Book review: Moral Panic 101 | Benjamin Law

Benjamin Law’s essay ‘Moral Panic 101: Equality, Acceptance and the Safe Schools Scandal’ begins with a bone-chilling question: What makes a thirteen-year-old kill himself?

It’s bone-chilling because it happened. When fresh-faced Tyrone Unsworth—a sweet, loving boy who was gay and bullied to the point they’d broken his jaw—took his own life in 2016, his mother screamed, “They finally got him,” and it quaked a nation.

It was against this shocking backdrop that the federally funded (but now mostly defunct) Safe Schools program was introduced. The initiative was born of a desperate need to protect LGBTIQ+ kids who face sky-high rates of suicide and self-harm, explains Law.

You’ve surely heard of the program—perhaps you’ve heard too much about it and are exhausted by its mere mention. But how much do you really know about it? What does it actually contain? And if you already have some answers to these questions, how much is fact and how much is fiction? For example, did you know it was launched by the Coalition Government and signed off by Tony Abbott? There were lots of surprises in Law’s essay. In the muddy waters of media hype and now the same-sex marriage survey, it’s a clarifying read.

Law steps with care through the program, interviewing key people, trawling through an exhaustive library of news articles, and providing details of the program: from tentative beginnings, through the provocative middle, to death-roll end. While the essay is an enjoyable, engaging read, I realised some of the Safe Schools development is downright boring: adherence to national curriculum, bureaucratic ticks and checks… Even its most controversial component failed to alarm: a video no one expected any schools to get around to using, of actual LGBTIQ+ kids just… telling their stories.

Law—a gay, outspoken writer—does not pretend to sit on the fence, but when he provides the personal, he does so with delicacy and admits his own moments of misinformation. In the end, it’s a gentle, measured analysis; one that never strays from the human side of the debate.

Do read it, if only to get the story ‘straight’—or LGBTIQ+, for once.

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