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Gay Rams, Lesbian Swans, & Queer Penguins: The Summer Of Love 
by Beth Shapiro New York Bureau 

Posted: August 15, 2005  12:01 am ET

(New York City) Gay rams in Corvallis, Oregon, lesbian swans in Boston, and gay penguins at several zoos around the world - they may shock conservative Christian groups fighting gay rights but for scientists they offer an insight into the origins and development of human sexuality.

Researchers at Oregon State University have found that about eight percent of rams are gay. The scientists, at the university along with those at the Oregon Health & Science University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Sheep Experiment Station, say that the finding may prove sexuality in general, and homosexuality in particular, may be biologically driven.

In rams who prefer to mount other rams, the anterior preoptic area of the hypothalamus was about half the size of this part of the brain in heterosexual rams, the researchers say in a new report.

"This was exciting to us because this area of the brain has been found in many species to regulate sexual behavior," Fred Stormshak, a distinguished professor of animal science at Oregon State and an investigator on the project, told The Gazette-Times of Corvallis on the weekend.

The investigation also targeted aromatase activity in the hypothalamus. Aromatase is an enzyme that converts androgens such as testosterone into estrogens such as estradiol. In male mammals, estrogen causes masculinization of the brain during gestation.

The researchers hypothesize that low levels of aromatase in the brain of the developing fetus "somehow keep it from becoming fully masculinized."

The news comes as Boston Parks officials disclosed that Romeo and Juliet, the famed pair of white swans in the Pubic Garden, are really two females.

The manicured Garden that adjoins the Boston Common, in the city's downtown, is a tourist favorite and the swans over the years have become so popular the city added swan boats to lure more tourists to the area.

Last year, the most recent pair of real swans were purchased as chicks from a breeder. 

As they grew the swans settled down together in domestic bliss.  The parks people found eggs in their nest.  But, they never hatched.

After doing some scientific tests they discovered the eggs had not been fertilized and more tests revealed Romeo was really a girl.

The revelation has stirred a debate in the only state where gay marriage is legal over whether Romeo should be renamed to properly reflect her true sex.

The Boston Globe put the question to people in the Public Garden yesterday.

''If these two swans are happy together, they shouldn't have to have a guy," said Emma Stokien, a 15-year-old from New York. ''It's good to have the swans as a symbol of the acceptance in Massachusetts."

Zoos in three countries have gay penguins. There are three gay couples at the Bremerhaven Zoo in Germany (story). There are about 20 same-sex pairs at 16 major aquariums and zoos in Japan. (story). But, two gay penguins at the Central Park Zoo in New York broke up last year.  

Roy and Silo, had been together for several years. They even put a rock simulating an egg in their nest and sat on it, keeping it warm in the folds of their abdomens. (story)  After they broke up, Roy for a while spent time with a female penguin but that that did not last long, and now the Roy and Silo live separately.

Animal sexuality is a relatively new field.  The first book on the subject, Bonobo: The Forgotten Ape, unleashed a torrent of condemnation for the Christian right.

In 1999, Bruce Bagemihl published Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity.  It provided an overview of scholarly studies of same-sex behavior in animals. Bagemihl said homosexual behavior had been documented in some 450 species. 

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, the case in which the court overturned sodomy laws. 

© 2005

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