September 24, 2003
Queer Edition 2003
The University of Queensland Student Union newspaper
By Rodney Polkinghorne
Justin was 18 when he met Dian at a fair and wanted to
see more of her. He worked at McDonalds, she was in the second year of a
science degree at UO. One night after coffee, and a drive in search of
condoms, they ended up in her bedroom. This time they tried something
different: anal sex.
So what, you wonder? In Queensland, Justin could spend 14
years in jail for sodomy. Maybe you could too.
Sodomy laws were a product of medieval Europe. Some
countries got rid of them centuries ago, but Australia and its allies enforced
them until very recently in ways that we are now embarrassed to admit. After
the Second World War, gay men who had survived the holocaust were imprisoned
by our occupying forces. Queenslanders were routinely jailed for being gay
The tide started to turn in 1948, when Kinsey reported
that there were about as many queer Americans as left handed ones. A decade
later in England, the Wolfenden report concluded that regardless of anyone’s
personal morals, the law had no legitimate concern with consensual sex. Hardly
anyone disputes this now. Don Dunstan brought gay law reform to Australia in
1972. Only Tasmania was left when Queensland caught up in 1990, and they held
out until 1997.
Unlike all other states, where sodomy laws have been
repealed entirely, the Queensland laws have been reformed only partly. Anal
sex is still banned for people under 18; other sexual activity is legal from
16. The Northern territory has a law against sex between men under 18, but the
government is keen to repeal it. Ours refuses to discuss it.
You might find it strange to read about other people’s
sexual activity. I certainly find it strange to write about It. It’s none of
our business, however the government thinks it’s theirs. Not just Semper,
but the police and judges are watching you.
Maybe we’ll see a new twist to the “tough on crime”
election slogan: “Peter Beattie: Hard on Sodomy”
Sodomy laws are silly. Given that Queensland’s are not
enforced, and never will be, what’s the urgency to repeal them?
Few who remember being a gay teenager would wish the
experience on others. The sodomy laws deny queer kids the civil rights they
need to stand up for themselves. They threaten exposure and jail at the whim
of the government or headmaster. The victims are too young to vote or stand
for office themselves, and queer members of the Queensland parliament still
aren’t willing to speak up for them. Injustice is alive and biting in the
There are other reasons for urgency. HIV infection rates
appear to be rising again. The government worried that the original sodomy
laws put safe sex trainers in an awkward position. They responded by reforming
them to single out gay school children.
The other concern is suicide. I believe it kills similar
numbers of gay men as does AIDS: the data are in the library for you to make
your own guess if you want. The discussion on AlDS in 1990 shows more concern
for potential straight victims than actual gay ones, and queer kids tend to
kill more of themselves than their straight oppressors.
But if AIDS forced reform of the sodomy laws, youth
suicide should force their repeal. The link between sodomy laws and HIV
infection is indirect. It doesn’t take much imagination to see how a state
law against being gay and a national propensity to send illegal kids to
concentration camps could contribute to suicide.
Lobbying to repeal the Queensland sodomy laws has been
fairly low key so far Gay kids have enough problems when the government
ignores them. Older men have other priorities, and might fear that speaking
out on this issue will stir up prejudices linking them to paedophilia.
You might think that the laws will be repealed as a
matter of course, but the Government has proven reluctant to even discuss
them, much less commit to action. A louder campaign is needed.
That’s up to us. The government will repeal these laws
only if they are forced to, and the only people with enough interest and
organisation to force them are the students of this university. There will be
a meeting during queerfest to decide how.
Email interview with Greg Milne, on behalf of the
Attorney-General of Queensland:
RP: Would the Attorney-General support the enforcement of
sections 208 (Unlawful sodomy) and 209 (Attempted sodomy) of the Criminal Code
Act 1899 if he became aware of a specific breach of them?
GM: enforcement is a matter for police
RP: Does the Attorney-General support the sodomy laws in
principle, or does he believe they should be repealed, just not yet?
GM: the government has no plans to alter the existing law
at this time
RP: If he believes the laws should be repealed later,
what circumstances prevent them from being repealed now, and does he expect
these to change in the next term of parliament?
GM: See above
RP: Otherwise, how does he reconcile the support for
these laws with the findings of the UN Human Rights Commission and the US
Supreme Court that forbidding behaviour natural to a particular sexuality but
not that natural to others, subjects persons of that sexuality to arbitrary
punishment, in violation of their right to due process?
GM: See above
RP: Does he believe the sodomy laws are supported by
young adults, the only people they directly affect?
GM: These laws cover any person of any age having anal
intercourse with a person under the age of 18.
RP: Does he fear that support for the One Nation Party
might increase if the government discussed repealing sodomy laws?
GM: See above
Email interview with John Frame, presenter of Queer
Radio on ZZZ and queer rights activist:
RP: How long have you been lobbying the government to
repeal the under-age sodomy laws, and why did you start?
JF: I felt forced to act in early 2000 when, on the 19th
of February, the Courier Mail printed a big feature article titled
“Reasonable Age”. Above a large image of ancient Greek art depicting
several naked men about to get it on (inferring an orgy), there was the
immediately inflammatory statement: “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 Cassrells”.
Cassrells stated grossly wrong information on age of
consent—claiming that Australian law prohibited all male to male sex
involving anyone aged under 18. She even branded as paedophile any man who had
engaged in sex with a seventeen year old male.
Earlier in her article Cassrells had referred to the
suicide of New South Wales Judge Yeldham over such accusations, so I believed
this to be an incredibly serious matter. The Courier Mail’s editor refused
to print a retraction or correction, and refused to acknowledge there was even
a problem with what they’d printed.
I sought official, written confirmation of how current
Queensland law applies in regard to age of consent and legal sexual activity.
It was not easy to find who could give me an authoritative statement, but
eventually the Attorney General supplied a written clear definition,
confirming that “sodomy” is considered to be penetration of an anus by a
penis (only). In the process of looking for that definition, and in seeking
support from others in the LGBT community, I found that a staggeringly large
proportion—at least 80%—of individuals, government agencies and service
providers had no idea of what the sodomy law meant. Most thought that all sex
between men was illegal under the age of 18 (not just anal intercourse).
I found that the government did not make accurate
information on age of consent and the sodomy law available to anyone—neither
their own agencies nor the general public.
I expected that in order to achieve a resolution it would
just be a matter of writing to the Attorney General and Premier pointing out
that this was a real and identifiable problem, one with serious
consequences—especially for youth, and of asking for either an effective
information campaign or the simple solution of removal of the Sodomy Law.
Again I was wrong – I believe that they have known full well since 1990 that
the Sodomy Law is a problem, but they just refuse to do anything about it.
RP: Can you speculate why the state’s leaders refuse to
discuss these laws? Do they believe the effects aren’t important, are they
afraid of controversy, or does talk of gay teenagers make them genuinely
JF: I’m sure that the reason the Beattie Government is
totally silent on this issue is that there are no votes to be won because of
it. I have written to the Attorney General detailing how the Sodomy Law denies
16 & 17 year old queer men the peer acceptance, sexual health education,
relationships education, and counseling services they deserve—and he has
actually written to me saying he doesn’t believe these constitute a problem.
The Beattie Government are afraid of controversy, but while the mainstream
media refuse to acknowledge this is an issue, and while the vast majority of
the LGBT Community stay silent, there simply is no controversy.
I am certain that the State’s leaders are uncomfortable
with the thought of discussing teenage same-sex sexual activity, and that they
are scared that any statement they make which acts toward acceptance,
education and support of queer youth, might be viewed by some as “promoting
RP: Sodomy laws oppose the goals of the recent
anti-discrimination act. Was this raised with the government while they
planned it, and if so, how did they respond?
JF: The Sodomy Law was proposed and enacted by the Goss
Labor Government in November 1990, even though the Homosexual Law Reform
Report (chaired by Peter Beattie himself) had specifically recommended that
there be no higher age set for any gender or for any sexual activity.
Obviously another calculatedly conservative decision was made when State
Government laws were declared exempt from the field of reference of the 1991
Anti-Discrimination Act. The ADCQ can voice disapproval, but has no power to
act on this matter.
RP: The laws have been discussed very little in the
straight media. Are queers reluctant to raise the issue, or are they speaking
out and being ignored?
JF: I’ve sent detailed media releases to all mainstream
TV and radio on a few occasions since early 2000, but not one source has
picked up the story. Queensland Pride has run a couple of minor articles.
However even the new LGBT lobby group “ARCQ” gives the issue a low
priority and are currently taking no action. I am given a distinct impression
of unwillingness from some LGBT areas to “rock the boat”. Tamara Tonite
has been the exception in being fully supportive – providing regular and
ample space for the issue to be presented in warranted detail.
RP: What do you think it will take for the laws to be
JF: The “unofficial word” is that the law will not
change unless youth themselves demand that it be changed. That’s a very
tough ask from the demographic which is most disempowered by the Sodomy Law.
I’ve also been unofficially told that the Beattie
Government “might” remove the Sodomy Law sometime during their next term
of office, but they have been very careful to make absolutely no promises. I
believe it will take a campaign of prominent street level demonstration by
youth and their supporters—which seems crazy, since even the USA have
dropped all their Sodomy Laws (because they discriminated on the basis of
private, consenting behaviour), and since Queensland is the only Australian
state retaining such a law.
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