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Animal nature: is conversion therapy any more acceptable for gay penguins than it is for humans?

Defending the right of gays to be who they are doesn't stop at the gates to the wild kingdom. A group of European gay activists wrote an open letter in February to the Bremerhaven Zoo in northern Germany demanding that the zoo halt plans to try to turn three male pairs of Humboldt penguins straight with "organized and forced harassment through female seductresses."

On the grounds that the birds are an endangered species, the zoo flew in four female penguins from Sweden in an attempt to coax the gays into mating. But the same-sex couples weren't interested, and a high-prone protest ensued, leading zoo director Heike Kuck to declare that all animals could "live here as they please."

The controversy prompted Coati Planck, advocacy director for the Washington, D.C.-based Family Pride Coalition, to draw some parallels. "The zoo said they were trying to encourage the penguins to breed," she said. "Gay and lesbian people have been hearing the same thing [from their families]: 'We don't want to change you, we just want grandchildren.' Apparently conversion therapy doesn't work any better for penguins than it does for humans."

Bremerhaven Zoo officials could have learned that lesson the easy way had they consulted with their colleagues at the Central Park Zoo in New York City, where several same-sex penguin pairs have been happily getting it on--displaying "ecstatic behavior," in zoological terms--for years. Roy and Silo, the most famous of the gay penguin couples, made a splash last year when they celebrated their sixth anniversary. "The fact that there have been same-sex pairings suggests that we were managing the collection [of penguins] naturally enough that the full range of behaviors were possible," said zoo director Dan Wharton.

In fact, same-sex pairings in nature are common, said Marlene Zuk, a professor of biology at the University of California, Riverside, and the author of Sexual Selections: What We Can and Can't Learn About Sex From Animals. Animals exhibit all kinds of sexual behaviors--homo, hetero, monogamous, and nonmonogamous--even having sex to resolve conflicts, she said. "Sexuality in animals, just like sexuality in people, is about more than just making babies," she said.

As for the Swedish seductresses, new male penguins have been brought in to attend to their needs.
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Title Annotation:At Issue
Author:VanDeCarr, Paul
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 29, 2005
Previous Article:Rants & raves.
Next Article:No appeal for Indiana.

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