Age Of Consent & Legal Sexual Activity for the State of Queensland, Australia - A campaign to remove our Sodomy Law (which was enacted in 1990).

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19th February 2000  Feature article in the Courier Mail (19th February 2000, page 27) “Reasonable Age” written by Deborah Cassrels. Deborah presents arguments which overwhelmingly favour equal treatment and protection of youth through a truly equal age of consent, by interviewing eminent gay community activists Dr Wendell Rosevear of Stonewall Medical Centre, Janet Fitzgerald of the Gay and Lesbian Welfare Association and Lindon Oldfield of the Gay and Lesbian Business Association. She also quotes clear support for reform from Terry O’Gorman, vice-president of the Queensland Council for Civil Liberties (and president of the Australian Council for Civil Liberties).

NB: the big error in the article headline “Reasonable Age - An open invitation to paedophiles, or an end to sexual discrimination? Lowering the age of consent for boys is an issue which inspires strong debate.” is that in Queensland the age of consent for sexual activity is the same for males as it is for females – at 16. However a separate Section (S. 208) of the Criminal Code prohibits anal intercourse if it involves “any person” not yet 18. While the November 1990 law amendment is worded as applying to both males and females, the clear intent was to actively discriminate against same sex attracted male youth by criminalising their presumed sexual activity. The term “homosexual sex” is still often erroneously used as a synonym for “anal intercourse”.

Deborah also makes a serious error in stating that according to Australian law, homosexual sex between consenting males must involve people over 18. Sex with a 17-year-old female is legal sex in most states. But sex with a 17-year-old male is paedophilia.” This was life-threateningly dangerous and wrong information to distribute unchallenged to the general public. Since 2003 Queensland has been the only place in Australia where a kind of consenting male to male sex with a 17 year old has been illegal.  In 2000 all male to male sex with a 17 year old was certainly illegal in West Australia, New South Wales and the Northern Territory, but in Queensland just the very specific act of anal intercourse was (and is) illegal. However doing legally proscribed male to male sex with a 17 year old does not make anyone a “paedophile”. The Courier Mail’s Features Editor Ian McGoldrick flatly refused to print either a retraction or correction.




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Reasonable Age

An open invitation to paedophiles, or an end to sexual discrimination? Lowering the age of consent for boys is an issue which inspires strong debate, writes Deborah Cassrels


The cult 1991 Gus Van Sant film about gay street boys, My Own Private Idaho, launched into the stratosphere the careers of River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves.

The Phoenix character, a narcoleptic from an underprivileged background, and Reeves’s character, born to a powerful family, live on the streets and have sex for money. But with the cunning of alley cats, good looks and youth they are anything but victims of the men who pay for their bodies.

No thoughts of suicide for them. Not like the escape route taken by NSW judge David Yeldham, who killed himself in Sydney in 1996 in the wake of allegations of “inappropriate behaviour” - with teenage boys in public toilets at railway stations. Yeldham was certainly not the first married man with children to have faced allegations of paedophilia. In some cases - such as that of gay lawyer John Marsden being heard in court in Sydney - the allegations even concern street prostitutes.

Clearly such cases - involving sexually mature teenagers - are not what the public normally thinks of as child molesting. They involve post-pubescent males and no element of force. But they are treated in the courts as paedophilia because, according to Australian law, homosexual sex between consenting males must involve people over 18.

Sex with a 17-year-old female is legal sex in most states. But sex with a 17-year-old male is paedophilia.

Not so in Britain, which last week legalised gay sex for boys aged 16. This ground-breaking decision was the Blair Government’s third attempt since it came to power to lower the age of homosexual consent from 18.


Gay law reform advocates, while often quiet about the predicament of non-openly gay men in relationships with boys under 18, certainly point to the discrimination felt by young homosexuals beginning to experiment with the gay life. They are at the forefront of the campaign to ensure that 16-year-old boys have the same freedoms under the law as 16-year-old girls.

Lindon Oldfield, president of the Gay and Lesbian Business Network, thinks the law should not discriminate. “However, particularly in Queensland...I can see some parts of the community having a problem because they misunderstand homosexuality and feel that men in general - and gay men particularly - want to recruit young men to their lifestyle ... which is a nonsense.”

He says applying a different age of consent for males is bigotry.


Terry O’Gorman, vice-president of the Queensland Council for Civil Liberties, supports the UK move: Australia would do well to recognise the reality that just as heterosexual people are having sex under the age of 16 or certainly by 16, it makes common sense to recognise the reality that homosexual sex is also occurring at the age of 16,” he says

O’Gorman says that 16-year-olds are worldly and sexually wise: “Sixteen year-olds are not children, they’re not children in lifestyle, they’re not children sexually, they’re not children in any sense of the word.”

Co-convener of the Gay and Lesbian Welfare Association, Janet Fitzgerald, believes abuse will occur whatever the age of consent. But she says it’s important to be equitable.

“The difference in age gives some sense of inherent danger in same-sex relationships that supposedly doesn’t exist in an opposite sex relationship - I think that’s incorrect,” she says.

She believes the focus on age is unrealistic. “I know very canny 14-year-olds who could probably hold their own in relationships, others who are naive who could be victimised.”

So where do we draw the line?

Fitzgerald believes that rigid laws leave no room for humanity, especially in the sex industry. Youngsters may have been kicked out of home over sexuality issues. They learn survival techniques way beyond their years.

“You could get a young male underage working the streets but if he’s having sex with a guy who doesn’t identify as gay… someone with a baby seat in the back of the car, that could give the younger person huge power. The potential for blackmail is there but conversely someone who’s older can shift the power dynamics. It’s an issue people prefer not to have to deal with - something for the too-hard basket.”


But Jeffrey McLaren, president of the management committee of Self Health for Queensland Workers in the Sex Industry says the Government should ensure people in the sex industry do not work under the age of 18.

Although lowering the age of consent would bring the law into line with modern times “in the sex industry there are people who are 16, some who are under 16, but I don’t think they have the - maturity… it’s totally inappropriate. You’re having sex because you’re being paid and you’re open to exploitation.”

McLaren said some street boys were as a young as I3. “We had extensive talks with (Minister for Families, Youth and Community Care) Anna Bligh and (Health Minister) Wendy Edmond about trying to put together exit programmes to try to get those sort of people off the streets and the Government was quite enthusiastic but it’s gone very quiet in the past few months. There’s just no funding for it.”

Sex education in schools focuses on biological facts but seems to miss the mark on emotional concerns. Which leaves government open to scrutiny. Does it turn a blind eye to indiscretions by our youth, or criminalise their actions after they experiment with the very lessons they have been taught in school? Is government doing more harm than good?

Lindon Oldfield says that an Out With Homophobia project is being implemented in schools in conjunction with the Family Planning Council of Queensland. “Education is an area where we have to make huge advances,” he says.


President of the Australian Family Association, David Grace, opposes any move to lower the age of sexual consent for males. “I don’t believe present day circumstances are such that there is a need for a change of that law. I think if anything there is a greater need for protection of such young people,” he says.

Grace says in our society, where sexual abuse and toilet cruising are facts of life, “there is a need to say these things are unacceptable. That’s the message of the criminal law. Should it be changed? No. There must be limits.”

Within the harsh reality of desperate lives - where men move in the shadows of self-denial, and boys live lives of crime — who is exploiting whom?

Powerful men exploiting young boys, or young boys exploiting old men? Is a teenager violated if he flaunts his sexuality? How fine is the line between teenager and adult at 17?


Wendell Rosevear, a Brisbane doctor who provides gay medical services, counselling in prisons, drug counselling, and has dealt with hundreds of sexual abuse cases, believes Judge Yeldham’s self-denial was crushing. “He couldn’t accept himself because he was a victim of a society which said if you were honest we’d reject you.”

If he was not a paedophile (and we do not know), would it have made a difference? Perhaps, because according to Janet Fitzgerald, most paedophiles do not identify as gay: “We’re looking at a group of people who prey on certain people who are vulnerable where there’s a huge age difference, no matter what the age of consent.”

Rosevear knows of 12-year-old boys on the streets. “They may not be aware of the consequences but they’re aware that it’ll get them what they want, it (prostitution) becomes a survival dynamic — opportunistic sex or keeping-a-roof- over-their-head sex.” A lowering of the age of consent would help gay males, says Rosevear. “But as a whole society we tend to want to believe that external control will address these people’s needs so thinking that a law can fix it is really naive.”

He says teenagers’ engagement in illegal sex is often precipitated by homophobic comments from family or schoolyard taunts. He tells of a 14-year old boy who had sex in a public toilet and was banished by his family. His downhill slide ended in prostitution and a fatal drug overdose.

Discrimination against boys is not confined to homosexual relationships. Rosevear cites one Brisbane example of legal double standards. A 17-year-old boy impregnated his 14-year-old girlfriend. He supported her throughout the pregnancy and after delivery. The boy was charged with carnal knowledge. The girl was not.

In My Own Private Idaho, Keanu Reeves’s street boy goes back to his pinstriped suit to follow in his father’s footsteps. As Rosevear says, many teenagers experimenting with sex end up not being gay. Even if they do choose that lifestyle, surely they need education and support rather than discrimination.