June 12, 2022
John Scott and Cassandra Paul: A Time for Real Change
- as seen by -Julie Larsen Maher
Pride Month is a time for community building, acceptance, and celebrating diversity.
John Scott and Cassandra Paul work for the Wildlife Conservation Society. They are co-leaders of QUEER, an employee resource group in support of diversity, equity, and inclusion at WCS.
I had the opportunity to find out about their perspectives and careers as LGBTQ+ in the conservation field.
JLM: What are your jobs at WCS?
JS: Currently, I am a Wild Animal Keeper at WCS’s New York Aquarium in the Sea Cliffs section, where I work with the Aquarium’s collection of marine mammals and penguins. I am also the internship coordinator for Sea Cliffs, which includes the recruitment, hiring, and training of our interns.
CP: I am the Library Assistant in the WCS Library and Archives, based at the Bronx Zoo. We provide scientific research support and archival materials to all WCS staff at the five New York City parks and around the world for WCS’s Global Conservation Program.
JLM: How did you find your way to a career at the Wildlife Conservation Society? (Tell me about your backgrounds and why you wanted to work for WCS.)
JS: I was lucky enough to grow up down the street from Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo where I attended Zoo Camp and worked as a seasonal employee in the zoo’s education department. After interning and working at WCS’s Bronx Zoo when I was an undergrad at Fordham University, I left WCS for a bit to work at Natural Encounters Inc. where I specialized in free-flight bird shows. I also worked at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Dallas Zoo, and Brookfield Zoo. About five years later, I returned to WCS at Central Park Zoo and now the New York Aquarium since 2017.
CP: As an undergraduate student, I heard one of my college’s librarians describe her job as being a perpetual student. I have always had an incredible passion for learning and then sharing what I’ve learned with others, so the field of Library Science was very appealing to me. I wanted to work in the museum space. I was lucky enough to intern in The Watson Library at The Metropolitan Museum of Art and then at Bryn Mawr College Special Collections. When I began my graduate program in Library Science, I came across the job listing for WCS. I knew that zoos and aquariums went together with museums under the umbrella of cultural institutions but had never considered working at one. The idea of working at the Bronx Zoo, a landmark I had grown up visiting regularly, was exciting. I’ve been working at WCS since 2019.
JLM: You are co-leaders of QUEER, the first employee resource group for LGBTQ+ at WCS in its 127-year history. What does that mean to you personally?
JS: Being the co-lead of WCS’s QUEER employee resource group has been one of the greatest honors in my career. For years, I have felt passionately that there is a great deal of intersectionality between queer issues and wildlife conservation. Cassie and I stepped into these roles during a time of great uncertainty for the LGBTQ+ community and our rights. One of the most common arguments against the queer community is that we are somehow “unnatural”, however, we have seen within the animal kingdom a full spectrum of sexual orientations and some species gender identities. We, in the conservation community, specialize in the knowledge and care of many species, and have information that could reduce opportunities for oppression of the queer community. And on a personal note, as a gay man growing up in the zoological profession, I wished that I had a group like QUEER to give me a sense of community and inclusion. Being at the intersection of queer issues, wildlife conservation, and an historic institution like WCS is tremendously exciting and the possibilities are truly limitless.
CP: Being the first co-lead of QUEER along with John is an incredible honor. I feel lucky to have the trust of my coworkers to make a difference at WCS, and I do not take that trust lightly. I started at WCS just a few months before the pandemic began, so I had not met many people in the organization. Joining QUEER and being co-lead has allowed me to meet so many more people who have a real stake both in the work we do at WCS but also in the work of making our organization a more equitable and enjoyable place to work. Knowing that I can and must support our ERG members is a fulfilling reminder that people at any level of the organization can make real change here.
JLM: What are some of your achievements? Challenges?
JS: Currently as an ERG, we are working on an employee resource document for queer WCS employees to utilize when they travel to other countries. This document would provide useful information relating to the LGBTQ+ community regarding laws, rules, and customs of the countries where WCS has programs. Additionally, we are planning some pride events where queer families are invited to attend the WCS parks for a day of pride-related activities. While there are a great deal of challenges outside the WCS gates for queer people, we have found that WCS staff have been helpful and excited at seeing where our ERG will go.
CP: We have been very lucky to have such supportive coworkers as we work on our many goals for the QUEER ERG. Something we are excited about is that all five WCS parks will be flying the Progress Pride flag for the first time this Pride Month. It is important to us to highlight the most vulnerable in the queer community, trans folks and people of color, as being integral to our community and to Pride Month celebrations.
JLM: What are the mission and goals of QUEER for the organization? What do you hope to achieve in the first year?
JS: The mission of QUEER is to foster an inclusive space for all WCS employees who are a part of the LGBTQ+ community, as well as allies. We strive to increase inclusion on all levels of WCS, foster connections between queer WCS employees, and address the social and cultural issues that our community faces both inside and outside the organization. We hope to increase the number of members in QUEER, as well as create a space that is as inclusive as possible for all queer WCS employees. I would love to see our organization push for greater queer conversations on all levels and departments of WCS, with greater inclusion in our organization as a whole.
CP: John did a great job highlighting our mission and values. I can say more specifically that we are working to plan a more comprehensive event for Pride Month next year. We are thrilled. You’ll have to wait until next year, though, for the details.
JLM: Any anecdotes, funny moments at your jobs?
JS: My favorite moments at my job are with our animals and spending time with my teammates. Clyde, our male California sea lion, always brightens up my day, and seeing the reaction of our guests when he hauls his large body out of the water never ceases to make me smile. Our team at the Aquarium has some of the most talented, amazing individuals I have ever worked with.
CP: I love that I get to learn more about WCS’s history every day. I have been helping on a project to organize our collection of photographic negatives and getting to see evidence of all the work that WCS has done really is incredible. One of my favorite moments was when I found a negative from the 1970s simply titled something along the lines of “Bob Smith and John Doe.” I was expecting this to be a picture of two staff members but when I looked at the negative, it was actually a picture of two rhinos! Only at a zoo would it be possible to forget to mention this crucial detail.
JLM: What does Pride Month mean to you?
JS: Pride Month is my favorite month of the entire year. It is the month in which we celebrate being the proud queer people that we are and serves to highlight the struggles and triumphs our community has faced over the centuries. While we love having a month dedicated to the queer community, we need to continue the celebration for all months of the year to ensure that queer people always have a seat at the table.
CP: To me, Pride Month is a time to remember my queer history and celebrate the incredible people who have dedicated their lives to protecting, strengthening, and advocating for us all. We must remember that the first Pride was a riot and that we continue to fight for our presence and visibility every day. Pride Month is a fantastic time to discuss the queer community and what we fight for—but we still exist the other 11 months of the year and deserve to be seen every day for who we are.
JLM: What advice would you give the next generation that wants a career in conservation?
JS: Growing up in the field, I always wanted to be like the many mentors I had over the years – a strong trainer like Lindsey, or a great zookeeper like Cindy, or a phenomenal educator like Chris. Now, as someone established in the field, I can say that what makes me different is where my power lies. Instead of trying to be like other individuals in the profession, the next generation of conservationists should strive to be authentically themselves. Diversity in perspectives, thoughts, and identities is what makes our field stronger and what will save species in the long run.
CP: Sometimes working in conservation doesn’t always look the way you initially expect. Most people are surprised to find out that WCS has a library in the first place—but it makes perfect sense. The whole organization needs the support of a strong research library to continue the vital scientific work of caring for animals, ensuring species growth and longevity, and sharing their work with the public. I may work in the background, in the Library every day, but the work I do makes conservation science happen.
EDITOR’S NOTE: To celebrate Pride Month, Wild View is featuring posts by LGBTQ+ individuals or about the LGBTQ+ community and their contributions to science and conservation.