Gay Penguins!

GayHeroes.comSource: New York Times
Date: 7 February 2004
Love That Dare Not Squeak Its Name
Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times

Squawk and Milou, male chinstrap penguins, are among several homosexual pairs at the Central Park Zoo in Manhattan. Homosexual behavior has been documented in some 450 animal species, one researcher says.

Roy and Silo, two chinstrap penguins at the Central Park Zoo in Manhattan, are completely devoted to each other. For nearly six years now, they have been inseparable. They exhibit what in penguin parlance is called "ecstatic behavior": that is, they entwine their necks, they vocalize to each other, they have sex. Silo and Roy are, to anthropomorphize a bit, gay penguins. When offered female companionship, they have adamantly refused it. And the females aren't interested in them, either.

At one time, the two seemed so desperate to incubate an egg together that they put a rock in their nest and sat on it, keeping it warm in the folds of their abdomens, said their chief keeper, Rob Gramzay. Finally, he gave them a fertile egg that needed care to hatch. Things went perfectly. Roy and Silo sat on it for the typical 34 days until a chick, Tango, was born. For the next two and a half months they raised Tango, keeping her warm and feeding her food from their beaks until she could go out into the world on her own. Mr. Gramzay is full of praise for them.

"They did a great job," he said. He was standing inside the glassed-in penguin exhibit, where Roy and Silo had just finished lunch. Penguins usually like a swim after they eat, and Silo was in the water. Roy had finished his dip and was up on the beach.

Roy and Silo are hardly unusual. Milou and Squawk, two young males, are also beginning to exhibit courtship behavior, hanging out with each other, billing and bowing. Before them, the Central Park Zoo had Georgey and Mickey, two female Gentoo penguins who tried to incubate eggs together. And Wendell and Cass, a devoted male African penguin pair, live at the New York Aquarium in Coney Island. Indeed, scientists have found homosexual behavior throughout the animal world.

This growing body of science has been increasingly drawn into charged debates about homosexuality in American society, on subjects from gay marriage to sodomy laws, despite reluctance from experts in the field to extrapolate from animals to humans. Gay groups argue that if homosexual behavior occurs in animals, it is natural, and therefore the rights of homosexuals should be protected. On the other hand, some conservative religious groups have condemned the same practices in the past, calling them "animalistic."

But if homosexuality occurs among animals, does that necessarily mean that it is natural for humans, too? And that raises a familiar question: if homosexuality is not a choice, but a result of natural forces that cannot be controlled, can it be immoral?

The open discussion of homosexual behavior in animals is relatively new. "There has been a certain cultural shyness about admitting it," said Frans de Waal, whose 1997 book, "Bonobo: The Forgotten Ape" (University of California Press), unleashed a torrent of discussion about animal sexuality. Bonobos, apes closely related to humans, are wildly energetic sexually. Studies show that whether observed in the wild or in captivity, nearly all are bisexual, and nearly half their sexual interactions are with the same sex. Female bonobos have been observed to engage in homosexual activity almost hourly.

Before his own book, "American scientists who investigated bonobos never discussed sex at all," said Mr. de Waal, director of the Living Links Center of the Yerkes Primate Center at Emory University in Atlanta. "Or they sometimes would show two females having sex together, and would say, `The females are very affectionate.' "

Then in 1999, Bruce Bagemihl published "Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity" (St. Martin's Press), one of the first books of its kind to provide an overview of scholarly studies of same-sex behavior in animals. Mr. Bagemihl said homosexual behavior had been documented in some 450 species. (Homosexuality, he says, refers to any of these behaviors between members of the same sex: long-term bonding, sexual contact, courtship displays or the rearing of young.) Last summer the book was cited by the American Psychiatric Association and other groups in a "friend of the court" brief submitted to the Supreme Court in Lawrence v. Texas, a case challenging a Texas anti-sodomy law. The court struck down the law.

"Sexual Exuberance" was also cited in 2000 by gay rights groups opposed to Ballot Measure 9, a proposed Oregon statute prohibiting teaching about homosexuality or bisexuality in public schools. The measure lost.

In his book Mr. Bagemihl describes homosexual activity in a broad spectrum of animals. He asserts that while same-sex behavior is sometimes found in captivity, it is actually seen more frequently in studies of animals in the wild.

Among birds, for instance, studies show that 10 to 15 percent of female western gulls in some populations in the wild are homosexual. Females perform courtship rituals, like tossing their heads at each other or offering small gifts of food to each other, and they establish nests together. Occasionally they mate with males and produce fertile eggs but then return to their original same-sex partners. Their bonds, too, may persist for years.

Among mammals, male and female bottlenose dolphins frequently engage in homosexual activity, both in captivity and in the wild. Homosexuality is particularly common among young male dolphin calves. One male may protect another that is resting or healing from wounds inflicted by a predator. When one partner dies, the other may search for a new male mate. Researchers have noted that in some cases same-sex behavior is more common for dolphins in captivity.

Male and female rhesus macaques, a type of monkey, also exhibit homosexuality in captivity and in the wild. Males are affectionate to each other, touching, holding and embracing. Females smack their lips at each other and play games like hide-and-seek, peek-a-boo and follow the leader. And both sexes mount members of their own sex.

Paul L. Vasey, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Lethbridge in Canada, who studies homosexual behavior in Japanese macaques, is editing a new book on homosexual behavior in animals, to be published by Cambridge University Press. This kind of behavior among animals has been observed by scientists as far back as the 1700's, but Mr. Vasey said one reason there had been few books on the topic was that "people don't want to do the research because they don't want to have suspicions raised about their sexuality."

Some scientists say homosexual behavior in animals is not necessarily about sex. Marlene Zuk, a professor of biology at the University of California at Riverside and author of "Sexual Selections: What We Can and Can't Learn About Sex From Animals" (University of California Press, 2002), notes that scientists have speculated that homosexuality may have an evolutionary purpose, ensuring the survival of the species. By not producing their own offspring, homosexuals may help support or nurture their relatives' young. "That is a contribution to the gene pool," she said.

For Janet Mann, a professor of biology and psychology at Georgetown University, who has studied same-sex behavior in dolphin calves, their homosexuality "is about bond formation," she said, "not about being sexual for life."

She said that studies showed that adult male dolphins formed long-term alliances, sometimes in large groups. As adults, they cooperate to entice a single female and keep other males from her. Sometimes they share the female, or they may cooperate to help one male. "Male-male cooperation is extremely important," Ms. Mann said. The homosexual behavior of the young calves "could be practicing" for that later, crucial adult period, she added.

But, scientists say, just because homosexuality is observed in animals doesn't mean that it is only genetically based. "Homosexuality is extraordinarily complex and variable," Mr. Bagemihl said. "We look at animals as pure biology and pure genetics, and they are not." He noted that "the occurrence of same-sex behavior in animals provides support for the nurture side as well." He cited as an example the ruff, a type of Arctic sandpiper. There are four different classes of male ruffs, each differing from the others genetically. The two that differ most from each other are most similar in their homosexual behaviors.

Ms. Zuk said, "You have inclinations that are more or less supported by our genes and in some environmental circumstances get expressed." She used the analogy of right- or left-handedness, thought to be genetically based. "But you can teach naturally left-handed children to use their right hand," she pointed out.

Still, scientists warn about drawing conclusions about humans. "For some people, what animals do is a yardstick of what is and isn't natural," Mr. Vasey said. "They make a leap from saying if it's natural, it's morally and ethically desirable."

But he added: "Infanticide is widespread in the animal kingdom. To jump from that to say it is desirable makes no sense. We shouldn't be using animals to craft moral and social policies for the kinds of human societies we want to live in. Animals don't take care of the elderly. I don't particularly think that should be a platform for closing down nursing homes."

Mr. Bagemihl is also wary of extrapolating. "In Nazi Germany, one very common interpretation of homosexuality was that it was animalistic behavior, subhuman," he said.

What the animal studies do show, Ms. Zuk observed, is that "sexuality is a lot broader term than people want to think.

"You have this idea that the animal kingdom is strict, old-fashioned Roman Catholic," she said, "that they have sex just to procreate."

In bonobos, she noted, "you see expressions of sex outside the period when females are fertile. Suddenly you are beginning to see that sex is not necessarily about reproduction."

"Sexual expression means more than making babies," Ms. Zuk said. "Why are we surprised? People are animals."

GayHeroes.comZoo drops efforts to turn penguins straight

By Larry Buhl, PlanetOut Network
Friday, February 18, 2005 / 07:21 PM

Outrage from gay and lesbian groups and -- apparently -- the strength of animal amore, have thwarted a German zoo's plans to break up three gay penguin couples. After six male penguins resisted all efforts to mate with, or even relate to, female penguins, keepers at the Bremerhaven Zoo in Bremen, Germany, decided to let them stay gay.

Keepers at the Bremerhaven Zoo in Bremen, Germany, couldn't understand why six endangered Humboldt penguins, part of the zoo's 10-penguin exhibit, failed to produce offspring. Though the birds coupled up, did courting dances, built nests together and appeared to have sex, no babies were created -- although one couple adopted a stone that they protected as if it were an egg. When DNA tests showed that all six were male, zookeepers turned to a form of aversion therapy by coaxing them to mate with females.

But after four female penguins were imported from Sweden earlier this year to distract the males, it was clear the gay penguins would not turn "straight." The male couples were separated and introduced to the females one by one, but they pined for their mates until they were reunited.

German media reported on the plan, causing gay groups from around the world to deluge the zoo with angry e-mail messages and phone calls. The protests, plus the penguins' stubborn fidelity, caused the zoo to pull the plug on their aversion therapy efforts this week.

Responding to criticism, Director Heike Kueck said the zoo did not try to break up the same-sex pairs by force. Rather, administrators wanted to see if the birds were really homosexual or just lacking in opportunities for female companionship. "The relationships of the male couples were apparently too strong," said Kueck.

Attempts to turn gay penguins straight haven't met with much success. New York's Central Park Zoo gave up its plan to break up the six-year relationship of Roy and Silo by pairing them with female penguins. Roy briefly spent time with one female, but they separated early this year. Roy's flirtation with heterosexuality seems to have strained his relationship with Silo, however, since the two no longer spend time together.

Penguins don't have a lock on same-sex love, however. Scientists have found homosexual behavior throughout the animal world, and more so with animals in the wild than with those in captivity. Bonobos, apes closely related to humans, are nearly all bisexual -- and, studies have shown, wildly energetic sexually. Young male dolphin calves frequently form same-sex relationships.

Same-sex animal couplings have sparked debate over the origin of homosexual behavior. Gay rights groups have used gay animal examples to bolster the belief that homosexuality is natural, while conservative religious groups continue to call such couplings "animalistic."

Though she resists using animal behavior to draw conclusions about humans, Marlene Zuk, author of "Sexual Selections: What We Can and Can't Learn About Sex From Animals" (University of California Press, 2002) says that same-sex animal behavior can be used to expand our understanding of sexuality in general.

With bonobos in particular, Zuk explained, "You see expressions outside the period when females are fertile. Suddenly, you are beginning to see that sex is not necessarily about reproduction. Sexuality is a lot broader term than people want to think."

As for the six Bremerhaven penguins, the experiment doesn't seem to have caused a rift in their same-sex relationships. The four Swedish temptresses, meanwhile, are not exactly left out in the cold. The zoo has flown in two new male penguins, "so the ladies don't miss out altogether," Kueck said. He did not, however, indicate how they would solve the lopsided female-male ratio of uncoupled birds.

 GayHeroes.comColumbia News Service
They're in love. They're gay. They're penguins...
And they're not alone.

By Cristina Cardoze 

PHOTO: The New York Aquarium
Wendell and Cass, two gay penguins at the New York Aquarium.

Wendell and Cass, two penguins at the New York Aquarium in Coney Island, Brooklyn, live in a soap opera world of seduction and intrigue. Among the 22 male and 10 female African black-footed penguins in the aquarium's exhibit, tales of love, lust and betrayal are the norm. These birds mate for life. But given the disproportionate male-female ratio at the aquarium, some of the females flirt profusely and dump their partners for single males with better nests.

Wendell and Cass, however, take no part in these cunning schemes. They have been completely devoted to each other for the last eight years. In fact, neither one of them has ever been with anyone else, says their keeper, Stephanie Mitchell.

But the partnership of Wendell and Cass adds drama in another way. They're both male. That is to say, they're gay penguins.

This is not unusual. "There are a lot of animals that have same-sex relations, it's just that people don't know about it," Mitchell said. "I mean, Joe Schmoe on the street is not someone who's read all sorts of biology books."

One particular book is helpful in this case. Bruce Bagemihl's "Biological Exuberance," published in 1999, documents homosexual behavior in more than 450 animal species. The list includes grizzly bears, gorillas, flamingos, owls and even several species of salmon.

"The world is, indeed, teeming with homosexual, bisexual and transgendered creatures of every stripe and feather," Bagemihl writes in the first page of his book. "From the Southeastern Blueberry Bee of the United States to more than 130 different bird species worldwide, the 'birds and the bees,' literally, are queer."

In New York, it's the penguins.

At the Central Park Zoo, Silo and Roy, two male Chinstrap penguins, have been in an exclusive relationship for four years. Last mating season, they even fostered an egg together.

"They got all excited when we gave them the egg," said Rob Gramzay, senior keeper for polar birds at the zoo. He took the egg from a young, inexperienced couple that hatched an extra and gave it to Silo and Roy. "And they did a really great job of taking care of the chick and feeding it."

Of the 53 penguins in the Central Park Zoo, Silo and Roy are not the only ones that are gay. In 1997, the park had four pairs of homosexual penguins. In an effort to increase breeding, zookeepers tried to separate them by force. They failed, said Gramzay.

Only one of the eight bonded with a female. The rest went back to same-sex relationships, not necessarily with the same partner. Silo and Roy, long-time homosexuals, got together (or pair-bonded, in official penguin lingo) after that failed experiment.

At the New York Aquarium, no one suspected Wendell and Cass were gay when they first bonded. Penguins don't have external sex organs, so visually there's no surefire way to tell whether they are male or female. But over time, people began to wonder.

In all the years they had been together, neither Wendell nor Cass laid an egg. This was unusual because the keepers knew they copulated regularly. They had often seen Wendell submit to Cass, the more dominating of the two. But one day, a keeper saw Wendell on top.

When penguins have sex, the female lies on her belly and the male climbs on top with his feet and puts his rump around her rump. Then their cloacas (sexual organs) meet, and the sperm is transferred into the female. It's called the cloacal kiss.

Wendell and Cass were clearly kissing both ways. So in 1999, the aquarium did a blood test to determine their gender. It proved they were both male.

Today, they are one of the best couples at the aquarium. "Sometimes they lie on the rocks together," Mitchell said. "They're one of the few couples that like to hang out together outside their nest."

Wendell and Cass have a highly coveted nest. During mating season, several other penguins have tried to steal it. Cass, a fierce fighter, kept them at bay. (Wendell, on the other hand, is "afraid of his own shadow," said Mitchell.)

The appeal of their nest is the location: high up, close to the water and the feeding station. Rumors that they keep the neatest nest at the aquarium because they're gay are not true.

"These are penguins," said Mitchell. "They poop in their nest. Nobody's got a clean nest."

of boy-meets-boy pop songs!

with tunes like "I Like Mike" and
"Cryin' Over Brian"

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Date Last Modified: 02/25/05