The Age of Consent Debate: Agony aunts seek 'justice' for gays: Counsellors delivered their own 'Dear John' letter offering advice to 10 Downing Street. Esther Oxford reports

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The Independent Online
SOME of Britain's top 'agony aunts' petitioned Downing Street yesterday demanding 'simple justice' for homosexuals.

Young men are not receiving the same treatment and advice on health and emotional issues as young women, they said in a letter, signed by 19 agony aunts and one agony uncle. It pledged 'full support' to Edwina Currie's amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill.

'How can a law be said to protect teenagers when it turns them into criminals and threatens to prosecute them for expressing love for another person?' the letter asked.

Marje Proops, of the Daily Mirror, led the group to 10 Downing Street. She was angry, she said, because we live in a 'democracy' and 'laws should apply equally to everyone'.

'As agony aunts,' the letter read, 'we receive many letters from young gay men who are frightened by the law.' They need help and advice, but many are afraid to turn to their teachers, doctors or their parents, for fear of being prosecuted. 'How can we give these young men the advice they need when we are dealing with a criminal offence?' the letter said. The petitioners brushed off arguments that lowering the age of consent might expose young men to danger. Young men do not need more protection than young women, they said.

Barbara Jacobs, agony aunt for My Guy, the magazine for teenage girls, said young men often write to the magazine because 'they have nowhere else to turn'.

Ms Proops said she receives hundreds of letters from 16- to 19-year-old boys each week. Many of the letters are about relationships - just like the letters from girls - others ask for advice on safe sex. While she is able to give honest and explicit advice to girls, 'under present laws I am not permitted to advise men under 21. It is very . . . unfair.'

Euan Sutherland, 16, a homosexual student from Dulwich, south-east London, said the best 'advice' an agony aunt could give a young gay man is: 'Go and have sex, wear a condom and enjoy yourself.' He does not buy teenage magazines, but he reads copies passed around at school. Although advice is censored, agony aunts have played an important part in adjusting the public's attitudes through their columns, he said.

Typical worries of the average gay teenager include when to have sex, how to 'come out' to parents, and how to cope with relationships.

The greatest worries are 'Aids and being molested by an older man'. Agony aunts do not have the authority of police but they show more sympathy, Euan said.

(Photograph omitted)