Lately, I've seen lots of headlines that disturb me, as a son of Indian River County, FL. For example, ABC recently reported that an Indian River "Cheerleader Denies Felony Charge for Lesbian Relationship." My first reaction was outrage! Then I did some reading and found that the accused, a young lady named Kate, isn't actually charged with felonious lesbian love. Granted, Kate's accusers sound homophobic, but she's actually charged with something akin to statutory rape. The affidavit asserts that Kate was 18, while her same-sex lover was 14. Orientation aside, that"s a crime in Florida. Yet, tens of thousands have petitioned for Kate's acquittal, on the premise that she's "an 18 year old girl in a same-sex relationship."
This raises several questions:
Firstly, although spokespeople claim "if Kate were a male this wouldn't be happening," research suggests that hundreds of heterosexual males, aged 18 and younger, got charged with similar crimes in 2000 alone. (Derived from NCJRS.) Yet, why did so few notice the issue before homophobia creeped into headlines? What's that say about popular culture?
Secondly, barely a year ago, the media lashed out against attempts to narrow definitions of rape. Huffington Posts' own Christine Pelosi responded shortly, "forcible and non-forcible rapes are all rapes." While that's semantically true, what kind of society criminalizes consensual sex between schoolmates, alongside forcible rape?
Thirdly, how did our culture's understanding of sexual "adulthood" become so positively occult? For example, we often censor sex as "adult" subject matter, and at 15 or younger, you remain legally incapable of sexual consent. Yet, at 16, you can consent with children and adults alike, given they're aged 16 through 23. At 18, you can consent with anybody aged 16 or older. At 24, you can consent with people aged 18 or older. I wonder how (or if) Florida"s abstinence-only Sex Ed. teaches this complicated sexmath - especially while students are held criminally answerable to it?
If you want to get involved, just remember that Kate's not alone, and the challenge here isn't limited to her case. It's not even limited to homophobia. The time has come to question society's basic understandings of consent and adulthood.
(Ashkuff is a university-educated anthropologist, who graduated high school in Indian River County, FL, and works alongside the LGBT community at UF's Office of Multicultural & Diversity Affairs. He also maintains a blog at www.ashkuff.com)