WHILE PEOPLE FOR THE Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) can’t take credit for the protest against Trumpets for serving foie gras and other gruesome animal cruelties (the protest was organized by Lambda Humane; some of the participants happened to be PETA members), we would like to respond to Steve Michael’s ridiculous statement that PETA members “put the life of a lab rat above the lives of those with AIDS” (Loose Lips, 7/7).

Animal rights activists do not believe that animals have more rights than humans, or less rights, or even equal rights, in the strictest sense of the word. (For example, we do not believe a dog should have the right to vote, since this right would be as meaningless to a dog as it is to a child.) We do believe, however, that animals deserve equal consideration of the rights they do possess; for instance, if an animal can feel pain, we are obliged not to unnecessarily inflict pain upon him.

As an AIDS activist, it is ironic that Michael would attack those who oppose animal experimentation. As many doctors and scientists have realized, relying on animal experiments to find cures for human diseases is impeding progress in treating and preventing AIDS. While only a tiny fraction of the dollars spent trying to make animals sick has gone toward education and prevention, researchers have spent years trying to develop an animal “model” of AIDS, even though no animal infected with the AIDS virus has ever developed the disease as humans do. Real progress in understanding AIDS has come not from ghastly animal tests but from clinical and epidemiological human studies.

Fortunately, despite what Michael would have us believe, we do not have to choose between human rights and animal rights. There is no competition; we are all deserving of protection.

Coordinator, PETA’s Gay and Lesbian, Animal Rights Caucus, Friendship Heights