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Feb. 25th, 2005 @ 10:43 am The penguin article
I wrote this for Watermark, and hopefully their e-mail server will stop playing up.

It seems too "factual" for my taste, but my "listeners" assured me that some background on penguins was needed.

Lipstick Graffiti
"Homophobia in Black and White"

I've loved penguins since I was little. I've always had a fondness
for creatures with black and white coloring for some reason (pandas,
zebras, cats, Russian girls with milk-white skin and super-short
black hair…) The cold climates where they flourish made penguins
seem especially exotic to a child born and bred in Florida. Plus
their comical movements and their plump little bodies are adorable.
As I write, a photograph from National Geographic serves as my
computer's wallpaper: fifty grey, fluffy, and precious penguin
chicks clustered together, and an adult in the middle of all that
downy sweetness looking for its baby.

I tell you all this to establish two things—that I adore penguins,
and that I usually support the creation of more penguin chicks. But
just because a goal is noble does not mean that every method
attempted in order to achieve it is also noble. This is certainly
true of the method attempted by the Bremerhaven Zoo in Bremen,
Germany. They started out with ten Humboldt penguins, which are
native to South America, at the beginning of 2005. Over the course
of several years, there had been a lot of mating, but only one chick
had been produced. The zoo performed DNA tests to figure out why.
It turned out that six of the penguins were males partnered with
other males. The zoo decided to bring in four female Humboldt
penguins from a Swedish zoo in order to "tempt" the penguins in same-
sex couples to mate heterosexually. Just in case it didn't work, two
more males were also brought in so that, in the words of Bremerhaven
spokeswoman Heike Kueck, "the ladies don't miss out altogether."

One of the really cute things about penguins is that they form deep,
long-term emotional attachments to their mates, and can be
incredibly loyal and tenacious. Many same-sex penguin pairs have
been found in both captivity and the wild. The most famous same-sex
penguin couple is Wendell and Cass, who live in the most desirable
burrow in the New York Aquarium's exhibit. Penguins visibly grieve
when their mates die or are taken away from them. In the words of
an article from Ananova.com, "earlier experiments revealed great
difficulties in separating homosexual couples". However, the
Bremerhaven Zoo thought it would be a good idea to see whether their
penguins were in same-sex pairs out of genuine gayness or lack of
opportunity to be with females. The European Endangered Species
Programme supported the experiment because Humboldt penguins are an
endangered species.

LGBT advocacy groups throughout Europe were outraged. Calls and e-
mails started pouring in. "Nobody is trying to break up same-sex
pairs by force," Kueck said. The penguins themselves probably
thought differently, as the pairs were slowly broken apart while the
girl penguins were introduced into the population. However, the
penguins pined for their mates, and the experiment was soon declared
a failure.

When I expressed my dismay over the experiment, straight people
asked me what the big deal was. Some even went so far as to call
the LGBT advocates who protested idiots. Didn't I want to preserve
an endangered species? Aren't I anthropomorphizing too much? Why
care about bird couples, when humans have problems? Well, I care
because I understand what it's like to have someone who seems bigger
and more powerful than I am try to pry me apart from the person I
love, or "tempt" me out of my sexual identity, for an agenda of
their own. I care because these couples are little and cute and
innocent. I care because I resent the underlying idea that
individual happiness should be placed on the back burner behind
reproduction or someone else's idea of normalcy. I suspect that
other people who understood that feeling were the ones who made
those calls and wrote those e-mails.

Humboldt penguins are endangered for many reasons, none of which
include a few individuals' gayness. Zoo.org, the website of the
Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, Washington, lists a few: "The guano
in which Humboldt penguins make their nests is a valuable fertilizer
used in agriculture. Humans disrupt the penguins by removing and
destroying the guano during nesting season. Humboldt penguins also
must compete with the offshore fishing industry in Peru and Chile
and they often get caught in fishing nets and drown. Other threats
to Humboldt penguins are oil spills, humans collecting their eggs
for food, disturbances caused by tourists and researchers, and
introduced predators such as rats, cats and dogs." So basically, we
humans are the reason why Humboldt penguins are endangered. It's
perfectly understandable to want to do something to correct that
mistake, but it's cruel to make individual animals suffer because
our activities endangered their species.

Meanwhile, the Bremerhaven Zoo's staff still hasn't learned. They
want to try this again in 2006. Hopefully the penguins, described
as "one of the most timid species of penguins" at zoo.org, will
overcome their timidity yet again and demand the respect they
deserve. There is no need to make human problems become their
problems. We humans can also take advantage of our ability to
advocate for gays and bisexuals of all species, including our own.


If you think the Humboldt penguin and other endangered Antarctic
animals deserve real help, as opposed to compulsory heterosexuality,
check out the website of the Antarctic and Southern Oceans Coalition
at http://www.asoc.org.
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