Dudley Zoo & Castle

PRIDE: How to take your zoo to Pride

Posted: 20th 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.


In summer of 2019, Lakeland Wildlife Oasis participated in Lancaster Pride. This was the first time the zoo had taken part in a pride event in its 30 year history. I attended as the zoo’s Centre Manager, alongside my colleague and LGBT ally Neil, equipped with a full and colourful display on gender and sexuality spectrums within the animal kingdom. The event ended without a single incident or sour note - we celebrated our pride and educated parade goers on the endless diversity displayed in nature, ranging from mammalian social behaviour to invertebrate sexual dimorphism and much more.


Lancaster Pride itself was warm and welcoming but, despite the pleasant atmosphere, I couldn’t quite stop myself from thinking about what could go wrong. How would we be perceived? What assumptions would be made about me? How the zoo, and its governing charity, would be perceived as a new and outgoing ally of the LGBT+ community? Could my decision to involve the park in a pride event result in negative backlash for the zoo? Fortunately, I had complete support from my team and Director.


Fast forward three years and I find myself starting a new position at Dudley Zoo & Castle. Within my first few weeks at the zoo I was pleased to see the pride flag flying high above Dudley Castle’s keep - in support of International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOBIT) 2022. Despite this, I still found myself referring to my boyfriend as my ‘partner’ or ‘other half’ in my first month of work - strategically avoiding male pronouns in an effort to bypass topics of sexuality.


I still haven’t shaken that initial ‘fear’ of outing myself in the work place, which is strange as I’m yet to experience any form of homophobia or discrimination in the work place. I’m also yet silence the concerned voice in my head that questions how visitors will perceive my collections outward display of support for the LGBT+ community. However in my short time within the industry, I've been fortunate enough to manage a growing animal collection and visitor attraction. I've had the pleasure of working alongside new-born snow leopards, developing and leading school sessions, and most excitingly, using a living tapestry of animals and exhibits to convey the wonders of the world. I've been able to do this through the support of an incredible network of professionals who have seen my potential - and haven’t given my sexuality a second thought. As far as I’m aware, the industry has never considered my sexuality, and I’m yet to experience backlash during an event or programme.


The science and conservation sector is uniquely welcoming, but unfortunately I've come to understand that not everyone has experienced the same industry welcome that I have. Many LGBT+ individuals have experienced a less than warm welcome in the workplace - but have still become examples of excellence within their sector.


As we move forward, we should encourage every individual within the sector to work towards creating a culture of acceptance and opportunity. Push forward a programme of inclusivity and diversity; so that we feel more welcomed, and are less likely to experience those fearful thoughts and doubts.


I have been fortunate to work for multiple BIAZA collections that have encouraged the company’s presence at pride events – but there is still so much more that we could achieve as a community. To our sector’s management teams; embed a programme of equality and diversity into your marketing and education strategies – and give as many opportunities as you can to those around you. Do it regardless of sexuality or gender; regardless of whether you see yourself in that person or not. Diversity is what makes our ecosystems resilient, and a diverse array of perspectives and approaches within our sector will in turn make us more resilient.

By Jack Williams, Head of Education and Conservation, Dudley Zoo & Castle 

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


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