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columns, advice & rants

Your right to privacy

Author: Superdrewby
Date: 2001

The recent American High Court Decision finding that Police violated the rights of teen by threatening to tell his parents he is gay has thrilled the gay and lesbian community. There is an important issue about your right to privacy regarding your sexual orientation.

In 1997, Marcus Wayman an 18 year old student and a 17 year old male were found by Police in their small hometown in Minersville, Philadelphia drinking in their car in a local carpark. The Police charged them with underage drinking (the legal drinking age in the US is 21). When they were taken in for questioning they were made to turn their pockets, as the police believed they may have been carrying mariuijana. Instead of drugs, one of the boys turned out two condoms from his pocket.

The arresting officer, F. Scott Willinsky, then allegedly called them Queers and threatened to tell their parents that they were gay. It is alleged that one of the boys admitted to the officer that they had intended to have sex, although nothing had happened thus far.

After being released Marcus told his friend that he was going to commit suicide because he could not cope with the possibility that his sexuality may be exposed to his family. Later that morning about 6AM Marcus who was high school football player committed suicide as a direct result of the Officer's threats. With the threats also came a religious diatribe and various passages of the bible were read quoted.

On 7 November 2001 the American Federal Appeals Court ruled that Marcus's 14 Amendment for privacy was violated by the officer and the police department by the threat to tell people of his sexuality. Marcus's mother has indicated that she will now sue the Officers and Police Department for causing the death of her son.

Mis Perception of People in Positions of Power

There are perceptions in many parts of the community including the police, teachers, social workers, some doctors and other authority figures that it is their role and right to tell a guardian or parent if they believe that a minor is gay. In the United Kingdom, Section 28 outlines that an educator (teacher) must tell social services if a student confides in them that they are gay. Even if the educator does not want to tell social services they can lose their job and be prosecuted if they do not tell. In Australia there is no legal requirement for an educator etc. to tell anyone that a student has confided in them that they are gay. However they must tell the authorities or someone in social services if they believe that the student is in danger of physical abuse (including consensual sexual activity between underage same sex couples) - See Age of Consent.

In the United States it is somewhat different with the 14th Amendment outlining the privacy restrictions and the case in Philadelphia has set a precedent. The issue is that many people still view homosexuality as inherently wrong and believe that it is a choice that people make. Therefore giving them the right to tell someone (the child's guardian or other people in authority) that they their child is "confused" and needs counseling either religious or psychological to overcome their unnatural desire.


There is never any justification for outing someone, whether they be your mortal enemy or your best friend, a person's sexuality is their own private business and no one should have the right to tell another person that someone is gay, unless they are open about their sexuality. The mid 80's organization ACT UP conducted a campaign of outing people in positions of power who had spoken against homosexuality and in my belief have done enormous damage to the gay and lesbian movements. As a group we are not homogenous group (a group who shares many common characteristics), they are heterogeneous group, in that they really only share one major commonality and that is their sexual orientation. For this reason it is very difficult for our community to band together and provide a common thought or theme. An amendment to this is the AIDS crisis and the way in which the gay and lesbian community banded together to fight this crisis.

Privacy in many situations is considered to be legally enforcable, such as a consultation between a lawyer and client, doctor and client and priest and parishioner. However the legality of keeping a conversation private is often inn question when the person having the he conversation is a minor. A doctor is freely able to discuss what was said with a minor to their guardian, if they believe it warrants the discussion.

Your right to privacy about your sexuality

You have every right to expect that if you tell someone in confidence that you are gay they won't tell anyone else, or as the American Officer threaten to tell someone. If you tell a teacher or doctor that you are gay you are in effect confiding in a person of authority and you would under any normal circumstances expect them to keep their word and not tell anybody what you say. Unfortunately in the real world this is not the case, it is wrong and immoral, but it is reality.

So the rule is, if you don't want people to know you are gay, don't tell them, and if you must tell people, be absolutely certain that they will not, and don't have to tell anyone else - Stay Safe!

Risks of Non Consensual Disclosure of Sexuality

There has been much research done on the risks associated with non consensual disclosure of sexuality and top of the list of risks is suicide. Teens questioning their sexuality are far more likely to have considered or thought about suicide anyway, even without people knowing that they are gay or bisexual. But if they are publicly outed or blackmailed the risk skyrockets. Other risks are increased anxiety (obviously) decrease in grades, metal health issues, eating disorders, running away from home and ending up on the streets, and physical abuse.

The world is not always a kind or gentle place and not everyone in the world accepts homosexuality. In fact many people will become physically violent especially when they are confronted with someone's sexuality. The risk of being beaten up if you are outed is a real and justifiable fear.