I Know What I Am: Gay Teenagers and the Law

by the Joint Council for Gay Teenagers, United Kingdom

The Joint Council for Gay Teenagers (JCGT), set up in late 1978, comprises many of the principal organizations in the United Kingdom that provide support to young gay people.  Our constituent organizations have a great deal of firsthand experience and knowledge of gay teenagers' needs. We are aware not only of the difficulties they often face but also that a new generation of gay people is growing up unwilling to suffer as previous generations have been expected to. Indeed the separation between "them" and "us" is false, as many gay men under the present minimum age and many young lesbians help run the support services for gay people. . . . The JCGT has collected statements from 98 gay teenagers in England, Wales, and Scotland.   Extracts from these have been used as illustrations throughout this response. . . .

Jeff, 19, Speke: After I met Mike I started to spend a lot of time with him, staying at his house overnight sometimes. . . . When I was 15 I went to court and they made a care order [commitment to an institution]. They did it partly because of Mike. I hated it in care and I used to run away to stay with Mike. I was 16 at the time and I had to go to court. It was a bad time. We had a good lawyer and Mike got off with probation. . . . I think all we have been through has brought us together more.

Glyn, 19, Manchester: My man was caught cottaging [cruising] and arrested. The next day four policemen came to school to collect me and take me to the police station. There I was given a rigorous medical and interrogated intensely. My life was wrecked. . . . I didn't go to school for three months. I was recovering from a nervous breakdown. . . . The case spanned nearly a year and eventually he was sentenced to eighteen months in prison.

Trevor, 17, Northampton: When I rang (the number of a local gay group) he said that I was too young for him to help me. . . . If I don't meet someone soon, I swear, I'll do something I'll regret. I wish people could understand how lonely it can be.

It would be wholly unsatisfactory if the law, even with a minimum age of 16, still made it risky for support and counseling services, gay and non-gay, to offer help and advice to self-defined gay people younger than 16. The only humane and logical step would be to abolish the concept of a minimum age altogether for homosexuals of both sexes and to rely instead on the laws dealing with common assault where there is evidence that a sexual act was not consensual [emphasis added]. The Joint Council is not alone in this view which has already been put forward in general terms by the Sexual Law Reform Society and the National Council for Civil Liberties. But both of these organizations, while accepting the logic of this view, drew back from incorporating it in their specific proposals. More recently a Joint Working Party on Pregnant Schoolgirls and Schoolgirl Mothers has recommended the repeal of the law relating to the heterosexual age of consent.

The same Working Party makes other recommendations about prosecution policy which we endorse. Some of the arguments it puts forward concerning the negative effect which the age of consent has on the welfare of consenting young heterosexual people have parallels in the case of young gay people; for example, a legal minimum age deters them from seeking advice on relationships or on avoiding exploitive or unwanted relationships. This kind of advice is probably more important for people under 18.

If a minimum age of 16 were adopted we strongly recommend that prosecution policy strictly limit its use to cases where consent was absent or where the younger partner was less than 14 years old. Even in the latter cases which were found to be consensual, penalties should be limited to fines and community service orders. The only civilized answer to the question put to the Policy Advisory Committee would be to remove consensual sexual acts altogether from the realm of the criminal law [emphasis added]. Only then can hundreds of thousands of young gay people freely seek and receive the best help and advice, make relationships of their choosing without constant fear of sanction, and use their energies and skills fully to make the world a better, kinder place. Only then, too, can the heterosexual majority obtain the help and education it needs to live in harmony with gay women and men at home, at school and at work.


Copyright © NAMBLA, 2003. All rights reserved.