Unpanicked: The Dissolution of the “Transgender Children” Moral Panic

March 1, 2017 in General

It looks as if Family First’s forelorn attempt to ignite a moral panic over the question of transgender children’s health, privacy and safety within changing rooms and toilets has guttered out. The organisation in question copied the US “Ask Me First” campaign masterminded by the Family Policy Alliance, formerly known as CitizenLink, the political activism arm of the US Christian Right multinational Focus on the Family, but then the campaign screeched to a halt as parents of transgender children and transgender rights activists mobilised their own allies and supporters, insuring that Family First’s fearmongering did not go unopposed. Which is not what moral panics ‘ideally’ result in. Classical moral panic theory centred on situations where “moral entrepreneurs” (dominant social institutions with significant professional and moral authority) targeted vulnerable and marginal social groups, using their professional or moral authority to buttress negative media content, resulting in legislative sanctions against the vulnerable minority.

That isn’t what happened in this context. Family First and Ask Me First had no professional allies at their disposal, so had to rely on ‘radical feminist’ opponents of transgender rights instead, appropriating their discourse to legitimise their case. Without the professional allies at their disposal, an opening materialised for parents of transgender children and transgender rights activists to use supportive corresponding professional authority against Ask Me First and Family First. Moreover, media commentators insured that Family First didn’t have things their own way, particularly Liz Marvelly from the New Zealand Herald, Nadine Chalmers-Ross and Alison Mau. As a consequence, the “Ask Me First” campaign sputtered, was unable to influence the mainstream media, and with no access to their own wide distribution alternative media were unable to skew the disruption of their moral panic media framing attempts. Because of that, Education Minister Hekia Parata and the Ministry of Education ignored McCoskrie et al’s latest grandstanding.

There endeth the lesson.

Not Recommended:

Family First: http://www.familyfirst.org.nz

Ask Me First: http://www.askmefirst.nz

Ask Me First Please: http://www.askmefirstplease.com


Stanley Cohen: Folk Devils and Moral Panics: London: Macmillan: 1980.

Angela McRobbie and Sarah Thornton: “Rethinking “moral panic” for multi-mediated social worlds”: British Journal of Sociology, Vol 46(4), Dec 1995, 559-574.

Comments are closed.