Some 70 countries around the world continue to suppress, among other things, with the help of repressive laws, any manifestation of homosexuality, considering it immoral and unnatural. But an interesting report in Bern proves that same-sex relationships are not only widespread in nature and do not contradict its “laws”, but can even help strengthen social cohesion.
This content was published on December 22, 2021 – 07:00
“Many still believe that homosexuality and queer people are a marginal and even perverted phenomenon, they say, this is unnatural, this does not happen in nature. It’s like that; “No, not like that!” Says Christian Kropf, a biologist at the Institut für Ökologie und Evolution der Universität Bern. Christian Kropf specializes in invertebrates and works at the Naturhistorischs Museum in Bern.
This year he was the scientific curator of the exhibition Queer – Vielfalt is our NatureExternal report (“QueerExternal report: diversity is our nature »), which focuses on the diversity of relationship types and sexual orientation in both humans and animals. Covering a wide range of specialized topics – from the latest developments in biology to the current debate on the nature of homosexuality – the report aims to bridge the gap between nature and society by contributing to a rational public debate in this area.
Homosexuality exists in one and a half thousand species of animals
There are many examples of homosexual behavior in nature. Dolphins, for example, tend to have a rather unrestrained sexual behavior. Among rhinos (lat. Tursiops truncatus), many people are bisexual and some may even have very long homosexual relationships. “Male dolphins are sexually active anywhere, for example, sexual intercourse can occur by penetrating the partner’s breathing valve, which is located in the head,” explains Christian Kropf.
Homosexuality is also common among European rams (Latin: Ovis). Among them, six percent are sexually attracted exclusively to other men. “Despite the fact that they have free choice, they are not interested in women at all. “Male rams love intense homosexual contact as well as oral and anal sex with each other,” says the Swiss biologist. In total, according to him, homosexuality is observed in about one and a half thousand species of animals and, most likely, exists in all social vertebrates.
“We are not always clear about the reasons for homosexual relationships. “But we know that they strengthen social ties and can contribute to the cohesion of this group of people,” Kropf said. In dolphins, homosexuals are sometimes the key to their social organization. This, for example, cites a study by Murdoch University in Australia. Interaction between animals of the same sex helps to create a hierarchy and bonds, which can be useful, for example, during hunting.
Bonobo chimpanzees, on the other hand, often resort to sex, even between two people of the same sex, in order to defuse tensions and resolve conflicts in a given population. In nature, Christian Kropf notes, gender roles are not always unequivocally distributed once and for all, and same-sex families are quite prevalent in it. Among the dark-backed albatrosses (Latin: Phoebastria immutabilis), a seabird that nests in Hawaii, there are pairs of females that hatch and raise chicks together. In black swans, sometimes an egg laid by a female is incubated by two males.
An organization that has 28,000 genders?
“Nature knows no boundaries” both in terms of sexual behavior and in terms of belonging to one or the other biological sex, says K. Kropf. Many species can change their sex throughout their lives, and some have tens or even thousands of different types of mating. The record belongs to the Schizophyllum commune (Latin: Schizophyllum commune), a species of wood-eating agar fungus, which has 28,000 “sex species”. This concept applies to microorganisms that have a sexual process, but to which the classic concept of biological sex does not apply, as they do not have eggs and sperm as such.
These “thousands of sexes”, of course, have nothing to do with human sexual orientation. However, this phenomenon shows how inventive and diverse nature can be in its manifestations. For example, hermaphroditism is not uncommon in nature. The presence of both male and female genitals in the same individual can be a significant evolutionary advantage, especially in sedentary or solitary species.
“A hermaphroditic animal has the ability to self-fertilize. This is not always the best choice as it reduces the genetic diversity of the offspring. “But in the absence of a partner, that’s even better than a complete rejection of reproduction,” explains Christian Kropf. What is unnatural, he continues, is homophobia and discrimination based on gender. “I do not know of any case where in nature homosexuals have been systematically marginalized or their freedoms have been violated.”
“Propaganda of non-traditional relations”
It has been more than thirty years since the World Health Organization removed homosexuality from the list of mental illnesses, but the rights of the LGBT community are far from being recognized everywhere. Homosexuality is actively suppressed in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. In Russia, on June 11, 2013, the State Duma passed a law banning the “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” between minors. On June 30, 2013, the law was signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Both Saudi Arabia and five other UN member states even use the death penalty.
Switzerland is one of the last European countries (leaving only Italy, Greece and Liechtenstein) to grant same-sex couples the right to a full marriage after a popular vote. Homosexual couples have been able to register “political unions” since 2007. In the summer of 2021, the people of Switzerland approved the relevant amendments to the Civil Code in a referendum and gave homosexual and lesbian couples official marital powers. In May 2021, ILGA-Europe ranked Switzerland 22nd out of 49 in the ranking of countries in terms of LGBT rights.
Cannibalism and infanticide
“Certainly we can observe, study and protect nature. “We can try to understand nature to better understand man,” says Christian Kropf. “However, it would be wrong to consider nature as an example to be imitated in literally everything. “The only conclusion is that nature has everything from the most unimaginable sexual manifestations to cannibalism to infanticide,” explains the scientist.
“We can not rely solely on the animal world and determine, by looking at nature, how human society should function. We are not only biological beings, but also cultural. Everything a person does is largely due to cultural rules. It’s up to the people themselves to decide what is good and what is bad. ” The exhibition dedicated to homosexuality in nature will last until March 2023. Why was such an exhibition organized?
Is not it aimed at “paving the way” for same-sex marriage and ideologically ensuring a positive outcome of the referendum? “I do not know how much or if this report did not contribute at all to the decision of the people to allow the introduction of ‘marriage for all’ in the country, but it certainly influenced, for example, my father. He is now 87 years old and has never said anything good about homosexuals. However, after visiting the exhibition, he changed, because, obviously, he realized that homosexuality is completely normal “.
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