AGE OF CONSENT

More and more scientific research points to a biological pre-disposition to homosexuality and, in any case, many scientists are agreed that sexual orientation is formed by the age of five years. How, then, can homosexuality be a moral issue? The sexual behaviour of homosexuals, like heterosexuals, is a different matter; this is, and should be, a question of moral debate.

Homosexuality, like heterosexuality, is part of the essence of a person, like being male or female, black or white. It is a major part of one's identity. Is it acceptable, in this day and age, that institutions including the legal system should oppress women or black people? Whilst institutions, clearly, are still sexist and racist at least there has been some progress, even anti-discrimination laws in the case of women and some minority ethnic people (this is not to deny that laws are still oppressive to these and other groups). There are no laws, however, which make a major part of one's identity illegal apart from, that is, the age of consent for male homosexuals and, by association, female homosexuals.

It is ridiculous to even think of MPs taking a vote to decide whether heterosexuals should be allowed to be heterosexual. Heterosexuals simply are, as homosexuals are, and no amount of legislation or discrimination or aversion therapy can change this. Neither can one become homosexual or heterosexual just through sexual acts. It is possible to suppress one's sexuality but this leads to disastrous psychological problems. It is natural for heterosexuals to be sexually active as it is natural for homosexuals. On the basic level of equality, why should it be legal for heterosexuals (and lesbians although lesbians are not mentioned in law) to be sexually active at 16 years but not male homosexuals?

We should be questioning the sexual morals of everyone - heterosexuals and homosexuals. Sexual abuse, rape, promiscuity, and sado-masochistic sex are carried out by both heterosexuals and homosexuals, but mostly by men. These are the areas of sexual morality we should be discussing. Some of the answers will be found by questioning sex role conditioning - how men are brought up to be aggressive, violent and sexually assertive while women are brought up to be non-aggressive, non-violent and sexually passive; the role of pornography; media emphasis on sex and violence; enforced heterosexuality; and the role of the family in all this, alongside the lack of adequate sex education, relationship and communication skills.

Young men do get raped. Brushing it under the carpet and hoping it will go away does nothing but make the problem worse. Ignorance, lack of information and support, kills. Young men, like young women who are raped/sexually abused, need it to be acknowledged, they need support to help them come to terms with it and to take the assailant to court. If it is believed that the age of consent for male homosexuals reduces the likelihood of sexual abuse against young men, why is the age of consent for heterosexuals not also 21 years, to reduce the higher levels of sexual abuse against young women?

Rather than stopping the sexual abuse of young men, the age of consent and Section 28 of the Local Government Act mean that it is more likely to happen. These laws mean that local authorities do not provide equal, and urgently needed, professional adult and peer support for lesbian and gay youth. This leaves lesbian and gay youth vulnerable either through isolation or abrupt entry to an adult gay scene. Margaret Schnieder, a Canadian researcher, expands: "As adolescents in an adult environment, these young lesbians [and gay men] are out of place. Their abrupt introduction to an alcohol-focussed and sexually loaded environment bypasses the gradual and safe ways in which most heterosexual youngsters learn to deal with alcohol and sexual intimacy..."

If homosexuality is natural, where do we get our beliefs from that it is 'unnatural,' an 'unfortunate aberration,' or 'immoral?' We are all brought up to be homophobic. Homophobia is the recognised or unrecognised fear or hatred of homosexuals or homosexuality that is present in both heterosexuals and homosexuals. We are taught this by institutions such as the law, religions, the media, education, and the family.

Take religion as an example. It seems that those who do most of the shouting against homosexuality in this country call themselves Christians and use their religion to support their beliefs. If we examine the bible there are only six passages that seem to refer to homosexuality, most of which can be interpreted in different ways. The story of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis is most often used to condemn homosexuality. Not only are there different interpretations of the text but the same story approves of Lot offering his virgin daughters to satisfy the sexual desires of the angry mob, incest is also condoned as an acceptable way of getting women pregnant when there are no other men around! Leviticus says "You shall not lie with a man as you would a woman; it is an abomination." There is no mention of lesbians. Does that mean that lesbianism is acceptable? There are many other 'rules' in Leviticus which are unacceptable today. For example, all divorced people who re-marry should be killed. Leviticus also forbade haircuts, shaving, and eating shellfish. Why, then, are the people who are condemning homosexuality today not also calling for the enforcement of these other rules? If Christianity is so against homosexuality why is it not one of the ten commandments or, for that matter, one of the seven deadly sins?

Of course, some of those who shout the loudest against homosexuality are themselves homosexual suffering from severe homophobia.

There are calls for a return to 'family values.' What are family values? Do they include sexual, physical, and mental abuse? Those who 'oppose' homosexuality somehow believe that a return to family values will eliminate it. Family values have always - and still do - include rejection of lesbian and gay offspring, so what's new? Instead of supporting their children with love and understanding, at a time when they are most in need of it, parents often disown them. This does not, however, stop their children being gay. On the contrary, it is more likely to lead to homelessness, prostitution, depression, alcohol and drug misuse and suicide attempts. Research has shown that lesbian and gay youth are disproportionately found in all of these categories. Neither can lesbian and gay youth find help among the 'caring' professions whose answer, more often than not, is "Come back when you are 21, you are too young to make your mind up." IT IS NOT A QUESTION OF CHOICE! Many lesbian and gay youth are aware of their sexual orientation at around eleven years (some earlier, some later) and by the time they reach 21 years - without appropriate support - they have already become depressed, developed alcohol and drug problems as ways of coping, and attempted suicide. It is possible that up to 30% of completed youth suicides every year are by lesbian and gay youth.

What lesbian and gay youth need is support and accurate information. At the moment, many young gay men acquire their knowledge about homosexuality from sexual contact with older gay men. Young lesbians, on the other hand, mainly acquire their knowledge through the media. Because of negative information, lesbian and gay youth develop a stereotypical view of homosexuality which leads to low self esteem; this is made worse by alcohol and drug misuse. Many young gay men develop promiscuous, unsafe, sexual behaviours which make them high risk for HIV/AIDS/STD infections whilst many young lesbians remain isolated, unable to meet other lesbians, some getting pregnant in attempts to either become heterosexual or to hide their true sexual identity; many get married and have children in the hope of suppressing their lesbianism. Of course, some gay men also follow this course but the isolation facing lesbians makes it more likely to happen to them. Unfortunately, this way of 'dealing' with emerging homosexuality usually leads to years of depression and often painful divorces.

With sufficient and accurate information about homosexuality in sex education and other curricula; with access to peer support and training to develop self esteem, positive coping skills and relationship skills; with a re-education and training programme that enables professionals - and parents - to support rather than reject lesbian and gay youth, with the media and religious leaders taking a major role in challenging homophobia in society; with the equal age of consent and the abolition of Section 28 of the Local Government Act and other anti-homosexual legislation, to be replaced with an anti-discrimination law, we could stop this painful process of destruction. Within a matter of years we could significantly reduce the risk of HIV/AIDS, suicide and suicide attempts, depression and anxiety, alcohol and drug misuse, homelessness and truancy, unwanted pregnancies and divorces, broken families and lives and, at the same time, save the nation millions of pounds.

The government have already begun to acknowledge the needs of lesbian and gay youth in the Children Act and Health of the Nation. This process could continue in 1994 with the equalisation of the age of consent and the abolition of Section 28 of the Local Government Act because it is these two laws in particular which are stopping professional support for lesbian and gay youth.

© Jan Bridget, 10/1/94.