‘Endorsement by association’, in the form of a photograph, taken at a book signing, next to a man wearing a T-shirt with the slogan,’ I am a proud Islamaphobe’, was enough to rescind Cambridge University’s offer of a visiting fellowship to Dr Jordan Peterson. Dr Peterson was not given an opportunity to either clarify or explain. His dismissal was communicated to him via a tweet from the university. There are some things you cannot disown or talk your way out of apparently and this was one.
By contrast the photo of new Childrens’ Minister, Roderic O Gorman, smiling happily beside LGBT+ activist, Peter Tatchell who has stated openly that children between 9 and 14 can enjoy sexual encounters with an adult without harm created no ripples at all in the media and political establishment. Roderic O Gorman has been given every opportunity to talk his way out of the social media storm generated by the compromising photo. This would be quite fair and in order if those who had raised legitimate questions were not dismissed out of hand as ‘far right’, toxic homophobes’ and ‘faceless trolls with nasty agendas’ by both O Gorman and veteran politician and cabinet colleague, Simon Coveney.
Ad hominem broadsides like this are meant to lower the bar for the defence. Serious questions raised are belittled and dismissed as ‘ridiculous online claims’ that don’t have to be seriously addressed. Apart from insulting people who raise legitimate concerns, the best Roderic O Connor can do is state that had he known about Tatchell’s well publicised views, he ‘probably would have re-considered’ posing with him and posting the photograph at Pride 2018. That sounds like a very qualified disassociation from someone who wrote that ‘not all sex involving children is unwanted and abusive’ in a letter to The Guardian newspaper in 1997. Of course that is some time ago and people may revise their views. Tatchell has not done so however. What he has done is ‘clarify and explain’ them as O Gorman puts it.
Why does O Gorman feel he needs to keep faith with Tatchell by saying ‘ I’m glad he’s clarified… and explained….’ ? If the new Minister of Children is happy with Tatchell’s clarification, it is important that Irish parents are too. Well, this is what Tatchell offers by way of clarification, ‘ I agree that for the vast majority of children, sex with adults is neither wanted nor joyful’. The difference between that statement and the original one, ‘not all sex involving children is unwanted and abusive’, is semantic and no more. He is changing the emphasis and tone but not the sense. He also claims that when he wrote,’ paedophilia may be impossible to condone’ he actually intended to ‘condemn’ it. We have only his word on that but the tone and language of the original statement suggest ambivalence at least. If ‘racism’ or ‘misogyny’ replaced ‘paedophila’ in that sentence, there would be clear questions around where the speaker was coming from.
This is backtracking on one foot. At this point, Roderic O Gorman must know the basic tenets of Tatchell’s thinking on child sexuality and sex education. It raises further questions about his judgment that his first response was to attack and demonise those who raised questions and concerns rather than unequivocally repudiate the views of Tatchelll in so far as they relate to children and sex education. It is important that the Irish electorate, especially parents, know where he stands. Despite his word juggling, it is clear enough where Tatchell stands. He sets out his philosophy in closely argued terms on his foundation’s webpage. He believes that children are sexual beings. Sex education, free of shame and taboo, helps them express their sexuality and gives them the language and other tools to protect themselves. But he doesn’t think agency should be limited to refusing unwanted sexual advances. He thinks that if children, like the ten year olds who killed Jamie Bolger, can be considered capable of giving consent to murder, they should also be capable of consenting to sex. So real agency means the freedom to say either ‘yes’ or ’no’ to sex as their feelings dictate? Tatchell suggests, ’it’s my body, it’s my choice’ as a teaching mantra, One can see how this mantra could adapt to other related lessons. However, strangely and bizarrely, after arguing his readers to a conclusion, he drops in a disclaimer. ‘I am not saying that sex involving young people under sixteen should be lawful’ he adds in a non-sequitur. Sounds a lot like ‘structured deniability’. Is Simon Coveney wants to hunt down all nasty hidden agendas, he should spread wider.
This flawed, toxic logic conveniently skirts the reason that children are not considered capable of giving consent in law. It is solely because of the imbalance of. power, on all levels, that exists between adults and children. Both the Law and society at large have always held that a child’s consent in such circumstances is at best compromised. Many perhaps most parents think that what Tatchell and his disciples present as child empowerment is in fact premature sexualization that puts them more, not less, at risk of adult predators.
This controversy around the newly appointment Minister for Children is part of a wider conversation about shifting social attitudes to sexual norms. It is hardly a co-incidence that the last two appointments of ministers for children have been gay activists. But many people will ask why recognition of diversity, in every shape and form, demands the abandonment of the mores that both Law and society at large have always considered both prudent and ethical? They will ask why pedagogical development in this area should be dictated by LGBT+ activists like Peter Tatchell?
Roderic O Gorman now says he has no wish to lower the age of consent. That was not always his view. Can we ask that he explain his volte face without being branded extremists or homophobes?
It is indeed disturbing that a senior politician like Simon Coveney reject those who raise deeply felt concerns as ‘faceless trolls with a nasty agenda’. Would Coveney be prepared to silence such people under hate crime legislation? Does he think that questions like those raised in this article should be proscribed? Very likely. The more alarming question is how many members of Dail Eireann would support him.