Wendell, Iím just hoping that youíll be able to give us your informed opinion regarding the need for an equal age of consent in Queensland. Because for the last 20 years, since sex between adult men was decriminalized, weíve had a 2 year higher minimum age at 18 for anal intercourse. Can you see that this presents a problem for young people and do you reckon that the age of consent should be equal at 16?
I think we need to make the age of consent equal because the truth is we need to make all people feel equally valuable. If you want safety in society you need to have equal value of every person whether itís a male or a female, straight or gay. Otherwise people feel less valuable, or different, or stigma. And thatís really important, because the truth is that most teenagers will start exploring sex before the age of 16 and currently even all the law says that all sex under 16 is illegal Ė and we havenít actually reviewed that law because that makes the majority of the population actually criminals, and you canít have a law that says the majority of the population is criminal.
The other thing is that in terms of preventing youth suicide, in terms of creating safe sex information so that people can value themselves and protect themselves from sexual transmitted diseases like HIV and Syphilis and Gonorrhea and Chlamydia Ė not just HIV. We need to be able to educate people so that they can value themselves and use information to protect themselves.
Iím really keen that we donít stigmatise people, otherwise we get bullying, or we get violence, or we even get homophobic murder Ė and I know of at least 7 cases of homophobic murder in Queensland. So we need to attack homophobia, and one of the ways we do that is to say that everybody is valuable. If we have a law that says ďyou are not equally valuableĒ, then that law is toxic. We canít afford those beliefs because otherwise we get what I call ďpreventable violenceĒ in our society.
We also need to prevent youth suicide, and if you think that what youíre doing makes you an evil person or a bad person, or a person who has to do what you do separately, rather than honestly, then we get the link between sex and guilt. And thatís a very toxic formula. If you attach sex to guilt, that means you feel bad about yourself, so you canít talk about what youíre doing, you hide what youíre doing; you canít actually experiment and talk. You have to experiment and probably learn by getting your fingers burnt from the experiment. Itís much better to experiment and talk, so you can experiment and learn.† It all makes society safer Ė both in terms of disease prevention, suicide prevention, and healthier honest relationships.
As a GP, do you occasionally counsel young men or women Ė but especially young men, in regard to the higher age for anal intercourse, who can see that the law affects them or is it that young people tend to have sex regardless of the law?
Well, of course people have sex separate to the law, and then itís only up to whether they get caught, or whether someone will dob them in to the police. And even if people who are having sex with their peers Ė both of them under the age of 16 Ė itís really up to the police as to whether itís seen as a criminal issue, or whether itís seen as an issue which is best talked through with mum and dad.
And so if itís an issue between a person under 16 and over 16 Ė like a 17 or 18 year old Ė I do give them the information about the law, so that they donít find themselves getting into legal problems, but that doesnít mean that they donít love each other. So they need to be aware of what they can do, and what they canít do, without breaking the law. But it doesnít mean that they donít necessarily do things that arenít outside the law, and so if we make them feel guilty or secretive, itís not helping.
Thereís a lovely young man, 10 years ago, that I interviewed up in Toowoomba, who told me that his life was saved because he was able to speak with his family GP, at 16, about the fact that he was gay. He said that he saw at high school how an effeminate boy of the same age had his life made absolute hell, and here was Don, a straight acting 16 year old at the same school, who was passing and avoiding this, and he internalized the fear of being attacked to the point where he was having a nervous breakdown Ė and turning from an A Grade student, Aís in everything, to failing. Itís just lovely that he could say that being able to talk honestly with his GP saved his life. So Iím hoping that there are more GPs in Australia that are just like you.
Yes, and already weíve seen in the Northern Territory that the Government made a rule that if doctors are aware of people under the age of 16 are having sex, itís a legal matter that they have to report. Thatís really breaching the safety of the doctor-patient relationship, which is really a disease prevention strategy and a life saving strategy. Otherwise people canít talk anywhere and are vulnerable to feeling depressed or suicidal. We need to have a society that (1) values all people and values honesty and looks at the reality of what people do and has laws that reflect that rather than have laws that say ďweíll use it to discriminate against some people, weíll make some people feel less valuable or have to do secretive things.Ē†††††
My suggestion is that if parents were to have an opinion on ďshould there be an equal age of consent?Ē,† what they should be looking at is: ďWell, if Iíve got children, I really donít know whether theyíre going to be gay or not, and I would like the law to be able to protect my children with equity. So that whatever their sexual orientation is, whatever their gender, theyíll have a good chance of having a long, happy, healthy, loving life.Ē And that begins with the law.
It does. The law canít make people love each other Ė but the law needs to reflect the value of all people so that it can really reflect safety in our society.