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ACL's Wendy Francis on consent, abstinence and conspiracy theories

Wendy Francis from the Australian Christian Lobby has shared her thoughts on teaching children about consent, saying the government’s approach is fundamentally flawed.

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The ACL spokesperson says promoting abstinence should be at the centre of sex education, and claims there is a global conspiracy to remove the age of consent, accusing LGBTI groups of being part of the process.

The accusation has not just been made by the Australian Christian Lobby. Around the world conservative organisations have lobbed the claim at local LGBTIQA+ groups.

Wendy Francis says instead of consent, abstinence should be taught

The conservative commentator and anti-pornography campaigner appeared on the online political chat program Pellowe Talk and discussed the issues with host Dave Pellowe.

Francis said the government is pushing out consent education to kids, claiming that is age appropriate content, a claim that she did not believe was true.

“Now we’ve got the federal government pushing out consent education resources, they say they are age appropriate, but we read in The Australian that they are going to be starting at five years old. So we’re talking about a very young age, and we’re talking about consent education. So I have a huge problem, even with the terminology to be honest, because the word consent means how to say yes.

“If you are consenting to something you are actually agreeing to something.” Francis said.

Host Dave Pellowe added, “It assumes that sexual behaviour is going to be happening, and that assumption is a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Francis said she wanted to hear from the government clearer information on at what age is a child able to give consent.

“That is a big questions, and when we’re teaching consent from 5-years old, or from high school, 12-years old now, then they are too young. We need to go back to teaching abstinence.”

The ACL spokesperson said she taught her own children that they should not be having sex before marriage, and this was a model she’d like to see adopted by the federal government.

“I don’t think anyone would deny that the longer a child can wait to have sex is much much better, and I’m talking in a secular sort of way now,  there would be no-one who would think that delaying your first sexual experience is not a good thing to do.”

“The experience I taught to my children is marriage is when you have your first sexual experience, and that marriage is meant to be one woman, one man, as a commitment together for the rest of your lives. That is my absolute gold standard.”

Francis said sex education need to focus on the high rate of sexually transmitted infections, and should encourage young people not to undertake sexual activity.

“When we’re talking about a child’s first sexual experience, surely we want to delay that, not encourage them on to ‘how to keep safe when you’re doing it, because we know you’re going to’ – we don’t approach drinking like that, we don’t approach alcohol in that way.” Francis said.

Pushed to provide an age where it is appropriate for young people to learn about the concept of consent, Francis was adamant that the approach should be to teach people to “say no” to sex.

“I personally have issues with consent, I really do, I think when we’re talking about empowering consent, we are saying ‘This is a situation where you can say yes”, and for me, we need to be teaching our children, ‘Do you know what, you’re too young, say no.'”

New use for an old slogan

Francis suggested that the ‘It’s Okay To Say No’ slogan from the No campaign against marriage equality would be a suitable phrase for informing children about decision making about sexual behaviour, but argued that sex education was the responsibility of parents, not educators.

Alongside teaching children about consent, Francis argues that there needs to be a message about what is right and wrong.

“Consent alone is actually quite dangerous. Just because I say yes to something does mean it is right, or it should happen. If you teach a child that they can say yes to a certain behaviour, you are giving the permission over their bodies to actually agree to abuse.” Francis said, adding that many people regret things they consent to at “drunken parties”.

Francis suggested that with each additional sexual partner, young people might be causing damage to their psychological health.

“If as the Bible says, you become one person with that person you’re having sex with, is it any wonder that we’re just seeing so many kids who just don’t even know who they are any more? You sort of become one, become one, become one, and they’re giving away something of themselves each time they have a sexual experience, and they end up not even knowing who they are.” Francis said.

After sharing her belief that people begin to disintegrate with each additional sexual partner, Francis went on to outline her belief that there is a global push to completely remove the age of consent from nations around the world.

Wendy Francis says there is a global push to remove age of consent laws

Francis went on to discuss her belief that there is a global push to remove the age of consent. Highlighting the 2020 Beijing Feminist Declaration, a statement which reaffirmed a commitment to gender equality. Francis selectively quoted from the document to suggest it was advocating for all consent laws to be removed.

The statement that was created under the leadership of the United Nation’s Commission for the Status of Women, is endorsed by many different groups, including the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA). The human rights group has more than 1,600 member organisations, including many Australian groups.

“They are calling on government to, and this is a quote,” Francis told viewers of Pellowe Talk, “Eliminate all laws and policies that limit the exercise of bodily autonomy, including laws limiting legal capacity of adolescents, people with disabilities as well, to provide consent to sex.”

However, the document actually provides a much more detailed description of the legal areas that the group has raised concern about. In her quote Francis skips over sections of the paragraph referring to it focusing on the criminalisation of same-sex activity, gender affirmation, abortion and HIV, and also omits references to reproductive health services, non-consensual abortion, sterilisation, and contraceptive use.

OUTinPerth has included the full text of section 14.a below, highlighting the sections Francis didn’t include when quoting.

14.1       Respect the rights of all individuals to exercise autonomy over their lives, including their sexualities, identities and bodies, desires and pleasures free from all types of discrimination, coercion and violence, and fully realize sexual and reproductive rights, and ensure bodily autonomy, integrity and sovereignty, by taking the following actions:

a. Eliminate all laws and policies that punish or criminalize same-sex intimacy, gender affirmation, abortion, HIV transmission non-disclosure and exposure, or that limit the exercise of bodily autonomy, including laws limiting legal capacity of adolescents, people with disabilities or other groups to provide consent to sex or sexual and reproductive health services or laws authorizing non-consensual abortion, sterilization, or contraceptive use;

“They want to eliminate all laws that limit the legal capacity of adolescents” Francis said, with Dave Pellowe describing the proposal as a law that “pedophiles would be rejoicing at”.

Francis said she was shocked that many Australian organisation’s were members of the ILGA, and in turn supporters of the Feminist Declaration, singling out Wear It Purple as one member group.

In an post to the ACL’s website on 13th April 2021, Francis said the declaration was a “diabolical twist” that was using the tag of feminism to remove consent laws, and in turn “adding to the alarming rates of sexual abuse of young girls”.

Francis called on Wear It Purple to distance themselves from the ILGA, and said if they did not, parents groups across the nation should “rise up” against Wear It Purple Day being observed in schools.

Continuing her discussion with Dave Pellowe, Francis said schools, workplaces, the police, YMCA, Equality Australia and The Greens were all part of a “diabolical” push to remove the age of consent.

“At the same time we’re teaching children in schools that they need to understand how to give consent, we are actually on the other hand wanting to remove the age of consent. So we’re teaching children how they can say ‘yes’ safely, and then we’re removing any impediment to for them to do it, even under the age of sixteen.” Francis claimed. “Together, I think we’ve got a recipe for absolute disaster.”

Kirralie Smith from Binary highlights the same document

Wendy Francis is not the only person promoting the idea that there’s a global plot to reduce the age of consent. Anti-transgender organisation Binary has also proposed the theory with spokesperson Kirralie Smith seemingly suggesting a link between a ‘degendered society’ and increased abuse of children.

“This is an incredibly serious issue. The more society is de-gendered, language hijacked and euphemisms are employed, the greater the risk to our children. Lowering the age of consent will grant unhindered access to paedophiles.” Smith said.

“Does the Australian Government really understand how tax-payer funds given to these organisations are being used to further this agenda?” Smith asked.

The organisations cited by Smith in her website post as members of the ILGA include; ACON, the Human Rights Law Centre, Sydney Star Observer, UTS Sydney Queer Collective, and Wear It Purple.

Around the world the claim has been levelled at LGBTIQA+ organisations and supporters

Australian conservative organisations are not alone in accusing LGBTIQ+ focused groups of being part of a large network calling for the age of consent to be removed.

In Scotland it was highlighted that Margaret Lynch, a candidate for the nationalist Alba Party, raised concern that the ILBA had adopted the Beijing Feminist Declaration, and noted that Stonewall Scotland and LGBT Youth Scotland were two publicly funded organisations that were members of the umbrella body.

Lynch claimed that the document proposed lowering the age of consent to just 10 years of age; despite the document making no declarative statement on age at all.

The candidate, who is currently running for a spot in the Scottish Parliament, describes the declaration as a “morally repugnant” document, and  said any government funded organisation needed to publicly denounce it. She has denied accusations that she is homophobic or transphobic, saying the greater issue is protection of children.

After her statements were reported on social media Lynch faced a barrage of abuse, some of which has been reported to Scottish police for investigation.

Stonewall Scotland has responded to her claims saying they are baseless.

‘We are appalled by the baseless and offensive accusations made by Alba parliamentary candidate Margaret Lynch.” the organisation said. “What she said was not only untrue, but it was also a willful, bad faith interpretation made for the sole purpose of trying to smear LGBT+ organisations.”

Stonewall CEO Nancy Kelley, and Colin MacFarlane, the Director of Stonewall Scotland and Northern Ireland, said there was no place in public for comments of the sort made by Lynch.

“In making these accusations, she is repeating deeply harmful myths about LGBT+ people as pedophiles and sexual predators. It’s the oldest trick in the homophobic book of lies. This kind of language has a long, dark history of being used to paint us as threats to children and stop us from being treated as equal citizens. These myths are used to bully, intimidate and silence LGBT+ people.”

Dr Mhairi Crawford, the CEO of LGBT Youth Scotland said the claims were “vicious lies” and  a “willful misinterpretation and bad faith reading” of the Feminist Declaration.

“We are deeply concerned that these words serve to inflame hatred towards lesbian, gay, bi and trans young people, many of whom face prejudice, discrimination and bullying every day. Today we’re sending our solidarity to them, our colleagues at Stonewall Scotland, ILGA World, our staff and volunteers and the many others affected by this attack.” Crawford said earlier this month.

The Conveners of the Rainbow Greens, a faction of the Greens party, said the claims ere both dangerous and irresponsible.

“The lies being spread about some of Scotland’s leading LGBTIQ+ charities are unacceptable and unfounded attacks on our communities based on bigotry and hatred.” Elidh Martin and Blair Anderson said in response to the claims.

In Northern Ireland Unison, which is the second largest union in the United Kingdom was questioned over their membership of the ILGA, with similar suggestions that they were complicit in endorsing the removal of the age of consent.

In a statement to a local media outlet, the union said they had nothing to do with the drafting or endorsement of the manifesto, saying that the version being commonly cited was a translation that had been left open to interpretation.

“The document is a translation. As with many such international, translated documents, the language can be obscure.” said spokesperson Patricia McKeown.  “However its intention is that it be applied, with relevant guidance, to the differing circumstances in each of the 192 member states [of the United Nations].

The union said that the across the world the age of consent was incredibly varied, but they supported the UK’s current age of consent.

ILGA say the stories being pushed around the globe are completely false

The International Lesbian and Gay Association, have categorically denied the suggestion that they advocate for the lowering of the age of consent.

“ILGA World categorically, and in no uncertain terms, does not advocate to eliminate or lower the general age of consent, nor supports paedophilia in any way, shape or form – and never has. Our position on this is clear and a matter of public record. These spurious claims, as old as homophobia itself, are dangerous and irresponsible, and we urge those making or sharing them, to stop.

“ILGA World calls for the strengthening of the rights of children and young people, in accordance with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and condemns all forms of abuse (including sexual abuse), coercion, and exploitation of children and young people.”

The timeline of events

Pulling back at looking at the claims from a global perspective shows that the accusations levelled at the ILGA began after a media release from feminist group Women’s Human Rights Campaign.

Formed in 2019, the group describes themselves as volunteers including academics, writers, organizers, activists, and health practitioners, who aim to represent the total breadth of the human female experience.

They have also been described as an anti-transgender hate group, as their interpretation of the “total breadth of human female experience” does not include people who are transgender.  The group has an Australian Branch which is maintained by the Feminist Legal Clinic.

The organisation was recently removed from the line-up on an online event run by the United Nations’ Commission of the Status of Women – the same body that endorsed the feminist declaration at the centre of the claims there is a global push linking pedophilia and LGBTI groups.

02-03-20  Feminist Declaration is published by The Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations (CSW).
20-03-21   Women’s Human Rights Campaign presents a panel at NGO65, a two-week long virtual event managed by the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW)
26-03-21   Women’s Human Rights Campaign is removed from NGO65.
29-03-21   Media release from the Women’s Human Rights Campaign is released highlighting link between  ILGA, and the Feminist Declaration.
10-04-21   Scottish website Wings over Scotland highlights comments reportedly made by Alba Party candidate Margaret Lynch.
12-04-21   ILGA issues statement denying the accusations. LGBTI Youth Scotland, Stonewall Scotland deny the accusations.
13-04-21   Australian Christian Lobby targets Australia’s Wear It Purple event over links to ILGA and in turn the Feminist Declaration.
21-04-21   Australian anti-transgender body Binary highlights the many LGBTIQA+ organisations are members of the international body ILGA, questions their government funding.
21-04-21   Wendy Francis from the Australian Christian Lobby appears on Pellowe Talk and claims there is a global push to lower the age of consent.
23-04-21   Northern Ireland’s Unison denies it is advocating for a reduction in the age of consent.

Graeme Watson 

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