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Rainbow animals kick off LGBT History Month at Royal Holloway

Posted on 16/02/2010

Grey whale

The Royal Holloway staff Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender society kicked off LGBT History Month with a lecture on same-sex characteristics in nature. The perception that same-sex sexual interaction is “un-natural” has been used through the centuries as a reason to persecute gay men and women. Zimbabwean President Mugabe suggested that “If dogs and pigs do not do it, why must human beings?”

Dr Mark Brown, from the School of Biological Sciences at Royal Holloway, University of London, presented his talk ‘Rainbow Animals’ which looked at homosexual behaviour throughout nature – from the Bonobo to Grey Whales. He says homosexual behaviour in animals has often been ignored or misinterpreted but recent work to try and understand why many animals exhibit same-sex behaviours has been inspired by a pioneering book ‘Biological Exuberance’ written by Bruce Bagemihl, 20 years ago.

Dr Brown gave an overview of different hypothesis to try to explain such behaviour, including its use to enforce dominance hierarchies, or the idea that same-sex interactions allow males to perfect their mating skills before trying them out on females, or perhaps to avoid aggressive interactions. He highlighted a study in Laysan albatrosses which suggests the counter-intuitive idea that lesbian couples in these birds may have evolved through natural selection to increase the number of chicks that can be produced.

He said, “Whether these ideas, or others yet to be thought of, can explain the presence of homosexual behaviour across a broad range of animal species is still unknown. While studying homosexual behaviour in non-human animals may not help us to understand the evolution of homosexuality in humans, it does show that nature is not a world of male-female couples, and diversity, in sex as in many other things, is the norm, not the exception."

Dr Brown’s talk was the first in a series of events to mark LGBT History month, which takes place every year in February and celebrates the lives and achievements of the LGBT community. This is the first year that Royal Holloway staff have organized events for LGBT History Month and the talk was well attended by staff and students. Other events include a showing of “Love to Hide”, a French film about gay persecution during the Holocaust (in association with the college World Cinema Society).

The series will conclude with a talk by Royal Holloway alumnus Angela Mason CBE, on Wednesday 24 February in room 0-05 in the Windsor Building at 6pm. Angela is the former chair of lobbying organisation Stonewall and is currently the Chair of the Fawcett Society, a UK women′s rights campaigning group. She will speak about the progress in equality from decriminalization to the campaign for civil partnership.

Commenting on the events, LGBT Staff Society coordinator Andrew Falconer said, “Royal Holloway’s student and staff population is very diverse and I am pleased that the LGBT group has taken the initiative to put on an exciting range of events for LGBT History Month. I am delighted that we have drawn on the existing expertise in the college, with Dr Mark Brown’s fascinating talk and such a high profile alumnus as Angela Mason. From what I can see, the College is providing the only LGBT History Month activities in Runnymede and it is important that, next year, we can involve the local community too.”

Details of other events can be found by emailing rhul.lgbt@googlemail.com


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