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As upsetting as the comparison of zoophilia to pedophilia is to James, it's evident he's tried to understand those who make it. "When you look at people's relationships to pets in society, they consider pets to be their child," he says. "They'll baby their dog or cat, dote on it, but I think it's blinding them to reality because an animal is not a child with fur. People turn a blind eye to the fact that a dog is a sexual being."
It was one of the most politically explosive quotes of 2003. Then-Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum told a reporter for the Associated Press: "In every society, the definition of marriage has not ever to my knowledge included homosexuality. That's not to pick on homosexuality. It's not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be."
Instantly, gay rights activists recognized an attempt by one of the Senate's most conservative Republicans to define their partnerships as a perversion. They mobilized, denouncing Santorum with such force that it brought national attention to a U.S. Senate race in which Santorum was a heavy favorite but lost.
Cody Beck, the Arizona zoophile who came out to his friends, was 12 then and had only just come to realize he was a zoophile. In the years since, he's been thrilled by how activists' efforts have broadened minds about what qualifies as moral, socially acceptable sex. He recognizes the exciting implications it might have for zoophiles like him. But he's crushed by the gay rights movement's rejection of zoophilia as a similarly legitimate orientation.
"I really want to help that movement," Beck says. "But it really makes me feel like if gay people can't accept this, then I'll have to live my whole life having these feelings of alienation."
Rich Ferraro, a national spokesman for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation in New York City, told me that he had never heard of zoophilia. When I explained it to him and explained how zoophiles hope to find an open-minded ally in the gay rights movement, Ferraro said, "That's very far from our mission." He refused to elaborate.
Brian Winfield, a spokesman for Equality Florida, a statewide leader for GLBT rights, was also unfamiliar with zoophilia. He asked for time to huddle with agency leaders before commenting on zoophiles' interest in political alliance. Last week, he told me: "We believe that most people are capable of distinguishing between committed relationships between consenting adults and forcibly having sex with animals. It's just not at all an appropriate analogy."
It's hard to blame leaders of the gay rights movement for wanting to distance themselves from zoophiles. After all, its mission is incomplete, as evidenced by the passage of gay marriage bans in Florida and California last November. And the addition of bestiality into the argument for equality might create a backlash similar to what Santorum predicted — that government shouldn't expand gay rights because then it would have to do the same for zoophiles.
"It's true in a warped sort of way," Beck admits. "But that's a good thing, not a bad thing."
The first zoophile rights group, called Equality for All, has roots in Europe and formed in the '90s. It was the subject of a 2006 documentary film called Coming Soon, but in recent years, it has gone underground, apparently based on EFA founders' fears they would be arrested. Today the group exists primarily as a website, equalityforall.net. Its webmaster spoke with me on the condition of anonymity.
The EFA webmaster, who wouldn't give his name, says he lives in the Czech Republic and he's in his 20s. In its current condition, with members wary of prosecution, the group can perform little political activism aside from sending email blasts to inform its international membership about legislation that lumps together zoophiles with sadistic forms of bestiality. EFA sent out a notice about Rich's proposed legislation in Florida, for instance. But as that bill's fate was being discussed, the group's online petition had only about 30 signatures.
For those same reasons, there isn't an EFA "platform" other than a requirement that members vow not to cause their animals pain. Asked about the group's reception in the gay community, the EFA webmaster says opinions are split. On the subject of zoophile rights alone, he says, "Some gays resent it because they feel it contributes to the insane 'slippery slope' argument and may interfere with their own efforts." But he notes that those who saw the documentary "see us all in the same boat" and acknowledge a slippery slope that goes in the other direction: "If you allow zoos to be persecuted, who next? Gays?"
Before zoophiles can gain momentum, however, they'll need to close ranks among their own kind. Ron, for instance, says zoos will never gain social acceptance. By asking for it, they're tempting an even more powerful backlash. James isn't quite that pessimistic, but he resents young zoos who clamor for rights. They lack the patience and temperament, he says, to effect social progress.
Beck believes these are expressions of fear that are natural in the early moments of revolution. "That's the story throughout history," he says. "People don't want to stand up for anything, because they don't want to get hurt." He draws some of his own strength from the recent movie Milk, in which Sean Penn plays the nation's first openly gay elected official, San Francisco City Supervisor Harvey Milk. "If we all stand up at once, we'll share the load. What's the point of living if we have to hide who we are?"