Thursday, September 21, 2017

Moral Panic 101: Equality, Acceptance and the Safe Schools Scandal: QE67, by Benjamin Law

Staff review by Chris Saliba

A guide to the Safe Schools controversy for the perplexed. 

This latest Quarterly Essay by Benjamin Law (The Family Law) looks at the vexed issue of the Safe Schools program. Initially set up by the Labor government, it was inherited by the Abbott Liberal government. The program was launched by Senator Scott Ryan, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Education and Training. By his own admission, Ryan knew next to nothing about the gay community and once he became acquainted with the details of the Safe Schools program, he had a few quibbles.

Besides this slightly bumpy start, Safe Schools was implemented without much fuss. The program was designed as an aide to teachers who were not too familiar with the issues facing LGBTI people. All seemed to be running smoothly, then three things brought everything unstuck:

* A  booklet, available as a PDF, called All of Us was later produced as an additional resource for teachers and not meant to be taught in schools. It captured the real life experiences of LGBTI people. Once details of this booklet got out, the conservative media used it to attack Safe Schools.

* One of the program’s founders, Roz Ward, had a history of making some controversial and political statements.

* The documentary, Gayby Baby, was shown in a Victorian school. The documentary is about young kids growing up in families where both parents are of the same sex.

The above formed a powder keg that blew up. At the forefront of the confected outrage was The Australian. They went hard, devoting, according to Law, some 90,000 words on the issue. All sorts of big names piled on.

The question that remains is, was Safe Schools a wicked program of social engineering, pushing kids into identifying as gay or transgender? The Abbott government had an independent review of the program, performed by Professor Bill Louden. The professor suggested some minor changes, but essentially backed the program as good policy. Conservatives continued to go on the attack. The Liberal federal government did not renew funding for Safe Schools once the initial period ended.

Benjamin Law describes The Australian’s campaign against Safe Schools as a beat up. The title of the essay, Moral Panic, seems more appropriate. It all turned into a full blown culture war when, interestingly, the whole Safe School's program had a very innocuous start.

Benjamin Law’s essay provides a useful history of the Safe Schools kerfuffle, with nuanced discussions of queer theory and transgendered children, among other LGBTI issues.

Moral Panic 101: Equality, Acceptance and the Safe Schools Scandal: QE67, by Benjamin Law. Published by Black Inc. RRP: $22.99

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