During an alarmingly meandering and sweary after-dinner speech for online LGBT newspaper PinkNews earlier this month, Dawn Butler declared that almost all giraffes were gay
Have you heard the one about the Shadow Secretary for Women and Equalities, the top Labour policy wonk and the gay giraffes?
No, this is not an inappropriate joke from the 1970s, but the latest ridiculous row dividing the upper echelons of the beleaguered Labour Party.
On the one hand is Jeremy Corbyn acolyte Dawn Butler who, during an alarmingly meandering and sweary after-dinner speech for online LGBT newspaper PinkNews earlier this month, declared that almost all giraffes were gay.
She then went on to claim that this fact proved that the controversial teaching of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues in schools could not turn straight children gay.
‘If you can teach gayness, then who speaks giraffe? 90 per cent of giraffes are gay. So who the hell speaks giraffe, what does that sound like?’ she cried from the rostrum, waving her hands around, a lot.
‘You can’t teach it, and it’s not a disease either. Being who you are and your true, authentic self is not a disease.’
Dawn was making the age-old nature vs nurture argument, just not terribly well.
And while some might have been tempted to discount her comments as emotional post-prandial ramblings and move on to more important matters, Lachlan Stuart, Mr Corbyn’s senior adviser on domestic policy, was not among them.
Indeed, he took to Twitter, citing several scientific papers rubbishing her claims and pointing out that, while male giraffes do engage in some sexual activities with younger males, it is only to assert authority.
The most famous gay avian couple were Roy and Silo (pictured), a pair of male chinstrap penguins who got together in the late Nineties at New York’s Central Park Zoo and had eyes only for each other for seven long years
‘Is there any truth to this claim? In short, no, there isn’t. It is a ludicrous, offensive, homophobic claim… do you get why it’s completely f****** offensive?’ he ranted.
‘It’s akin to describing Deliverance [the 1972 American thriller film] as a ‘gay romance’ because the effete city boys are put in their place by the locals by getting beaten and then raped.’
One might think that right now, what with all the disagreements tearing through the Labour Party, two of Corbyn’s allies might have more pressing matters to attend to.
But Dawn and Lachlan are hardly the first people to get steamed up about homosexuality in the animal kingdom.
In fact, until fairly recently — and despite plenty of evidence to the contrary — it was asserted that only humans could be gay.
Which meant that any ostensibly ‘homosexual’ behaviour, such as farm animals trying to mate with the same sex, or zoo animals getting up close and cosy, was simply dismissed as a mistake or hormonal confusion.
It turns out that there are homosexual animals living in every corner of the planet, in every shape and size, from abatrosses to gay rams, to passionately pink penguins, to fornicating manatees. Pictured: two male lions
For decades, most scientists rejected the concept of animals having sex for pleasure at all, rather than only for procreation. But recently it has been accepted that animal sexuality is as complex and varied as our own.
And it turns out that there are homosexual animals living in every corner of the planet, in every shape and size, from abatrosses to gay rams, to passionately pink penguins, to fornicating manatees.
Even female hedgehogs risk all manner of pain to get it together.
In his 1999 book, Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity, Bruce Bagemihl, a gay biologist from the University of Wisconsin in the U.S., insists there are as many gay animals as homosexual humans.
He claims that homosexual behaviour and other sexual practices have been observed in more than 1,500 species from all over the world as diverse as parrots, lions, lizards, spiders, frogs, badgers, ostriches, emus, bighorn sheep, fruit bats, horses and at least one in every 20 penguins.
Dawn (pictured) was making the age-old nature vs nurture argument, just not terribly well
He even discovered same-sex elephants which fondled partners with their trunks; gay bats whose (upside down) climaxes were marked with a ‘squawk’; a pair of 30-ton grey whales swimming, happily intertwined; and female grizzlies who huddled and nuzzled together.
(He also claims that, while only one per cent of female giraffes show same-sex activity, 94 per cent of male giraffes exhibit homosexual behaviour, including necking, caressing, courting and mounting — which is presumably, where Dawn got her oh-so-angrily-disputed facts.)
Ten years in the making, Bagemihl’s research caused quite a stir when it was published, though it gave comfort to the world’s huge gay and lesbian community that homosexuality was not unnatural.
Suddenly people were noticing homosexual animals everywhere and zoo-keepers and museums dedicated exhibitions to their animals’ sexual proclivities.
London Zoo held a Gay Sunday in 2006 inviting high-profile gay celebrities including Sir Elton John, Dale Winton and Graham Norton to a discussion on the possibility of gay animals.
Further investigation soon revealed that a higher proportion of animals in captivity show homosexual tendencies than in the wild. Presumably, because their scope is so limited, they become more resourceful when looking for a mate.
At Amsterdam’s Artis Zoo — where managers once launched what they called ‘Gayded tours’ embracing the animals sexual preferences — the sex life of their pygmy chimpanzees was been likened to ‘a permanent gay orgy’ by one spokeswoman.
Then there’s the bisexual bonobos who are at it every 90 minutes.
In the avian world, homosexuality is even more common.
Nearly a quarter of black swan families are parented by same sex couples — the male mating with the female to produce an egg, which he promptly steals and hatches with the help of another male.
Studies have shown that up to 15 per cent of female western gulls in some populations have homosexual tendencies, enjoying courtship rituals such as head tossing, proffering small gifts of carefully chosen food, or building nests together.
Some live together like old married couples, such as Carlos and Fernando, a pair of gay flamingos who for years cohabited at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust in Slimbridge, Gloucestershire, stealing eggs from other couples, hatching the chicks and feeding them with milk they produced in their throats.
But the most famous gay avian couple were Roy and Silo, a pair of male chinstrap penguins who got together in the late Nineties at New York’s Central Park Zoo and had eyes only for each other for seven long years.
While staff never witnessed them in the sexual act, they were forever entwining necks and making mating calls and, in 1999, were found trying to hatch a rock as if it were an egg.
Today, there seems no question that all creatures great and small exhibit homosexual tendencies, but some people still tend to get rather het up about it all.
Even BBC legend Sir David Attenborough, 93, got it in the neck from an academic from the University of East Anglia for ‘ignoring gay animals’ back in 2009 after describing male chimps hugging as ‘friendly affection’.
Complicated it may be, but it brings us neatly back to Lachlan, Dawn and those gay giraffes. Which, as it turns out, were most likely just doing it for show — dominant males asserting themselves to impress the ladies.
Now that’s all been cleared up, perhaps Jeremy’s Corbyn’s Domestic Policy adviser and his Shadow Secretary for Women and Equalities would be kind enough to start addressing some of the more pressing matters of the day…