QUARTERLY ESSAY 67 Moral Panic 101



Lyle Shelton

Perhaps the biggest fault-line running through contemporary Western civilisation is where one stands on the cultural agenda of the LGBTIQ political movement. To have reservations is to be a bigot, unworthy of admission to polite society – an intellectual and social pariah.

As I write this, Australians are one month away from delivering their verdict on the redefinition of marriage in the Turnbull government’s marriage postal survey conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Voters are continually told that Safe Schools, sex education and gender theory have nothing to do with the question of whether two people of the same gender (or anywhere on the spectrum of gender) should be allowed to marry. Benjamin Law’s Quarterly Essay, Moral Panic 101, bells the cat, because in it Law admits what the “Yes” campaign has studiously denied – that same-sex marriage and Safe Schools are “the country’s two biggest LGBTIQ issues.”

Law praises Labor for its commitment to both. Labor, under Bill Shorten, has pledged to legislate same-sex marriage within 100 days of its election and to fund the so-called Safe Schools program from the Commonwealth purse. By contrast, the federal Coalition is split on both Safe Schools and same-sex marriage. The outcome of the postal vote will be critical to both issues.

Honest “Yes” campaigners, like Law, know that same-sex marriage and Safe Schools are a package deal. “It might be stating the obvious,” he writes, “but same-sex marriage is far from the final frontier in the battle against homophobia.” Law’s argument that “Safe Schools should be implemented in every school” certainly projects that frontier well beyond the comfort levels of most parents, even those who might otherwise be amenable to a redefinition of marriage.

That same-sex marriage and Safe Schools are joined at the hip is confirmed by the experience of countries such as the United States and Canada, where same-sex marriage has either been legislated or imposed by the courts. People forget that the “T” in LGBTIQ stands for “transgender.” Justine Greening, the UK minister for equality in Theresa May’s Conservative government, said people being able to legally change their gender was the next “step forward” after same-sex marriage was legalised in 2013. Men identifying as women in the UK must now be allowed into women’s private spaces, regardless of whether they have had gender-reassignment surgery. An ideology built on queer theory and that proposes gender is fluid and detached from biology must then be taught in schools. In this way, “advances” in transgender rights and “bathroom wars” entail an equivalent loss of parents’ rights to say “No” to their children being exposed to Safe Schools–style programs.

In Australia, believing same-sex marriage was inevitable, the LGBTIQ political movement got ahead of itself and began rolling out Safe Schools prematurely, exposing parents for the first time to the movement’s ideology – a preview of what awaits on the other side of the rainbow. This has understandably caused “moral panic” among many parents – something for which Law despises them. Parents who object are pilloried as so many Helen Lovejoys (the Simpsons character who hysterically and irrationally cries, “Won’t someone think of the children!?”).

As difficult as it is for Law and the LGBTIQ political movement to understand, millions of parents are not on board with their children being told, as youth organisation Minus18 states, that “there are two virginities,” or that “penis and vagina sex is not the only sex and certainly not the ultimate sex.” Most parents do not believe that gender is on a spectrum and has nothing to do with one’s genitalia and would be concerned that children in schools can be affirmed as the opposite gender, setting them on a pathway to damaging puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones and irreversible sex-change surgery, with or without parental consent. Chest-binding for girls and penis-tucking for boys is not every Australian mother and grandmother’s vision for the flourishing of their children.

Yet Law’s essay assumes and asserts that parents who resist this are at best homophobic or transphobic and, at worst, complicit in causing the suicide of young people. It is the use of child suicide as an emotional battering ram that makes the debate difficult for all people of goodwill to navigate. No one wants to see children bullied or commit suicide. Yet, if LGBTIQ activists like Law are to be believed, to disagree with same-sex marriage and programs like Safe Schools is the moral equivalent of bullying or having blood on your hands.

Indeed, Westpac sent an email to thousands of its employees urging them to vote “Yes” to same-sex marriage because that would prevent 3000 gay suicides per year. Never mind that this exceeded the total number of deaths by suicide annually for all Australians. Never mind that while suicidal ideation and attempts appear to be higher among gay people, claims that “completed” suicide rates for the LGBT community are higher are only speculative. Never mind that same-sex marriage has not been a panacea to gay suicide or suicidal ideation in the small number of countries that have changed their laws.

When Brisbane schoolboy Tyrone Unsworth took his life, many on Twitter blamed me. Law begins his essay detailing the news reports of his tragic death, musing that if Aspley High School had been a Safe School, Unsworth might still be with us. An inconvenient truth ignored in the debate about Safe Schools is that studies reveal the suicide mortality rate for transgender people ten years after a sex-change operation is still twenty times higher than for the non-transgender population. Suicide rates among homosexual married couples remain significantly higher than for heterosexual married couples. These studies are from gay- and transgender-friendly Sweden. They contradict the assertion that social stigma is the single contributing factor to reduced mental health for the LGBTIQ community. You won’t read about this on Education Minister Simon Birmingham’s Student Wellbeing Hub, where the Safe Schools resources have migrated since the Commonwealth defunded the program.

I am on a unity ticket with Law when it comes to bullying. No one should be called “faggot,” “poof” or “tranny,” and no one should be subjected to violence. It hardly needs saying that there should be no bashings and murders of gay people. These have always been my beliefs, not in spite of but because of my upbringing as a Christian – a religion Law assumes is intrinsically hostile to gay people. But having love in one’s heart towards people, which is a command of Christ, does not preclude disagreement on public policy or on the highly questionable “science” of gender theory.

Law assumes that gender theory is not theory. He asserts it as fact because it is the lived experience of some people. As in Hans Christian Andersen’s story “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” anyone who disagrees with the new “Truth” must be a fool. However, the same story reminds us that majority affirmation of a false belief does not make it factual. In Law’s mind, the “facts” of gender theory mean the debate about whether or not gender is on a spectrum is over. It is only the clueless who look at the genitalia of a baby and “assign” a gender accordingly. Safe Schools promotes a resource for four-year-olds, The Gender Fairy, by Jo Hirst, which tells children, “only you can know if you are a boy or a girl, no one can tell you” – not Mummy or Daddy and certainly not the bigoted doctor who presided at your birth. Never mind that archaeologists can still identify ancient bones as belonging to either a man or a woman and that no amount of puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones or surgery can alter mitochondrial DNA. What it means to be a man or a woman may be up for debate, but the binary nature of gender is biologically hardwired into every human creature’s chromosomes.

A minuscule percentage of people are born with ambiguous genitalia and this causes distress for many of these people. A small number of people, including children, experience mental anguish because they strongly feel that they are trapped in the wrong body. Compassion requires we support these people. None of this means children should be encouraged to “transition” at school, as Safe Schools recommends. If left alone, the overwhelming majority of children who experience distress about their gender will, by the time they get through puberty, reorient to their biological sex.

The thing that has caused many parents to panic in the wake of each new revelation about Safe Schools material is that it was introduced to schools without parental consent and thrives by keeping them in the dark. As Law points out, signing on to Safe Schools occurs when a principal does so: there is no requirement to consult with parents. Indeed, Safe Schools co-founder Roz Ward boasted that parents were powerless to stop it. She recommended that schools respond to parental concerns by saying: “We’re doing it anyway. Tough luck.”

LGBTIQ politics does not accept that parents have the right to have the final say on the education of their children. This has been the experience of parents like Steve Tourloukis of Ontario, Canada, after same-sex marriage was legalised. He lost a Supreme Court case where he fought for the right to have his children withdrawn from radical LGBTIQ sex education classes. It is the experience, after same-sex marriage was legalised, of the Vishnitz Jewish school in London, which has now failed three Ofsted tests because it refuses to teach LGBTIQ sex education.

Despite a United Nations affirmation of the right of parents to educate their children as they see fit, including in their religion, in Law’s worldview parents who do not accept that gender is on a spectrum are a danger to their children. The LGBTIQ political movement, which sees dissenting parents as harmful to children, needs to be upfront with parents about what rights they will or will not have if LGBTIQ political agendas are adopted by governments.

Law is right that Australians have come a long way in their tolerance of the LGBTIQ community and that is not a bad thing. But acceptance of people does not mean parents have to accept a school system that teaches all children that their gender is fluid or that, sexually, anything goes. Most parents want the freedom for their boys to be boys, their girls to be girls and for all kids to enjoy the innocence of childhood. An LGBTIQ view of the world makes that impossible. Redefining marriage in law makes that impossible.

Law quotes former ACT Greens convenor Simon Copland, who advocates for marriage equality to be extended to polygamous relationships. People like Law and Copland are admirable for being honest in the extrapolation of the logic of their ideas, something the “Yes” campaign for same-sex marriage studiously avoids. Words like “bigot,” “homophobe,” “hater” and the use of suicide have been powerful weapons to discourage scrutiny and to intimidate those who question LGBTIQ political ideas. The conflation of legitimate concerns about the ill-treatment of gay people and people struggling with gender dysphoria with homophobia or transphobia have been used to leap-frog science and silence the public discussion necessary to democracy.

Knowing the truth about the political agenda of the LGBTIQ movement, the Coalition for Marriage, of which I am a director, raised the impact on education as a consequence of same-sex marriage. The publication of Law’s essay, and his explicit acknowledgment of the connection between same-sex marriage and Safe Schools, is a further and well-timed validation of our campaign’s concerns. As Heidi McIvor (one of the mums who appeared in our television ads) has said: “Our children are not your social experiment.” Whether or not LGBTIQ politics continues its march through our classrooms will depend on whether Australian parents accept Law’s view that they have no rights when it comes to programs like Safe Schools, and on whether they have any grounds to oppose such programs if marriage is redefined.


Lyle Shelton is managing director of the Australian Christian Lobby. He has worked in the press, in Christian ministry, as a Toowoomba city councillor and as political adviser to two Queensland senators.


This correspondence discusses Quarterly Essay 67, Moral Panic 101. To read the full essay, subscribe or buy the book.

This correspondence featured in Quarterly Essay 68, Without America.


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