Connel Bradwell (he/him) is a British/Canadian wildlife conservationist and educator living on Vancouver Island. His research has focused predominantly on endangered orca and migratory birds. Connel creates educational wildlife content on multiple platforms and is the producer and host of Out & About on CBC.
How do you describe Out & About?
Out & About is a digital series that explores the unique relationships that LGBTQ+ identifying people have with the natural world.
We're showcasing often overlooked people in the field of science and conservation with the overlooked topic of queerness in wildlife and how our unique identities shape our relationships with nature. The series features incredible LGBTQ+ scientists and activists who share their expertise on everything from gay bats, lesbian raccoons, being an openly queer scientist, and how queer Indigenous people are reclaiming space and restoring wildlife in their traditional territories!
The series is based in Canada, and lives on the CBC’s (Canada’s public broadcaster) YouTube channel, but it’s open for everyone to watch, you don’t have to be from Canada to see it!
What's the origin story of Out & About and your involvement with it? Why did you want to make this series?
Like many LGBTQ+ people, I never really saw myself reflected in science or conservation. I've loved wildlife my entire life almost, and work in wildlife conservation. I was working on an orca research boat when I saw some of the males displaying gay behaviors, and it was the first time I'd ever really seen or heard this being something that orcas do! I began researching the topic and found that over 1,500 species have been identified as displaying homosexual behaviors, and saw that in many cases scientists had put their own biases onto nature by understudying or writing harmful journals about "unnatural" behavior in nature, which is harming both wildlife but also LGBTQ+ people. This sparked the idea to tell the story of queerness in the natural world and learn more about how LGBTQ+ identifying people are building unique relationships with nature.
Can you tell us a bit about each of the three episodes and why you decided on that topic?
In Episode 1, which asks the question "Is Nature Queer?," we delve into the world of queer ecology with queer Ecologist Estraven Lupino-Smith (they/them). In the episode we explore how historically scientists have put their own biases onto the natural world, either ignoring or judging homosocial and homosexual behaviors and different gender expressions in nature. Estraven shows us how gay bats are a great example of this, and we discuss how these biases have detrimentally impacted wildlife conservation and the queer community, and what we can do going forward. This episode covers what we believe to be an important topic, based around the fact that many LGBTQ+ people, including myself, have been called "unnatural," when that is not true. Nature is very queer, we just haven't been told about it.
In Episode 2 we meet urban ecologist Jaylen Bastos (they/them) to learn about their research on wildlife in downtown Vancouver, the potential connections between urban wildlife and the queer community, and what it's like being a queer scientist in the environmental field. We decided on this topic as urban areas are seen as historically safe spaces for the LGBTQ+ community, as well as (increasingly) wildlife populations. We wanted to highlight that relationships with the natural world do not always have to be in remote, rural areas, and that you can forge a career and an interest in nature, whilst remaining within urban spaces, or wherever you may feel most comfortable. We also thought it was important to discuss what it's like being a queer scientist, and the challenges that exist.
Indigenous peoples have stewarded land in North America since time immemorial, and in Episode 3 we meet with Indigiqueer environmental steward Tiffany Joseph (she/her) to see how queer-identifying Indigenous people are reclaiming space and restoring the environment in their traditional territories. We also discuss what Indigiqueer relationships with the natural world look like today and witness firsthand the amazing restoration of culturally significant and endangered wildflower species. This was a topic that I had not really seen much coverage of before, and we were incredibly lucky and grateful to have been invited by people from Scia'new and W̱SÁNEĆ First Nations to see their restoration project and discuss queer identity in Indigenous spaces, so choosing this topic was a no brainer!
What's been challenging or surprising about making Out & About?
One of the most surprising things for me was how far the biases against LGBTQ+ go into science and scientific research. There are multiple examples of papers that were not published or papers that speak negatively of wildlife who display homosexual behaviors, and I found that hard to get my head around. Particularly when we are often criticized for anthropomorphizing animal behaviors, yet we then put our own preconceived ideas onto nature without much criticism at all! It was also surprising to me to learn how this is impacting our conservation efforts, it’s crazy how these biases are doing so much damage, yet we hardly hear much about it.
A challenging aspect has been trying to break people's own ideas around what is natural and unnatural behavior, and that is something that will take a longer time, but it's amazing that so many queer scientists are out there, bringing their own perspectives to research, and that is only a benefit to both how we understand and protect the natural world, and how we as LGBTQ+ people see ourselves and are seen by wider society. Finding queer scientists and environmentalists who are doing extraordinary work was not a challenge at all!
What would you like LGBTQ+ scientists to know about Out & About?
I'd like LGBTQ+ scientists to know that Out & About showcases that you are not alone in this field, and that the work you are doing is critical and needed. In the series, we met with such amazing, diverse people who are doing the work to move the conversation about LGBTQ+ people and our relationships with nature forward through credible research and science. This really shows that we have talented people changing the world for the better, and it’s inspiring to see.
In general, I hope any queer-identifying people watching it see that we are reflected in the natural world, and that stereotypes about nature are often used against us, yet these are based on understandings and perceptions of nature that don't actually match reality.