In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Aids, pornography and law In all its variant forms, modern sexuality is policed by laws which regulate and oversee sexual desires, actions and identities. Laws determine child custody rights, ages of sexual consent (currently fixed in Great Britain as sixteen for heterosexual and eighteen for homosexual acts), immigration, and the very distinction between male and female. However, as Paul Hirst has recently written, "the law is not an entity, it is a very complex set of rules and institutions, persons and activities, and it is by no means consistent in its action. There is no legal instance specifying the attributes of persons consistently and coherently".' This point is extremely important to bear in mind as we move to consider the ways in which different laws operate to interrupt or forbid the circulation of images and texts concerning both homosexuality and information about Aids. Whilst the law has not set out in either Britain or America deliberately to proscribe discussion of Aids, that in effect has been the case, given the closure of "adult" bookstores in the name of indecency laws in both countries, and as a result of Customs and Excise interventions in Britain. Thus, for example, a hapless tourist returning to the UK had a copy of the national American gay newspaper The Advocate seized at London's Gatwick airport, together with a video tape, a Colt calendar, and some twenty sex magazines. This, in spite of a directive issued to customs officers in June, 1978, which clearly states that, with the significant exception of child pornography, they are not permitted to detain small quantities of obscene or indecent books or magazines when they are intended solely for the personal use of an incoming traveller.2 Any gay man returning to Britain from the United States in recent years would want to bring copies of The Advocate and New York Native with him, since they contain the only sustained information and debates concerning the Aids epidemic, and have been effectively illegal in this country since British Customs' 1984 "Operation Tiger" against London's Gay's The Word bookshop, the second largest lesbian and gay community 58 4 AIDS, PORNOGRAPHY AND LAW bookstore in the world. Following raids on the shop itself, and the homes of three of its directors, Customs and Excise adopted two lines of attack. The first concerned a total of one hundred criminal charges against the eight directors, shop manager Paul Hegarty, and Gay's The Word as a private limited company. The second involved the seizure of 142 imported titles on the grounds that they were "indecent" or "obscene", a distinction which I shall come on to discuss in greater detail. Prosecutions proceeded from the Customs Consolidation Act of 1876, which does not establish specific criteria differentiating obscenity from indecency, and is concerned solely with what the "ordinary man in the street" might consider to be in "poor taste". Needless to say, the imaginary man-in-the-street is constructed as exclusively heterosexual and, in this instance, virulently homophobic. The Gay's The Word case, to which I will return, should also be regarded in the larger context of raids and prosecutions of shops and clubs selling gay magazines and periodicals which take place with grim and monotonous regularity throughout the United Kingdom. Thus, in October, 1985, North London magistrates were able to fine the publishers of Britain's only nationally distributed gay newspaper, Gay Times, over £5,000 for sending out "indecent materials" through the post. That these "materials" contained no explicit sex scenes, only male nudes, and were being sent to paying subscribers, mattered not one jot. At another extreme of thiscurrent of legislative attention we should also locate the recently failed Churchill Amendment Bill in Britain, which would have effectively criminalised all images of homosexuality within British culture. What was radically new about the proposed amendment was its extension of previous legal definitions of obscenity beyond existing principles of harm and offence, to a legal moralism which understands certain categories of subject-matterto be intrinsically obscene. This is also the strategy at work in the United States behind the referendum-based campaigns organised in the name of feminism by Andrea Dworkin and Catherine MacKinnon, which would bring the term "pornography" into legal discourses for the first time as a self-evidentcategory.'1 This would also seem to be the aim of the American Attorney General's recent Commission on Pornography, which endorses and solicits prosecutions by individuals of materials which lie far...

pdf

Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.