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Quarterly Essay #67

Moral Panic 101: Equality, Acceptance and the Safe Schools Scandal

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Are Australian schools safe? And if they’re not, what happens when kids are caught in a bleak collision between ill-equipped teachers and a confected scandal? 

In 2016, the Safe Schools program became the focus of an ideological firestorm. In Moral Panic 101, Benjamin Law explores how and why this happened. He weaves a subtle, gripping account of schools today, sexuality, teenagers, new ideas of gender fluidity, media scandal and mental health.

In this timely essay, Law also looks at the new face of homophobia in Australia, and the long battle for equality and acceptance. Investigating bullying of the vulnerable young, he brings to light hidden worlds, in an essay notable for its humane clarity.

“To read every article the Australian has published on Safe Schools is to induce nausea. This isn’t even a comment on the content, just the sheer volume … And yet, across this entire period, the Australian – self-appointed guardian of the safety of children – spoke to not a single school-aged LGBTIQ youth. Not even one. Later, queer teenagers who followed the Safe Schools saga told me the dynamic felt familiar. At school, it’s known as bullying. In journalism, it’s called a beat-up.” —Benjamin Law, Moral Panic 101

Benjamin Law is the author of Gaysia and the memoir The Family Law, which he adapted for SBS TV. A columnist for Fairfax’s Good Weekend magazine, Law has written for the Monthly, Frankie, QWeekend, the Big Issue, Crikey and Griffith Review.

128 pages, Paperback

First published September 11, 2017

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About the author

Benjamin Law

26 books237 followers
Benjamin Law is a Brisbane-based freelance writer. He is a senior contributor to frankie magazine and has also written for The Monthly, The Courier Mail, Qweekend, Sunday Life, Cleo, Crikey, The Big Issue, New Matilda, Kill Your Darlings, ABC Unleashed and the Australian Associated Press.

His essays have been anthologised in Growing Up Asian in Australia, The Best Australian Essays 2008, The Best Australian Essays 2009 and the forthcoming Voracious: New Australian Food Writing.

The Family Law (2010) is his debut book, and is published by Black Inc. Books. A French edition will be published by Belfond in 2012. The TV rights have been sold to Matchbox Pictures.

He’s currently working on his second book, a collection of non-fiction looking at queer people and communities throughout Asia. It has the working title of Gaysia.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 55 reviews
Profile Image for Scott.
292 reviews317 followers
April 16, 2019
Transgender people suffer higher rates of bullying and mental illness than other groups in the Australian population.

A great deal of this bullying occurs in the school system, places where government and teachers have legal obligations to ensure their students are kept from danger.

These are incontestable facts, and in light of these truths Australian Federal and State governments worked together to produce an opt-in program, called Safe Schools, to assist educational institutions in creating and maintaining acceptance and safety for these vulnerable people.

Does this seem controversial to you? You’re no doubt a reasonable person so I would guess not – who would want to take the side of bullies and bigots against a persecuted minority?

Well, sadly, it seems lots of people in Australia don’t like trans kids much, or at least see political mileage to be made on attacking them and programs designed to help them, as the safe schools program/debate/scandal (depending on your position) became somewhat of a bete noir for right wing politicians and the Murdoch press.

For a sustained period during 2016 the organizers of the program were accused of brainwashing kids, of encouraging transgenderism, of being un-Australian- the whole grab bag of moral panic slanders.

Benjamin Law explores this largely manufactured moral panic (led by Murdoch paper The Australian) and the myriad ways that a program set up with genuine intentions to help vulnerable people was hijacked by culture warriors and decried as a moral outrage.

Law notes how throughout this sustained period of hysteria the needs of trans kids were barely, if ever, considered by the program’s detractors. Trans people were largely ignored, their concerns largely left from the ‘debate’ as outrage merchants competed to sell the most outlandish slurs on those responsible for the creation of Safe Schools. Law redresses that to a small degree here, speaking with trans young people and working from a position of asking what would best serve their needs. In doing so he finds that Safe Schools, while not perfect, was an effective resource in assisting teachers and schools to help transgender and transitioning students.

This is no dry-as-dust academic piece. Law tells his story with an engaging writerly voice and weaves his own experiences as a young gay man in 1980s and 90s Australia into his narrative, giving readers a nuanced view to how hard it is to be a minority in Australia on the receiving end of a nasty media campaign.

Thankfully, despite the jihad launched against it, many institutions still use Safe Schools resources – a testament to the utility of the program in helping those it is aimed at.

If you were living in Australia in 2016 when all this blew up, then much of what is in this essay will probably not be new to you. You would have heard the angry talkback hosts, and seen the foam-flecked Murdoch headlines. What Law will show you however, is the depth to which this obsession ran, and the single minded attitude towards the program that excluded vulnerable people from any coverage.

Still, despite the shortage of genuinely new information here it is an important response to the negativity launched at trans people and Safe Schools, and its publishing helps set the record straight, even if it cannot hope to match the gargantuan volume of propaganda pumped out by The Australian (90,000 words across 200 stories!) during the peak of that newspaper’s obsession with this issue.
Profile Image for Giselle A Nguyen.
182 reviews65 followers
September 15, 2017
A timely and galvanising essay from one of Australia's most essential voices. Law examines the Safe Schools controversy through the media coverage in the Australian, and clears up misconceptions about the program through meticulous research and interviews. Great mix of academic and informal writing here, with the usual Law touches providing comic relief here and there. Especially with the current debate around marriage equality, this is zeitgeist-capturing stuff that's really critical for all Australians to read – though those who need to read it most might not.
Profile Image for Rose.
42 reviews10 followers
September 25, 2018
It’s weird reading this a full year after publication, a year after the same-sex marriage postal vote, and a few months after my state government decided to discontinue support for the Safe Schools program. A lot has changed in that time.

I started out reading this essay in the same boat as the author – not really knowing much about Safe Schools, other than that it supported LGBT kids and that I desperately wished something like it had existed while I was at school. I finished it feeling devastated that the program was canned so soon, without being given a chance to grow into a desperately needed resource for queer kids around the country, and upset that so many politicians and members of the media had wilfully lied about the program and its aims.

Expertly researched, engagingly written, and so smartly presented. It’s blow after blow after blow. I wish I had read it sooner, when it was more relevant and when knowing these things would have been helpful. But better late than never.

It’s been a rough couple of years being LGBT in Australia. The postal vote last year was tough – the intense vitriol that sprung up around it was entirely anticipated by every queer person on this continent. We warned the government, the media, our families and friends of what would happen, and still we had to go through it. I’m just glad that I was a mostly well-adjusted adult by then, confident and sure in my identity. Being a queer teenager in school while all that was happening and the sheer amount of rubbish being generated about the program would have been overwhelming. This period of time will not be well regarded in queer Australian history, despite our victories, but I am glad that Benjamin Law has taken the time and great care to document it.
Profile Image for ALPHAreader.
1,153 reviews
September 19, 2017
‘Moral Panic 101: Equality, Acceptance and the Safe Schools Scandal’ is the new edition of the Quarterly Essay by Australian author Benjamin Law.

The Quarterly Essay, if you don’t know – is an Australian periodical that straddles the border between magazine and non-fiction book. And I will confess, I am not a regular reader of the Quarterly. But given what’s happening in Australian politics right now, and in the lead-up to a marriage equality postal plebiscite – I found myself compelled to read Benjamin Law’s coverage of what has often felt like conservative-hysteria.

For those of you who are blissfully ignorant (or just, not Australian) the Safe Schools Coalition Australia is group of organisations in Australia focused on LGBTIQ people in schools. Its mission is to create safe and inclusive schools for students, families and staff who are in these groups.

But when a national (non-mandatory teaching) program was rolled out, conservative media pundits and pop-culture markers seemed to swirl around the organisation that eventually led to a perfect-storm of – as Benjamin Law perfectly summarises – ‘Moral Panic 101’.

This Quarterly Essay edition is Benjamin Law’s attempt to wade through the “fake news” and op-ed fallacy that has taken hold of the Safe Schools discussion, and especially eclipsed the reasons why Safe Schools was needed in the first place … to help LGBTQ+ youth who are at higher risk of suicide.

I’ve read this Essay about three times now. And bawled my eyes out each and every time. Not because Law uses particularly powerful prose or flowery imagery – but because he does the exact opposite. Offering up a refreshingly straight-down-the-line account of how Safe Schools got started, what good it was doing, and how it all came crashing down thanks to ulterior-motives and dollar-signs, it seems.

Some have asked me if they’ll have to be in the right head-space to read this Essay. Given the years of media beat-up of Safe Schools, and now the marriage equality survey that’s designed to decide human rights by straw-poll … it’s a fair enough question and one I don’t have a perfect answer to.

This is a hard read, but a necessary one. I actually wish ‘Moral Panic 101’ were mandatory reading for anyone about to vote in the marriage equality survey – since so many have wrongly tried to tie Safe Schools to marriage equality and a supposedly hidden LGBTQ+ “agenda” … It might be a nice change for those hell-bent on muddying the plebiscite waters, to read an essay on Safe Schools that relies on facts instead of fears.

But no, the reason I think this is a necessary read – no matter that it’s also bound to be a painful one – is because Benjamin Law treats the group at the centre of the Safe Schools program with the respect they have always been due, but rarely granted in recent years. Kids.

To read every article of the Australian has published on Safe Schools is to induce nausea. This isn’t even a comment on the content, just the sheer volume. In the year following Natasha Bita’s first February cover story, the Australian feverishly published nearly 200 stories either about, or mentioning, Safe Schools, amounting to over 90,000 words – four times the length of this essay. That’s at least one story about or mentioning Safe Schools every two days. This is a conservative count too, excluding the newspaper’s Cut & Paste sections and Strewth columns, as well as myriad letters to the editor. When I collated every article the Australian had published over this period into a single PDF, the resulting file was so large that my laser printer couldn’t handle it and I had to get it professionally printer and bound. The volume that came back is roughly the size of a standard PhD thesis. No one can claim the Australian isn’t thorough.

And yet, across this entire period, Australian – self-appointed guardian of the safety of children – spoke to not a single school-aged LGBTIQ youth. Not even one. Later, queer teenagers who followed the Safe Schools saga tole me the dynamic felt familiar. At school, it’s known as bullying. In journalism, it’s called a beat-up.

Benjamin Law talks to teenagers, especially. Those who are articulate, scared, hopeful, dejected, loving … he listens to them. He listens to how queer communities are helping them, and how Safe Schools worked or would have been appreciated by them.

Again, I will warn that this is a powerful read. If you’re like me and this all hits very close to home, it’ll definitely make you cry. But, look – the final chapter is called ‘The Kids Are All Right’. Because they are, and will be. Because no matter the outcome of this marriage equality survey, or the hate-filled propaganda of those who fear change … it’s still coming. In fact, it’s already here – in the young queer kids Benjamin Law speaks to, and the communities who are supporting and striving to understand them, instil respect for them.

The Kids Are All Right. It’s adults who have to learn to do right by them – all of them.
464 reviews6 followers
September 10, 2017
Benjamin Law’s Quarterly Essay Moral Panic 101 was written before the High Court gave the go-ahead for the Same Sex Marriage survey. His essay is not about same-sex marriage, but the launching of the 'No' campaign has conflated the two issues.
Law's essay is about the Safe Schools Program, and the lengthy and detailed campaign conducted by Murdoch’s Australian newspaper against it. He traces the history and genesis of the Safe Schools program, created in response to the distress and suicide rates of GLBTQI students, and its uptake throughout Australia. He then looks at the ‘poison’ of the campaign against it, spearheaded by the Australian Christian Lobby and facilitated and driven by the Australian which somehow, in the reams and reams of print devoted to the topic, never once spoke to a student. Law begins his essay with the suicide of thirteen-year-old schoolboy Tyrone Unsworth, who took his own life after sustained bullying over his sexuality. He ends it at Minus18’s annual formal for GLBTQI students. Law’s focus is on children: just as the Safe Schools debate should be, instead of being used in another argument completely.

See my complete review at:
Profile Image for Rusalka.
392 reviews114 followers
October 15, 2017
I think this is one of the most important reads for anyone living in Australia at the moment.

It is a detailed and comprehensive look at the Safe Schools program, it's aims, history, and it's actual syllabus. And then going beyond the program all us "grown ups" are fighting about, to looking at the actual experiences of LGBTIQ kids in Australia in 2017. While most of the mainstream commentary on this program has been Mrs Lovejoy-esq without actually thinking of the children, Ben Law does, having been a kid this program would have benefited, and does so with a huge amount of research and his trademark wit and irreverence.

The Quarterly Essay, for those unfamiliar with the publication, is an essay published four times a year on a current, relevant topic to Australia, usually political in some shape or form. But that could be on the history of a country and our foreign policy towards them, race relations, energy policy, a biography of the new PM, analysis of a rise of a political movement, etc. Pretty broad scope, and a decent analysis of the issue in 25 000 words, instead of the 200 sensational, emotive words usually in the daily papers.

This essay breaks down what Safe Schools aims to do, how they train teachers, what it (and State Governments) asks schools do, and looks at *those* resources that are available. Law then addresses a huge amount of the claims made in News Corp's papers (a good 90 000 words written in the Australian on Safe Schools by the time Law published. News Corp may have inadvertently found the key to perpetual energy, even though they are aren't sold on climate change, and not keen on renewable power), talks to doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists, teachers, and *gasp*, queer teenagers.

It is these stories and characters Law portrays so purely and beautifully. The kids whose lives these programs would literally change. The ones who may not have a safe space at all at the moment. That if we made school accepting, open, and safe, this would actually save kids lives. Either now, or in the future.

While we are spending $122 million on a non-binding survey asking people to judge the validity or people's relationships and whether we should extend people different to the norm equality, we are squabbling about a program that would cost $8 million over 3 years. And all it aims to do is to tell kids they are okay, they are accepted, they are safe.
Profile Image for Cathy Miller.
53 reviews
October 20, 2017
A well balanced and well researched view of the Safe Schools program that separates fact from fiction. I personally found the media coverage around this issue confusing and could not understand how it was so easily conflated with the marriage equality debate. This essay provided a lot of clarity for me and some hope as schools push forward with educating their staff on having conversations with LGBTQI youth who reach out for support - leaving the BS and fear mongering behind.
Profile Image for Nick.
237 reviews9 followers
December 28, 2019
In the voice of Helen Lovejoy 'won't somebody please think of the children!'.. but in reverse.

A sobering look at the misconceptions and prejudices that cannibalized the safe schools program. The way political and moral opportunists foisted a national talking point on some of the most vulnerable in society.

There are reasonable questions regarding gender and identity for school aged children. Ones that Law points out give pause to both religious conservatives and liberal progressives (e.g. at what age should a someone be able to make decisions regarding irreversible medical procedures). However, these questions (and the presumed answers) are antithetical to the safe schools program, which had as its sole purpose a benign and harmless purpose of making schools a little safer and a little kinder.
3 reviews4 followers
October 6, 2017
Made me cry happy and sad tears. Such an interesting and thoughtful discussion on both the impact of lack of action on homophobia and bullying in our schools, and how sweeping educational reform functions as a political football in Australia.
Profile Image for Chloe Meyer.
25 reviews2 followers
October 18, 2017
Ugh. I hate right wingers. Shame that fear, misinformation, and derailment are such effective political tools. Worked so well for them in this whole mess.
Profile Image for Timothy Dymond.
179 reviews9 followers
September 25, 2017
Are the Australian Christian Lobby really Queer Theorists? It’s a minor point made in passing by this Quarterly essay, but it makes sense. Benjamin Law argues that, while Queer Theory is often lumped in with ‘identity politics’, it is actually radically opposite. It argues that all identities around gender, sexuality and more are unstable and potentially transitory, and that aspects of ourselves we see as ‘essential’ are not essential at all.

So the horror that religious conservatives feel about the ‘Safe Schools’ anti-bullying program is a horror of recognition. Law demonstrates that Safe Schools has, for practical purposes, no Queer Theory content for classrooms (the main object of the moral panic about the program was a PDF that was only intended as background for teachers). However, if you genuinely believe that the mere mention of alternative gender identities to school children is enough to ‘confuse’ them or ‘turn them gay’, then you must believe that ‘heteronormativity’ (the privileging of heterosexuality) is a fragile basis for identity. It can't simply be the 'normality' that the ACL claims to be defending by attacking Safe Schools and marriage equality. If ‘normal’ sexual identity was as natural as the Christian Lobby claims, it would hardly be worth this much fuss and bother to defend. The logical conclusion to draw is that they don’t really believe such normality truly exists. The ACL basically accepts the thesis of ‘heteronormativity’ - they just want to prop it up by any means necessary.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
260 reviews2 followers
September 17, 2017
Thoroughly researched and compelling, Benjamin Law's 25,000 word essay, Moral Panic 101: Equality, Acceptance and The Safe Schools Scandal made me angry, frustrated and heart sick. To step back and look at the Safe Schools scandal from an international perspective shows that it has been a victim of the world-wide trend of right wing, sound bite, hate speech. The type of fear inducing headlines to send moral adults of parenting age into a well, moral panic.

I took my time to read this, to appreciate how much time Law put into his research to back up his position. The Australian really has no facts to refute Law's argument: that the attacks on the Safe Schools program have been a total beat up, with hundreds of articles denouncing the program based on unsubstantiated and untrue claims, and not one LGBTIQ youth interviewed.

Yet, it was the story of Michael, 17 and transgender, whom Law encountered at the LGBTIQ youth service in Brisbane's Fortitude Valley that broke me. I hope that changing attitudes and compassion, allowing all people to simply exist as the person they see themselves to be, particularly Michael, I hope it comes at us fast.

I know that in the first instance, this article will be preaching to the converted, but I hope it goes on to be quoted far and wide and make a difference.
Profile Image for Sammy.
857 reviews35 followers
September 13, 2017
Astonishingly well-written. It's perhaps fair to say that the people who choose to read a Quarterly Essay publication will be either those who accept its broad social aims, or writers of "The Australian" reading it to cherry-pick quotes for their articles. Nevertheless, Mr. Law's analysis of the history of the Safe Schools program in Australia is on point and thorough. More importantly, from the first few pages, it's clear that he is not a blind follower, but someone willing to investigate further. And Law's broader point about the still-entrenched spirit of homophobia in this country is felt keenly by many of us. A very good read for anyone even remotely interested in the subject - as we all should be, for the sake of our future generations.
Profile Image for Phil Devereux.
127 reviews5 followers
November 3, 2017
Benjamin Law expertly researched and blows open the ridiculous and completely unwarranted hysteria surrounding the utterly benign and very necessary Safe Schools program. He details what the program actually includes as well as how and why it was viciously attacked throughout the right wing press for political point-scoring without thought for the vulnerable youth it sought to support and protect; many of whom Law actually interviewed for this essay. Something none of the politicians or columnists spewing their uninformed vitriol at the program bothered to do. Required reading.
Profile Image for Tim (Beermovie.net).
54 reviews2 followers
October 4, 2017
Well balanced whilst ruthlessly exposing the right's concerns over safe schools as thinly veiled, vicious and uncaring homophobia and transphobia. Law combines policy analysis and breakdown of the cowardice of Australia's current political climate; with personal stories simply illustrating the difference safe schools can make. Law is also one of those rare writers of non-fiction who remains readable whilst communicating complexities and political realities.
Profile Image for Loki.
1,271 reviews11 followers
September 22, 2017
A careful examination of the campaign waged against the Safe Schools program by the Murdoch press (and its allies). Nuanced, thoughtful, depressing, and ultimately, uplifting. Things aren't great right now for those of us in the QUILTBAG, but the future is bright, and this essay gives me hope for its arrival.
Profile Image for Peter Franklin.
43 reviews
September 23, 2017
Hard to know what to think about this essay. I don't doubt that if I wasn't a QE subscriber I wouldn't have read it. Nevertheless I did learn things I probably should know.
I also discovered further evidence of the appalling ways of the Australian and other Murdoch newspapers; which wasn't a surprise.

Profile Image for Sarah Cupitt.
239 reviews2 followers
June 30, 2023
- Safe Schools was the single biggest investment the Commonwealth had made for LGBTQ Australia since the fight against HIV aids
- A 2005 study showed that 38% of same-sex attracted Australians felt they had been treated unfairly because of their sexuality; nearly 3/4 of the abuse and harassment happened at school
- 2010 showed an increase of sexuality-based abuse to 80%, which is to say Australian schools were not safe for queer youth - compared to their heterosexual peers, these students reported higher rates of truancy and were far more likely to leave school before completion
- In the teenage years, we've got to be really careful we don't overtly overpromote identification; the only thing we want schools to promote, if anything, is acceptance
- The sheer volume of articles from The Australian - a conservative count of 200 articles about or mentioning safe schools amounting to 90000 words, four times the length of this essay (1 story every two days, roughly the standard size of a PHD thesis)
- Yet across this entire period, The Australian (self-appointed guardian of the safety of children) spoke to not a single school-aged LGBTIQ youth, not even one. Later queer teenagers who followed the safe school saga noticed the dynamic felt familiar; in school, it's known as bullying; in journalism, it's called a beat up

Favourite quote:
- Teachers have to be given the tools to deal with every situation with no excuses. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with this effective little program which achieves the above two aims and nothing more. But let's be honest here I don't think these extreme liberals are actually offended by the structure of the program or the teachers who lead it; I just think they're offended by the kids who need it. They don't like the fact that some young people might be different, and I'm sick of it. I'm sick of liberal politicians telling our kids that there's something wrong with them when there isn't.
Profile Image for Stef Rozitis.
1,506 reviews71 followers
November 28, 2017
Both the essay itself and the correspondence was vital reading and surprisingly easy to read. I hope people won't be put off by how academic the word "essay" sounds, this is simply written an account of how the "safe schools" programme has unfolded and been supported, attacked and withdrawn from in turn, some of the reasons for that and a little bit about the various personalities involved as well as some interviews with actual queer (including trans) teenagers which significantly those wasting most words writing about the program (or their misconceptions of it) nearly always neglect to do.

The correspondence was about Anna Krien's book The Long Goodbye and there was a good range of writers who did not all say the same thing (for all that I personally could have done without the pompous and bullying tones of Matt Canavan who contradicted himself throughout his rant which was riddled with out of date or just bad "facts"). I am glad he was included (and Krien's reply to him) if only for the value of having a dissenting voice on a much debated issue. The pro-nuclear stuff I will have to learn more about, for all that I don't like the idea at all. I want to know more about current technologies in renewables, because I felt that a couple of writers were underestimating them but I need the figures to back me up (or I need to rethink).

It was very disappointing that out of nine writers featured, seven were male. There are still not enough women's voices in the public arena, being given a platform to speak on contested issues such as these. Most of the writers were high enough quality (Canavan being the exception), however it would be good if they looked for a balance of female writers of the same calibre. I guess when I look at other issues of QE I will see whether this was just a one off, or whether it is an area they need to work on.
Profile Image for Ben Thurley.
449 reviews24 followers
October 1, 2017
Benjamin Law has written a comprehensive account of how the non-partisan Safe Schools program (aimed at helping schools overcome homophobia and bullying of LGBTIQ kids) became the latest victim in a political proxy war, waged by right-wing politicians and the conservative media echo chamber. This is an excellent essay: clearly written and compassionate. And its specific focus on an anti-bullying program serves very effectively to raise broader questions of tolerance, inclusion, acceptance and the protection of vulnerable children.

Law writes with insight and vigour about the increasingly virulent campaign waged by the Murdoch media, most notably The Australian newspaper, against the Safe Schools program, noting that what is known as a "beat up" in journalism looks very much like the bullying too many LGBTIQ kids and adults have been subjected to. He is sensitive to nuance and complexity in discussions of adolescent identities and sexualities. He is staunch in desiring to protect the rights and health and lives of kids like Tyrone Unsworth, a 13 year old gay teenager from Queensland who took his own life in 2016 as a result of homophobic bullying.

You might not agree with him, but his writing helps us ask all the right questions. It is an instructive read.
Profile Image for Sam Schroder.
556 reviews8 followers
December 19, 2017
So late to the party with this one... you know you’re behind when the next Quarterly Essay appears in your letterbox and you haven’t started the previous one! In this essay, Benjamin Law explores the intentional destruction of the invaluable Safe Schools program by an increasingly irrelevant and demented far right bunch of politicians and media hacks who persistently and, with wanton lack of academic rigour, touted lie upon lie in an attempt to whip up a frenzy designed to foil the marriage equality movement by tying it to their invented nonsense that next thing you know, we’ll see gender reassignment in toddlers. Sucks to be them. May Lyle Shelton, in particular, dribble off into a miserable existence of puréed peas and solitude. More broadly, may the resounding wisdom of the Australian public in loudly declaring their actual view that we should all be equal in the eyes of the law lead to a recommitment to the funding of this well-designed and valuable teaching tool so that those of us at the chalkface can get on with the job of supporting every child in every school to be the best version of themselves, without fear or favour.
Profile Image for Sarah-Jane.
122 reviews
June 2, 2018
Late to the party on this one. Published in September 2017, Benjamin Law performs a thorough post-mortem on Australia's National Safe Schools program. In the process, he not only debunks the outrageous claims of social conservatives who campaigned against the program, he calmly documents the origins of Safe Schools, its creators and champions, its resources and the howlers used against it. Most importantly, Law brings everything back to the people who have the most at stake: LGBTIQ children. LGBTIQ people "have the highest rates of suicidality of any demographic in the country." That any child would want to kill themselves is desperately sad. The fact that bullied children can and do succeed in ending their lives is horrific.

As Law writes towards the end of his essay, "People have become so frightened of phantom hypotheticals lately that we're asking the strangest questions, with little bearing on reality. That has paralysed us and distracted us from asking the simplest and most important questions of children: What do you need of us? And how can we help?"
Profile Image for James Whitmore.
Author 1 book4 followers
September 24, 2017
Very good and distressing report on the Safe Schools debacle, that may yet see some good come out of it. This essay highlights the staggering quantity of 'reportage' coming out of The Australian that destroyed federal support for the program - so extensive that Law had to get it printed professionally to read it all. He gets to the heart of some key issues, particularly Australia's discomfort with trans kids. The essay lights up when he talks to the kids themselves, sassy, savvy and hopeful.
Profile Image for Sean Harding.
3,263 reviews25 followers
December 26, 2017
Well researched and beautifully written defence of the safe schools policy - a real attack on The Australian newspaper and the Murdoch press in general, which is justified.
This deserves to be read by many people, it is a shame the quarterly essay is so expensive, thankfully my library had a copy.
This would be well worth putting in the HSC course as required reading.
The Australian would go berserk, but they are not a real newspaper anyway.
Profile Image for Imogen.
17 reviews8 followers
January 31, 2019
I'd forgotten how harrowing the Safe Schools saga was, perhaps because the plebiscite followed it relatively quickly. This essay adds a context to it which makes sense in retrospect, but was not clear to me at the time. Law notes that the plebiscite had just been voted down at the time of writing, but who can be surprised that a government incapable of deciding whether it is worth protecting queer kids could not vote on giving gays basic rights.
Profile Image for Clare Snow.
1,009 reviews97 followers
February 10, 2018
I used to read every Quarterly Essay. My tolerance for hearing about the bigotry in our society isn't what it was. Reading this hurt. Six months later, with gay marriage legalized, "homophobia is still deep in the marrow of this country."

But I'll take heart that these people are dying, a few more decades we might have some tolerance.
Profile Image for Kate Walton.
399 reviews77 followers
October 1, 2017
Excellent summary of the Safe Schools controversy, with some good interviews. I don't think it really shed much new light on the issue but perhaps that's because I already knew quite a bit about the topic. A good read nonetheless.
Profile Image for Benjamin Farr.
453 reviews21 followers
October 11, 2017
I've been a fan of Benjamin Law for quite a while, but this is by far his best work. I was so impressed, in fact, that I went out and subscribed to the Quarterly Essay, as this publication highlights what good, thorough and comprehensive analysis looks like.
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