Remember when the gay rights movement wasn’t afraid to talk about sex?
But now, sometimes you’d think many of our high-profile queer public figures have forgotten that what makes gay, lesbian and bisexual people different from the mainstream is who we choose to fuck and build a life with. And notice how quickly some of us dismiss queer teens as they struggle to define their sexuality and find their place in the world.
Vic Toews’ seat as Canada’s new justice minister is barely warm, and he’s already thrown a bone to the religious right. In fact, groups like the Campaign Life Coalition can barely contain their glee at the number of PM Stephen Harper’s cabinet appointments who agree with their views on issues like gay marriage and abortion.
While Harper waits around for the perfect moment to drop the marriage bomb, Toews is moving forward on a dangerous initiative that all three opposition parties seem reticent to move against.
It’s this little matter of the legal age of consent for sexual activity — which was set at 14 in 1892. Yes, 1892. Toews appears to have tacit support from the Liberals, the Bloc and, yes, the NDP to move forward on legislation to raise the age of consent to 16.
Now, before I get into the reasons why criminalizing teen sex is a terrible idea, I should explain that the only sex act excluded from the general age of consent is anal sex — unless it is performed by married (straight, I assume) people in the privacy of their homes. It’s the only sex act in Canada with its own special age of consent — 18. So theoretically, teens under the age of 18 can be thrown in jail if their parents walk in on them while they’re “in the act.”
Toews’ proposal has made no mention of lowering the required age from 18 to 16 for anal sex (wouldn’t you just love to hear him utter those words?), but that’s not the point. This legislation would do nothing to “protect young people from adult sexual predators,” as he’s promised. Canada already has sufficient legislation in place to punish abusers. This initiative would represent nothing more than a moral victory on behalf of the anti-sex religious nuts, and have the following negative consequences on young people — particularly queer teens:
1. It would prevent health workers from doing effective HIV/AIDS prevention. Youth workers have a difficult enough time convincing teens to use condoms. But if the age of consent is raised to 16, they will have difficulty counselling teens, particularly if their advice meant that they were somehow encouraging youth to engage in illegal activity. This law would open the door to more “abstinence-only” sex education programs even though they don’t work — just watch.
2. It would leave queer youth vulnerable to homophobic parents. It already sucks to be a gay teen. It would suck worse if homophobic parents dragged their kids to the cops after walking in on them.
3. It would prevent gay youth from dating outside their peer group. The reality is that gay teens don’t often meet each other in high school. They go to drop-in centres and gay villages. They sneak into gay bars. They find any way to be themselves, without getting the shit beaten out of them by the football bullies (especially if they are the football bullies).
They often date people that are a few years out of their peer group. That means that sometimes a 15-year-old might date a 19-year-old. It happens because kids come out at different stages in their adolescence. While Toews promises a “close-in-age exemption,” this wouldn’t address the reality of gay youth. Some poor 18-year-old could get labelled as a sexual predator for dating another teen. It sets a very dangerous precedent for the regulation of sexual activity in Canada.
4. It would criminalize teen sex. Even if none of the factors listed above were a concern to our communities, the mere fact that this legislation seeks to punish teens for having sex is abhorrent. The fact that the Christian right wants to have society follow community standards that are pre-1892 demonstrates that their notions of morality are absolutely prehistoric.
And the scary thing is that all of the other political parties seem willing to go along with Toews’ proposal, as they all fight to appear both “progressive” and “mainstream.”
Meanwhile, Canada’s youth will bear the brunt of our politicians’ moral posturing. Come on, let’s stop downplaying the role sex has in our lives. It’s up to us to end the criminalizing of gay sex — including the explorations by our teens as they discover themselves and their desires.