Last edited: July 31, 2004


Semper Floreat, 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 until 1990.

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Unlike all other states, where sodomy laws have been repealed entirely, the Queensland laws have been reformed only partly.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 moonlight state.

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 uncomfortable?

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 homosexuality”.

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 repealed?

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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