A London aquarium has announced it will raise a newborn penguin chick “gender neutral,” marking the first time it has recognized one of its animals as “non-binary.”
The gentoo penguin was born at Sea Life London Aquarium four months ago as part of a breeding program aimed at conserving the species. The chick was taken from its biological mother while still in the egg and given to a pair of lesbian penguins, Rocky and Marmara.
Aquarium staff have tagged the chick’s wing with a gender-neutral purple band so that it can be monitored. According to reports, they plan to give it a non-gendered name, like Kelly, Alex or Charlie.
As the adopted chick matures, it may become part of the breeding program “depending on the gender its biology determines,” Sea Life said in a press release, which included photos of the LGBT family positioned beside a rainbow-colored stone. Sea Life declined Pluralist’s request for clarification about the chick’s birth sex and what exactly a gender-neutral upbringing will look like.
However, Sea Life’s general manager, Graham McGrath, preemptively defended the move in a statement. He referenced the growing trend of human gender-neutrality ― including when it comes to raising children ― and said it’s more “natural” for a penguin to grow up with a genderless identity.
“While the decision may ruffle a few feathers, gender neutrality in humans has only recently become a widespread topic of conversation,” McGrath said in a statement. “However, it is completely natural for penguins to develop genderless identities as they grow into mature adults.”
Rocky and Marmara have been raising the chick in an enclosure they share with several other same-sex couples.
A distinction without a difference?
However, other Twitter users responded with mockery.
Quillette editor Jonathan Kay joked that he hopes the chick isn’t teased by trans-exclusionary feminist penguins, a reference to human women who are critical of transgender rights.
I hope the gender-free baby penguin isn't teased by all those nasty little TERPs
— Jonathan Kay (@jonkay) September 10, 2019
Magazine writer Jesse Singal suggested the aquarium’s announcement was an empty gesture.
No one ever assigned a gender to a penguin though! I guess this is harmless but it's also deeply silly. https://t.co/gxpq3MvNYS
— Jesse Singal (@jessesingal) September 10, 2019
Sea Life and its gender-neutral penguin are not alone
Sea Life isn’t the only zoo getting woke. Last month, a gay King Penguin couple, Skip and Ping, adopted an egg at the Berlin Zoo in Germany.
Earlier this year, penguins at ZSL London Zoo were photographed with an LGBTQ+ Pride banner, declaring “Some penguins are gay, get over it,” to celebrate the annual pride parade.
However, one aquarium’s attempt to be relevant nearly got it “canceled.”
Last December, the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California tweeted a photo of one of its sea otters, Abby, and praised her as a “thicc girl” and an “absolute unit.”
Some commenters accused the aquarium of “body shaming” Abby. Others faulted it for appropriating black culture.
Complained one user: “This is shamefully appropriative language. I’m pretty sure we can all have a fun time with #scicomm without digital blackface.”
Amid the backlash, the Monterey Bay Aquarium acknowledged the tweet was “problematic and insensitive.”
Hey everyone. It has come to our attention that some of the references in this tweet are problematic and insensitive. We're posting here in the thread so that people who have engaged with this tweet will join us in our learning moment. 1/4
— Monterey Bay Aquarium (@MontereyAq) December 19, 2018
After apologizing to anyone it had “alienated,” the aquarium promised to “do better.”