Same-Sex Penguin Couple and Proud Dads Welcome Chick

A pair of male penguins at the Rosamond Gifford Zoo have hatched a baby. But they aren't the first gay penguin couple to do so.

Penguin Chick
Photo: Rosamond Gifford Zoo

It's cool to keep tabs on expecting parents in December. There is an intriguing race to see if theirs will be the first baby of the new year.

In the race for first baby of 2022, there was a very unique couple in contention for the honor. They were not humans, however. And they were both males.

The proud couple live at the Rosamond Gifford Zoo in Syracuse, New York. They are Humboldt penguins. Their names are Elmer and Lima, and they became a couple in 2021. Zoo director Ted Fox told CNN, "The welfare and wellbeing of every animal that lives at the zoo is very important to us and we support and encourage each animal to make its own choices when choosing their mates."

Humboldt penguins are in declining numbers worldwide, so the birth of a newborn is significant and valuable.

The original penguin pair who laid the egg were determined to be unable to care for it. Apparently just because they were capable of creating a fertilized egg, it did not mean they had the incubating, protecting, brooding, and other skills necessary. Elmer and Lima did. The zoo described their parenting as "exemplary in every aspect of egg care."

Elmer and Lima are not alone as a zoo-exhibited same-sex penguin couple. Zoos in Spain, Berlin and Sydney all have similar male couples. The first such couple to gain notoriety was Central Park Zoo's Silo and Roy in 1998 and their chick named Tango.

As a gay dad myself, I was very aware of little Tango, and the award-winning children's book, And Tango Makes Three, he inspired.

I'm the human version of Elmer and Lima. In 2000, my then-partner and I embarked on our journey as same-sex parents into the world of foster care. We fostered, and later adopted two baby boys, each born to parents who couldn't care for them. Like the penguins, the challenges experienced by the birth parents were such that their offspring would not have survived. We, like the penguins, made the local newspapers who heralded our groundbreaking venture into parenthood and foster care. At the time, California had only recently rescinded a law that mandated same-sex parents be treated as "not recommended" for adoption approval through the foster care system.

My experience is that while many people embrace two people being loving parents no matter what their gender, there are still too many people threatened by the concept. Shortly after becoming a parent, I wrote about it extensively, letting our kind of family be known to the world. I knew I was opening myself up for abuse, and I got it.

Penguin same-sex parents, while cute and cuddly animals, are not immune from abuse either. In May of 2015, the Sierra Charter Foothill School in central California had scheduled a performance of a play based on And Tango Makes Three. When the principal heard that it was a play about two gay penguin parents, he sent out a "warning" to the community. He wanted to give parents the opportunity to opt out of the material that was potentially offensive to them. Not only did a vocal group of parents want to opt out, they insisted it be cancelled all together.

In 2015, in California, the story of two male penguins raising a baby could not be told. The human reaction by the haters was too great, and the LGBTQIA+ families in the middle felt repressed and threatened.

It's now 2022. Much has changed in our society and penguin dads Elmer and Lima are being congratulated on their new baby. Meanwhile in some states, there are school boards seeking to ban books like And Tango Makes Three, which leads me to wonder whether much has really changed at all.

Two male penguins are raising a baby, one that may help keep their breed from becoming extinct. It's beautiful and wonderful. And as natural as any act of parenting.

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