Friday 10 November 2023

Wayne Hsiung: Money, Fame, Power, Respect, Sex.

[The text that follows below was written by Wayne Hsiung and was originally titled "2023.06.16 Statement from Wayne".]

TL;DR: There have been a number of rumors spreading through the animal rights community in the last few weeks, in a fashion that has drastically affected the work that I and others at The Simple Heart and Direct Action Everywhere are doing for animals.

Most notably, a group of activists were involved in reporting a recent mass action at the Animal Liberation Conference to the police, after discovering where a staging ground was occurring, in an effort to stop an open rescue from happening. They explained their actions by saying they believed I was attempting to rescue animals with women who I would subsequently prey on sexually in criminal cases. There was a statement that “Wayne poofed from the Earth” after the police were called, based on a belief that the action had been stopped and that I had been arrested (or worse). 

Those rumors are disconnected from reality and are now causing danger not just to me, but other activists. In fact, I had no involvement in or knowledge of the mass open rescue at the Animal Liberation Conference this year and have had no involvement in organizing such actions since I stepped down from leadership of DxE in 2019. Moreover, as I describe below, my sexual history is limited – including 5 sexual relationships in the last decade. And none of those relationships had anything to do with criminal cases. 

The rumors nonetheless have gained traction. The call to the police last week was only the most recent example. A woman within DxE publicly called me out for sexual harassment, alleging at a talk by Peter Singer in late May that I had sexually harassed many women, and specifically mentioning “a few women that you have had sexual relationships with are currently in federal prosecution cases with you.” (The women in those cases deny that they were harassed or otherwise victims of any form of sexual harassment or misconduct.) I am therefore drafting the below statement accounting for my full sexual and relationship history, to the best of my recollection, since Direct Action Everywhere’s (DxE) founding in 2013, in order to provide full transparency. (DxE is the organization that I am most associated with, though, as mentioned, I have had no involvement in operational decisions in the org since 2019 and have moved most of my work to The Simple Heart.) 

I will also go live at _ pm PT on Facebook to answer any questions others might have about the details within. I apologize both to the individuals named (even anonymously) and to any others offended by the details of this post. I have reached out to all individuals to ensure accuracy and minimize any intrusion on privacy. However, I believe that rumor and gossip can only be healed by transparency, and when people are making calls to the police based on false rumors, transparency is long overdue. I hope this post will allow us that healing. 


I have written previously about my sexual history, given that it has been the source of public controversy. However, given that there have recently been more rumors of various forms of harassment and misconduct – including by the group that called the police on activists, and during a public call-out at an event with Peter Singer – stakeholders of the work I do justifiably may be interested in greater transparency. I am trying to write the below from a purely factual perspective, without adding any judgment. 

However, let me preface those more objective remarks by saying that, while it has been a dream of mine to start a family from the time I was a teenager, I am very far from that dream and have spent the vast majority of my life focused entirely on animal rights. The sense of loss I feel, from not having been able to pursue that dream, has been one of the most painful parts of my life, as I have not only missed out on many things I wanted to personally achieve, but sacrificed the emotional foundation that relationships and family can bring. This has been particularly difficult in recent years, as I’ve suffered great personal loss, with multiple family members dying in a time where we have all been isolated from anyone but our spouses and family by COVID-19. I say this only to explain my motivations in dating. I’ve had limited time for anything other than my life’s main focus, animal rights, and I have begun to realize that has compromised me significantly, even as an activist. It is hard to continue standing for animal rights when one feels so weak and broken in one’s personal life. Recent events have been another painful demonstration of that. 


I have had sex with 5 women over the last ~11 years, since DxE was founded in Jan 2013.

[Footnote:]  My history as an animal rights leader is most relevant. But to the extent that people are concerned that I might be hiding a sordid sexual history prior to DxE, I have had 4 other sexual relationships in my life prior to 2013. 

I am on good terms with 4 of these women, and very bad terms with one. Because age differences have been a source of controversy, I give ages of the women at issue. Of those 5 women, 2 women were in their 20s, 2 were in their 30s, 1 was 39 at the start of the relationship and 40 when it ended. Three were volunteer DxE organizers, and two were not. The relationships lasted anywhere from ~1 month to one year. The only woman who has asked to be named publicly is Priya Sawhney. Each of these relationships has been characterized as predatory and/or sexual harassment, typically against the stated views of the women themselves. I describe each, including any stated concerns, in light of these rumors. 

The first relationship was with Priya Sawhney in 2013, who was in her 20s at the time (while I was 32) and a fellow core organizer and co-founder of DxE. In 2013, DxE had no funding, following, or organizational structure; we were simply a band of vegans who wanted to do something for the animals. The relationship formally ended in 2014 (though we maintained a commitment we called an “exclusive non-relationship” for a few years after), and we remain on great terms. Her story has been used to allege that I harassed or abused her, most recently in a question at a talk with Peter Singer, apparently to imply that I coerced her into risky activism via a sexual relationship. (The reality is that Priya and I ended up in a criminal case together 4 years after our relationship ended.) She has objected to this usage of her story and indicated that she believes they are part of a smear campaign. 

The second relationship was someone I dated in 2019, when I was 37 and she was in her early 20s. She was a fellow member of the 5-person elected Core leadership team at the time, which has executive authority over all DxE matters, as well as a co-defendant in a case dating back to May 2018. By this point, DxE had organizational structure and significant funding. Before dating her, I notified the Core leadership team and the relationship ombudsperson, and we held a public, multi-hour chapter wide meeting to discuss (among other issues) whether dating between two members of leadership was appropriate, whether we should have a new relationship policy, and whether there were any concerns over a relationship where there was a significant age difference. We also provided avenues for anonymous feedback. I promised that I would not move forward if there was meaningful dissent in the chapter. There was no significant dissent at the chapter meeting, and the only anonymous disagreement we received focused on the fact that I had too much power (without referencing the specific relationship). We therefore began dating in April 2019, with a nepotism policy and agreement in place, and I indicated privately to our leadership team a couple months later that I was planning to step down from all leadership roles partly because of the relationship. 

My resignation was announced publicly in early August 2019, and I formally left leadership on September 1. For most of our relationship, accordingly, my partner was in a formal position of authority over me within DxE, though I retained substantial informal power in that community due to my status as a co-founder of the organization. There were, however, several occasions during our relationship when her formal leadership proved more influential than my informal power, such as when she successfully advocated (with support from other core organizers at the time) for prohibiting me from hiring support staff in legal cases where I was a defendant. She had good faith reasons for doing so — she felt that the decision should be made by elected leadership and not by the defendants – but, right or wrong, it was a demonstration of the power dynamic that existed between us. We broke up in March 2020 and are on professional terms. She maintains that she does not view our relationship as predatory or improper.

The third person, who was in her 30s, was someone I hung out with initially on a friendly basis in 2020. We connected by Zoom after the pandemic began, where she kindly provided me support when I was struggling due to COVID-induced isolation. While she was a dedicated animal rights activist, she was not regularly involved in DxE, and lived a significant distance from the Bay Area. We had sex one time in the summer of 2020, after lockdowns were lifted and she came to Berkeley for a visit. We did not end up in a relationship for a variety of reasons, including time and distance. We are on good terms, and this woman has indicated that she is willing to (privately) relay her experiences with me to anyone with concerns. 

The fourth person, who was approximately the same age as me and is a dedicated and accomplished animal rights activist, is someone I began dating in the Fall of 2020. She was involved in DxE, but not on any teams that I was involved in. Our relationship ended in August 2021. We were on good terms after the break up and continued to hang out (as friends) regularly. Our relationship became adversarial when I informed her about boundaries I would have to set, about 9 months after our relationship ended. She stated that she was concerned I was flattering people who were younger than me in order to secure sexual relationships and therefore abusing my power. She has reached out to all the people I’ve been in a relationship with over the last decade, and many people whom I have not, to express those concerns and has spread false rumors about me in that process.

The fifth person, who was in her 30s, was the woman on the East Coast referenced above. She is a dedicated and accomplished animal advocate who has since moved to California but has no involvement in DxE. We explored a relationship by communicating online, and began a brief sexual relationship when I visited the East Coast in July 2022. At the end of the trip, we mutually decided a relationship was not a good fit. We remain on good terms.

There have been rumors and concerns that, even aside from these sexual relationships, I am asking women on too many dates. In addition to these five women, I have asked out on dates a handful of other women over the last 11 years within the animal rights movement. The total number is around 1 date request every year, by my estimate (and including the 5 women above), which has led to an estimated 4 other dates with animal rights advocates from 2012 - 2023 beyond the relationships above. (I have also gone on around 4 dates with non-animal rights advocates in that time period, via online dating, and had intimate contact, though not sex, with one.)

Two of those dates are of particular note, however, given that they have led to controversy. In March 2022, I asked a former legal volunteer in LA to have dinner with me. I did not know her age at the time, but I understand her age now to be __ The woman at issue had not been on a team that I led, but I clearly had the most power on the team, due to my experience in the law. She had also volunteered for my mayoral campaign in 2020. We had stayed in touch over the years, and she contacted me after my dog Lisa died in October 2021 to express condolences, and again in early 2022 to indicate that her boyfriend had broken up with her. I wrongly perceived this to be an indication of interest in me, and asked her out on what I perceived to be a date. I indicated after dinner that I liked her and would like to spend more time with her, but also that we might not be a good fit because she was uncertain if she wanted to have kids. She smiled, seemed excited,  but asked me why I would not want to date her, given that she had so few accomplishments. I told her that I did not think that was true, and wrote to her later that night explaining many things I loved about her. I texted two friends that night to indicate that I thought the date had gone well. The next morning she wrote back to me and indicated that she’d prefer to have an exclusively platonic relationship. I replied that I understood and accepted her decision, and said I was sorry if I had said or done anything awkward. She replied that I had not done anything offensive at all and that I should not worry. About 1-2 days later, she wrote to me that she felt shocked and preyed upon by the romantic attention, given that she had recently gone through a breakup and perceived me as a mentor-figure, among other factors. (I was not the team lead or formal mentor on the team she volunteered for, nine months prior, but held significant influence on the team due to my legal experience.) I apologized for that impact. She filed a report to the DxE report team, who subsequently contacted me and asked me if I could reach certain agreements with her. (See the footnote below.) I replied to the report team I did not think the agreements were relevant, given that some of them were based on factual events that did not happen (e.g., hitting on someone in a car), but that I would happily agree. After the report, I believed that we were on good terms, and when she indicated she was interested in getting involved in volunteer DxE legal work in the summer of 2022, I indicated that I would be grateful for her support.  and put her in touch with the relevant point person. My understanding is that she continues to have concerns about power dynamics in relationships/dating, including possible concern about my asking out another legal team volunteer approximately one year after I asked her out.  

The second date occurred in late March 2023. I asked out on a date a woman who had been particularly supportive of me when my cat Joan died in February. I was not the leader of the legal team she was volunteering for, and had not worked with her on any significant projects when we began chatting. I did, however, have significant influence on the team, due to my legal experience and reputation. I indicated to her when we went on a date that, if we ended up in a relationship, I felt that I should probably leave the team. We decided ultimately not to continue with a relationship, after the date, and remain on good terms. While many have stated that I sexually harassed her, or otherwise violated the DxE dating and relationship policy, she has denied this and has asked others to stop falsely using her story.

[Footnote:]  There have separately been claims that I (a) violated the DxE relationship policy by asking her out on a date; or (b) violated other agreements I had made with DxE’s Report Team, including an agreement to “refrain from professing love or making romantic declarations to any DxE community members who you are in a mentor/mentee relationship [with].”

With respect to (a) the relationship policy expressly allows for team members to ask one another on a date, and only requires reporting if the date turns into a relationship. I did not hide the fact that I went on a date, and in fact consulted with a number of individuals, including a lawyer who was involved in the drafting of the relationship policy, who stated that I did not have to report it. Nonetheless, I did report the date to the ombudsperson in early June, about 2 months after the date. The ombudsperson agreed that it did not need to be reported. 

With respect to (b), I was not in a mentor relationship with the woman and I did not “profess my love” for her. I was not the point person on the team — and had virtually no discussions with her about her volunteer work. Moreover, the woman was a former television broadcast journalist (who I have sought advice from on media issues), and a powerful person in her own right. I have confirmed that neither of us would characterize our relationship as “mentor/mentee.” 

Unfortunately, this has not prevented her story from being used, including in a false sexual harassment report filed on her behalf, and against her will, in the last couple weeks. While neither I nor this woman believe the report has any validity, I voluntarily left all DxE legal teams after the report was filed, and I am scaling back all of my work with legal volunteers. By the end of the year, the intent is for all of my legal work to occur with professional attorneys or staff at The Simple Heart. 

There have been other rumors involving harassing behavior outside of dates. One rumor involves harassment of an unnamed woman at a dance party or club. I do not know who this woman is. However, those who have seen me dance know that I generally avoid dancing with women at parties, to avoid allegations of impropriety. I dance to relieve stress, in times that are hard, and typically dance with other men rather than women. I do not drink, do drugs, or engage in other risky personal behavior. (I have been sober my entire life.) But the allegation against me is apparently that I “gave advice” to a woman at a dance party with the intent to pursue a sexual relationship. I do not recall giving advice to anyone or even desiring a sexual relationship with a fellow activist, much less attempting to pursue one, at any dance party or club. I apologize if I gave anyone that impression.

All of the above factual statements can be verified. Subject to appropriate confidentiality and consent, I am happy to share all communications I’ve had with the above women — and any other women — with any party that has a legitimate interest in investigating the claims further, including the DxE Report Team. Priya Sawhney has also indicated that she is willing to speak to anyone about the allegations, given that she is one of the alleged victims of my harassment, and is also familiar with the facts in other cases. 

A final thought: I do not enjoy writing the above statement, and I think the necessity of writing it is a sign of a culture that has gone deeply wrong. Rumor, vengefulness, and cruelty dominate the animal rights community – and the nation at large – and cause toxic infighting that harms all parties and distracts us from our mission. I have had serious thoughts about leaving the animal rights movement, as a result of these rumors, and I imagine others on all sides of these rumors have felt similarly. However, the only antidote to that darkness is light. Light, of course, is often painful. It exposes the ugly warts on society, and on us. I am confident that many of the warts above are unpleasant for people to read. They were unpleasant for me to write. But I think the light is still necessary for wounds to be healed. 

I will go live at __ pm PT today on Facebook to answer any questions about the above.

Thank you for reading all the way to the end, and for your support for making the world a kinder place.