Hi my name is Paul Martin. I'm the General Manager of the Queensland Association for Healthy Communities (or QAHC) and we're an organisation that promotes the health of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in
Can you tell me how Queensland Association for Healthy Communities might view the current situation with Queensland Criminal Law where there is an unequal age of consent? How do you think that affects the community in general?
Well here at QAHC we can see no rational reason for an unequal age of consent. It doesn't make sense that at sixteen a heterosexual couple can have a child - bring a life into the world - but that same couple can't have anal sex, nor can a same sex couple have anal sex. There's just no rational reason why that's the case. How can having anal sex need more protection than bringing life into the world?
There's no rational reason for it - and it's worse than there being no rational reason, it actually does harm in two ways, from our experience. The first is that it causes confusion amongst particularly gay men themselves - and among lesbian and gay young people more broadly. So many lesbian and gay young people and young gay men think that it is illegal to have sex, of any type, until the age of 18. So that makes them reluctant to come out to nurses, youth health workers or organisations like ours and disclose that they have had sex and seek out safe sex education and information. If young people are concerned that they're going to criminalised or dobbed in or shown to break the law, they're less likely to come forward to get safe sex information, resources and support.
So firstly it causes confusion among gay men themselves.
Secondly, it causes the same kind of confusion for
professionals who work with young people. They're not quite sure what the legal
situation is - they get confused and think that all male to male sex is illegal
until the age of eighteen, and some even believe that it's illegal at any age.
And so they're not sure what type of information they're able to provide young
people and they start questioning "Oh is this a
child protection issue?" and "Can I
start talking to this young person about sexual health?" What tends to happen is that they either say nothing at all or they just refer then on to somebody else - and it might be that that health professional is the only person that the young person feels comfortable approaching. They might have built up a rapport with the youth worker or professional. They maybe worked up to the point of asking that question after weeks or months and the
health professional says "I'm sorry I'm not allowed to talk to you about that" or "That's not something we can talk about". So immediately it gives the young person the impression that "You're doing something wrong" or that "You're wrong". It gives them no safe sex information, no sexual health information, no mental health support and the young person is just left alone - and still has their questions unanswered.
One of the pieces of advice that was given to the 1990 Parliamentary Criminal Justice Committee that was looking at decriminalising homosexual activity was that young people will tend to have sex regardless of the law. Do you find in your dealings with youth that this seems to be true?
I would think it's fair to say that young people - heterosexual and gay and lesbian - don't take a huge amount of notice of what the law says about what's the right age to have sex. It's more the services they need to access if they are having sex. So whether that's going along to a General Practitioner or sexual health clinic to get an SDI check up; whether it's purchasing condoms from a supermarket; whether it's going along to a sexual health and
HIV service and asking for information. They might be having sex and doing that quite happily, but with some questions - but be reluctant to disclose the fact that they're having sex to somebody in authority because of the fear that that person in authority will go "Nup, that's illegal - I'm going to dob you in" (or tell the police or child protection or whatever).
Do you have an opinion at all about the fact that in
I think it's fair to say that there are still some areas of the law that
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