Even repugnant views deserve defending

By Donna Laframboise. Toronto Star. Toronto, Ont.: Nov 27, 1995. pg. A.17


[Note that there was no 'maybe' over whether Gerald Hannon was condoning, perhaps even advocating,  adult-child sex; he clearly was condoning it. Yet the reporter published these words defending the value of his keeping his teaching position and continuing to promote his ideas, in outrageous hypocritical contrast to the way she treated me.]                                                                                                                                                                                                       

Gerald Hannon is an award-winning Toronto journalist who teaches part-time at Ryerson Polytechnic University. He has been at the centre of a media storm since The Toronto Sun began alleging, in a series of columns, that Hannon not only believes sex between children and adults is okay, but that he uses his classroom to ``proselytize.''


The Sun is correct about the first part. Back in 1977, Hannon profiled three middle-aged men who were having sexual relations with boys as young as 7 in an article for a gay publication called The Body Politic. In 1994, Hannon wrote another piece for X-tra, a similar publication, in which he supported ``child/adult sexual relationships'' on the basis that although some of these relationships ``will undoubtedly be bad,'' it was difficult for him ``to believe that none of them will be good.''               ----->


I consider such views thoroughly repugnant. The Body Politic article describes a 33-year-old male teacher who, at the time the piece was written, was sleeping with one of his students, a 12-year-old boy. Hannon goes out of his way to emphasize the supposedly loving and healthy aspects of such relationships while virtually ignoring the massive power imbalance which can't help but foster manipulation and exploitation.


He takes these men - who are far from disinterested observers - at their word when they say they don't exert undue influence on youngsters, and quotes one who insists such relationships are good for these children because ``the more disadvantaged the child, the more he needs some stable, mature human being'' in his life. 


But these arguments are specious as well as shameful. A compassionate society should respond by providing disadvantaged youth with sympathetic counsellors and advocates - not by leaving them at the mercy of people with their own agenda. Men who really are interested in helping children find their way in the world should do so for its own sake, not in exchange for sex.


Our society draws the line at ``consenting adults'' for good reasons. Despite the self-serving logic of the man quoted above, sex isn't just ``another form of experience, like going to the movies or playing football.'' We place restrictions on it, just as we do on driving and voting, because we recognize that there is an age before which human beings are emotionally and intellectually equipped to make certain decisions.


I don't think 7-year-olds should be having oral sex with grown men and I'm horrified that Hannon can approach such a notion so casually. But whatever else we might say about his articles, they force us to confront these kind of questions, to re-examine why we believe the things we do. If the result is clearer thinking and a renewed certainty about why some activities are morally objectionable, then this process is valuable in itself. [Some people would see her 'I don't think 7-year-olds should' as rather faint condemnation, despite her above condemning of Hannon's views as thoroughly repugnant. They might even quote her selectively on the matter, in order to distort her views.]


While I'm sympathetic to her outrage, Toronto Sun columnist Heather Bird nevertheless goes too far when she implies that this debate doesn't belong on university campuses. In her view, the issue is whether Ryerson should be giving Hannon ``the power and the platform to influence young minds.'' She predicts that the institution's internal investigation ``will find no fault; Gerald Hannon will not be fired.'' Further, she laments that ``in the name of academic freedom'' Ryerson ``will stand four- square behind the professor with the pro-pedophile views.''


Although Bird suggests that Hannon is expounding his objectionable beliefs in the classroom, there is currently no evidence of this. He admits he has mentioned his opinions occasionally and briefly - in the context of discussing what the results of publishing controversial views can be, for example. (As a result of Hannon's piece, The Body Politic was charged with distributing indecent material. It was acquitted after a six-year court battle.)


But Ryerson has received no complaints about Hannon concerning his views on adult/child sex during the four years he's been there. Nor can the journalism students he teaches be considered impressionable. Usually in their mid-20s, many of them already hold university degrees and surely are capable of arriving at independent opinions. [These highlighted words represent yet another argument the reporter suddenly saw no value in as applied to me.]


From my perspective, pro-Communist views are also highly offensive. Anyone who is prepared to overlook the atrocities perpetrated by Lenin and Stalin; the practice of confining dissidents to labor camps, prisons and insane asylums; the willingness to machine-gun people to death rather than letting them climb over the Berlin Wall, is someone about whom I have grave moral concern.


But after the McCarthy era, our society reaffirmed its commitment to free speech and freedom of association. Despite knowing that some professors were card-carrying members of the pro- Soviet Communist Party of Canada, we continued to allow them access to ``young minds'' regardless of their distasteful views - since firing and blacklisting them would also have been objectionable.


In this respect, the Gerald Hannon affair is no different.   [Was she including children among the "young minds" she finds it acceptable to condone adult-child sex to? If she did not intend to say that, it would have been "very easy" for her to add 'young adult minds'.]                                                                                                                                            [Back]