Stories of same-sex penguin couples always warm our hearts, and this week is no different as news reaches us that a pair of male penguins at Odense Zoo in Denmark have gone from trying to steal the eggs of other brooding penguins to raising their own chick. One place maybe not feeling the warm and fuzzies over all this same-sex penguin activity is the Austin school district which recently canceled a play about two gay penguins raising a chick because it was deemed too controversial. Seriously.
The play, performed by University of Texas drama students, is based on “And Tango Makes Three,” the 2005 children’s book by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson based on the true story of Roy and Silo, two male Chinstrap Penguins from New York’s Central Park Zoo. The penguins drew international attention when they bonded and, eventually, raised a chick together.
University of Texas students, who use these performances to satisfy degree requirements, first reportedly performed the play back in October for second-graders at Lee Elementary School in Central Austin. District officials then became jittery about the “age appropriateness” of the play — which is billed as being for those six and over — and canceled the 10 remaining performances.
“The subject matter communicated in the play is a topic that Austin ISD believes should be examined by parents/guardians who will discuss with their elementary school age children at a time deemed appropriate by the parents/guardians,” Greg Goodman, the Austin school district’s fine arts director, said in a letter to UT’s Coleman Jennings, the head of the university’s youth theater program.
Jonathan Saenz, president of the conservative Texas Values group, said he believes the district made the right decision.
“We define marriage very clearly in the state of Texas. So if you have a play that tries to push and promote a different marriage definition, which is clearly illegal, it leads students to ask questions about it, and it leads to the discussion of sex,” Saenz said.
So what’s in the play? Playwright Emily Freeman says in a press release:
For Freeman, “And Then Came Tango” is about love and family. She explains, “Throughout the play, the definition of family is extended beyond normative representations. Family is an entire colony of penguins, a young girl and her single mom, a zookeeper and the animals he tends, and two male penguins and their adopted egg. As these family structures are threatened in the play, we learn the power of voicing your opinions and standing up for your beliefs, no matter how old you are.”
So let’s just put this into perspective. The penguins in the play aren’t into S&M, they’re not desirous of a stint in Promises to treat an ongoing drug addiction, and nor are they using Power Rangers-style moves to vanquish their enemies. They are just a bonded pair of male penguins with an egg. There’s not even any talk of gay marriage. In short, this play would be more “age appropriate” than the majority of things kids likely have access to on television every single day.
Also, the evidence of homosexuality in the animal kingdom, that is to say same-sex sexual and partnering behavior, is vast and irrefutable. How common (450 species at least) and why this happens is still being explored, but that it does happen is established. There is no debate.
So what Austin school district seems to be leery of is, well, reality. After all, the play is based on a book which is based on a true story. Presumably, the district doesn’t want the flack that a handful of parents aligned with religious conservative groups might dish out over those big, bad gay penguins supposedly indoctrinating their children with the truth, and so the district seems to have decided that rather than show a backbone, they’re going to capitulate and stop the play altogether.
This goes beyond just being ridiculous. It’s cowardly and lets down children who are gay or those in same-sex parents families. It maintains their marginalization. It also lets down children who have no experience of same-sex couples who could stand to have been educated by this play.
Not all is lost, though. LGBT rights groups in the area are now said to be helping stage a free performance of the play. Oh, and penguins, whatever their sexual preference, remain adorable.
Image credit: Thinkstock.