Matilda Pilkington, Banham Zoological Gardens

PRIDE: I choose love

Posted: 6th 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.


This is new. In my career I have written hundreds of new programmes and lessons, proposals, and press releases ...the latter being read by millions of people, yet I find myself struggling to start writing this one. How in-depth do I go? How much do I share?

It feels strange to be talking about my life (personal and zoo-related) based on the part of me that I never chose. But this is me, and maybe my story can help somebody out there feel more hopeful.


Hi, I'm Asim. I was born into a nation that doesn't want to acknowledge that gay people exist, inheriting the religion that, sadly, would want to punish me for my sexuality in a far worse way than just ignoring my existence. I already noticed on myself as a young child that I was different to other boys. The way I talked and carried myself. My interests. How I absolutely preferred the comforting company of girls over boys.

And then it happened. The war (I was 4), loss of our home and possessions, we and surviving relatives being scattered around Europe into different refugee centres. We adapted and survived. And for years to come, life was just that. No time for "additional burdens", no room for "I am different, and it would mean the world to me if you could acknowledge and accept me for who I am". It hurt for a really long time, as the society around me was glorifying politicians who promoted openly anti-gay regulations and frightening people into thinking we were these scary monsters, coming to destroy the fabric of a stable society.


It still lives on as a vivid memory of how I stood outside the room, then a teenager, ready to come out to my parents. My heart felt as if it was breaking my ribcage from the inside, with each punch giving me a painful scenario of how this will go wrong. I started hyperventilating and I gave up on my quest before I would have a panic attack.

Dear reader, do you know the awful feeling of risking every family connection you have in your life with the power of just one announcement? If you do, I am truly sorry to hear that and I feel your pain. I stood in that spot, craving to be heard, but I couldn’t do it. Would I be disowned? Thrown out in the street? So many members of our community have been, and it’s heartbreaking to see how this cruel treatment continues, sometimes even leading to suicide. Please, dear reader, do not judge or punish your child if they came out to you. At that moment all they want from you is a shield of support, keeping the darkness of the cruel world at bay. You gave them life so they could live it, freely. Please remember that.


Time at university was better for me. Again, beautiful female friendships made me feel accepted, and as I stepped into my first job as a zoo employee, I discovered a wonderful world of support from a generation slightly older than me. My first taste of me being open about who I was. We openly talked about relationships and why our Mr/Mrs Rights are taking their sweet time to appear in our lives.


I met my soulmate 6 months before I – via online interviews – got my first zoo job in the UK. This person was the sweetest, kindest, most caring, and funny individual out there. This person was a HE, but nothing else was different from your usual relationship: completed with chocolate and flowers, texting each other late into the night, and ‘’arguing’’ who gets to pay for our next eat-out meal together.

Despite the struggles that the long-distance would create, HE supported my move and sent me love letters (and favourite chocolate reminders from the country I grew up in) every single week for two years. HE believed in my drive and capabilities and knew my fixed-term zoo contract would quickly turn into a full-time, permeant role. And it did. WE powered through this difficult time apart, until he could join me in the UK, and we could start our life together. Thank you to all the kind souls at Marwell Wildlife, who accepted us with open arms. I will never forget the moment I was talking to two older volunteers, whose supportive words of wishing us to ‘’go and live ordinary lives like everyone else’’ made me realise I truly was in a different and more accepting environment.


I don’t worry about strange looks or unpleasant comments from strangers. I worry about a physical altercation that might hurt (or worse) my soulmate. I cannot risk that. The world is not there yet. But I live and love little moments of happiness that can exist right here and now. In our previous country, I would never even dare to hold his hand in public. Here, we often still struggle with feeling safe, but we are beyond grateful for what we do have!

I cannot believe I can go to work every day, inspiring and empowering the next generation of young people to love and protect nature, with basically everyone there knowing and supporting who I am and whom I love. Banham Zoological Gardens team, thank you for your support! I know that for you all my sweet and hardworking partner is the easiest person to love, but you might never understand what a haven you all are to the two of us. You treat us like everybody else, and you are even supporting our dreams of one day getting married (and going that far to offering us a wedding venue on-site if that’s ever a part of the zoo’s future development).


Dear reader, please know, we want to live a life like any other couple: beautifully ordinary, sprinkled with the happiness we create for each other and with the help of our newly discovered friends. Equal to others.


In a world infested with hatred … I choose love.


By Asim Krdzalic, Conservation Education Manager at Banham Zoological Gardens (Zoological Society of East Anglia)

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

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