement we stand behind. We’re running out of time to save our world from the unfathomable impact of animal agriculture, so if this engaged people who hadn’t been before, in whatever way, then great. We’ve just got to decide on our costumes for next year now!”
- Read: Joaquin Phoenix takes part in vegan protest on his way to winning award at Toronto Film Festival
What do you think of the newlyweds’ efforts? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!
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