There’s a figure who’s all-too-easily called into existence by conservatives in the age of consent debate. We don’t know much about him: only that he’s young, vulnerable, a bit unsure of himself -¦ definitely a virgin -¦ and that he needs protection from predatory homosexuals.

It doesn’t matter if the conservatives can’t actually point to such a young man as an example of who they think they’re protecting. He exists as a rhetorical device.

But there’s another figure in the debate, who has until now featured very lightly in the public discussion of the issue.

And that figure is the young man who happens to be gay, happens to be sexually active -¦ and is actively disadvantaged by our state’s laws governing the age of consent. This is the type of young man who (research studies suggest) is three times more likely to commit suicide than his heterosexual counterparts.

The AIDS Council of New South Wales comes into contact with many such men in rural and regional centres across the state, and last week flew three of them in to Sydney as part of an effort to move the age of consent debate away from rhetoric and back to reality.

Chris and Alex (who are both 17 and in their final year of school) and Daniel (who is 18) are three sexually active gay men whose very existence reminds us that the age of consent push is not just about equality, but the health and welfare of young men in our society.

They told Sydney Star Observer about the impact that discriminatory age of consent laws have on their lives.
With an unequal age of consent, we can’t go to a health service and get condoms or seek counselling if we’re sexually active. It makes it much harder for us, said Chris.

[The age of consent law] strengthens the divide between gay men and the mainstream, said Alex, while Daniel added: The world’s homophobic enough, without this.

It’s been shown in Victoria that this law has been passed and there haven’t been any serious consequences, he said.

Chris and Daniel both told stories about the role their mothers played in helping them where the system failed.

My boyfriend and I were rolling around on my bed and we felt a lump underneath the doona. We opened it up and there were condoms and lube my mother had left me, Chris said.

I had condoms placed on my desk. But not everyone is lucky enough to have olds who are going to leave rubbers for them out on a desk, said Daniel.

ACON’s chief executive officer Stevie Clayton told the Star that it was only when politicians were confronted with such stories that they could begin to understand the reality of the situation and the need for change.

It is easy for politicians to talk about the unequal age of consent issue and to fixate on their fears of the harm that might be caused by changing it, when we are dealing with real harms caused by the legislation the way it is, Clayton said.

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