Dr Andrew Mooney

PRIDE: Celebrating LGBTQ+ Diversity in Zoos and Aquariums

Posted: 13th June, 2022

This month, in celebration of PRIDE, we are giving space to LGBT+ voices from across the BIAZA membership. The PRIDE blogs will provide a snapshot of the experiences of LGBT+ people working in the zoo sector and highlight diversity across the animal kingdom too.

I am one of those incredibly lucky people who knew from a very young age what I wanted to do in life – work in a zoo to help save species! I followed this passion incessantly, and in 2012 I began studying Zoology at Trinity College Dublin, where I also went on to pursue my PhD in 2016.

The PhD process can be a daunting one, but it is also one that can help you find yourself in many ways, and it was during this period that I became comfortable enough with my sexuality to finally “come out” as gay in 2017. During all of this Ireland was undergoing an incredible cultural shift, with the Irish public voting overwhelmingly in favour of the Marriage Equality Act in 2015, finally allowing same-sex couples to marry in Ireland. Like many young LGBTQ+ people at the time, this was an empowering and overwhelming moment. However, with such amazing progress being made it is easy to forget that there is still so much more to be done, with homophobia and transphobia still common in almost every aspect of our society, and political attacks on LGBTQ+ rights becoming more common globally.

Although I never had any close LGBTQ+ role models, I never really felt isolated thanks to my family and the strong and supportive peer community around me during my PhD, many of whom were also discovering themselves and their sexualities at the same time. However, I am very aware that not everyone is as lucky, with LGBTQ+ STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) professionals disproportionality more likely to face discrimination, be devalued and struggle with their mental health.

This is precisely why we still need Pride in 2022 and why visibility of LGBTQ+ people is so important at all leadership levels. I am a firm believer that you need to be the change you want to see in the world, and for me this has meant being the representation I never saw, enhancing visibility and amplifying LGBTQ+ voices. In 2021 I was part of a group of people who established the now annual “Pride in Research” symposium at Trinity College Dublin, giving LGBTQ+ researchers an opportunity to connect and showcase their work.

I am now the Conservation and Research Officer at Dublin Zoo, and I feel incredibly lucky to work in such an inclusive environment, where I get to continue integrating equality, diversity and inclusion into all of the Zoo’s conservation and research efforts, helping us to reach all under-represented and marginalised groups and not just the LGBTQ+ community. Conservation really is a people problem and it is important to tackle social inequalities at all levels to help conserve biodiversity and inspire behaviour change amongst our visitors, inspiring others to take action for wildlife and maybe even follow similar conservation and science careers!

Throughout my career I have found both the academic, and the zoo and aquarium community, to be nothing but supportive and accepting, and to the best of my knowledge I have never faced any direct discrimination due to my sexuality. However I also realise this is a very recent shift and that I am both lucky and privileged in many ways.

There are still so many political and societal barriers we need to overcome, and I think we need to realise that zoos and aquariums have an important societal role to play in this, with some zoos, such as Dublin Zoo, being seen as cultural institutions. I believe that zoos and aquariums need to be more outspoken in the fight against social inequality and should amplify the voices of all under-represented and marginalised groups in their organisation, not just the LGBTQ+ community. We have already seen some great examples of this, such as Chester Zoo’s celebration of LGBTQ+ in STEM Day, ZSL’s Team Pride, and even public events such as the Smithsonian National Zoo’s annual “Gay Day at the Zoo”, which brings together members of the LGBTQ+ community, families, and allies to celebrate International Family Equality Day. We have an obligation to make conservation and education accessible to everyone, and that means making our organisations reflect all of society. Although we are only a small community, we have a big reach and influence, and we need to use our voices to tackle inequality in all its forms.


By Dr Andrew Mooney, Conservation and Research Officer at Dublin Zoo 

All blogs reflect the views of their author and are not a reflection of BIAZA's positions. 

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