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Brisbane Courage director warns against conversion therapy bill

Brendan Scarce: “I used to work with people in psychiatry and I saw a lot of young people there who committed suicide … so you get to the point where you know, ‘Just be who you are’.”

BRENDAN Scarce once offered 13 counselling sessions over five months to a man seeking reparative therapy because he felt anxious about being same-sex attracted.

Mr Scarce told the man he didn’t do reparative therapy but, as a social worker and the long-time director of Courage, a ministry to Catholics with same-sex attraction, he could offer a listening ear.

Since 1998 Mr Scarce has held Courage meetings for about 25 people with same-sex attraction who have wanted to live a chaste life according to the teachings of the Catholic Church.

“I was reluctant to do the work but then he rang a couple of times, and I was available, and we conferred about his anxiety and so on,” Mr Scarce said.

Mr Scarce is now concerned that under proposed Victorian legislation attempting to ban so-called gay conversion therapy, his efforts to support a man who reached out to him would have sent him to jail for 10 years or landed a fine of up to $200,000.

“If I was in Victoria, I might get arrested for just listening to people,” Mr Scarce said.

“I’m not a gloomy person, and I’m not despondent, but after reading the Victorian legislation, it knocked me round a bit.”

READ BRENDAN SCARCE’S LIFE STORY: Former Catholic counsellor Brendan Scarce reveals childhood spent in four orphanages

The Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020 is seeking to criminalise any practices that seek to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

The bill passed Victoria’s lower house last Thursday.

Melbourne Archbishop Peter A. Comensoli has publicly denounced the bill, telling the Sunday Age: “Who I pray to, how I pray, what I pray for, and most particularly, who I pray with is not of concern to any government.”

In an official statement, Archbishop Comensoli said he encouraged “every action to protect people from harm” but argued the bill “doesn’t merely do what it claims”.

“It targets prayer, and appears to impose silence on people of faith from sharing their beliefs in an open, honest and faithful way,” he said.

“It robs adults from seeking whatever guidance and pastoral support they seek concerning deeply personal matters.”

The archbishop has listed a number of unresolved questions regarding the proposed bill.

Courage director opposed Queensland bill

In February this year, Mr Scarce attended the public hearings for the Queensland Health Legislation Amendment Bill 2019. 

Mr Scarce opposed the bill in Queensland, and in an article published on the Brisbane Courage website after the public hearings, questioned “why a person could seek a sex change and another person be denied the option of Reparative (conversion) Therapy” which he clarified was rarely practised in the state. 

The bill was passed in August, making Queensland the first state in Australia to ban gay conversion therapy, but Mr Scarce said the proposed Victorian bill was worse. 

“Even looking at the Victorian legislation, if people come here, to our home for the meeting, that’s my business,” Mr Scarce said.  

He said both bills were fraught with misinformation. 

“In the Victorian (bill) it talks about electric convulsion therapy, aversion therapy; well, that was a thing that happened a hundred years ago,” Mr Scarce said.

“I think it came up in the Queensland parliamentary group in February, and the psychiatrist and the experts were saying this is stuff that happened 100 years ago.

“So somehow Victoria is putting that in the legislation, about aversion therapy, and I don’t believe anyone does that anyway. 

“This is a myth.” 

The proponents of the Queensland bill also cited statistics that Mr Scarce had never heard 

of, including that thousands of LGBTI people had committed suicide because of conversion therapy. 

Mr Scarce questioned if legislators were using American statistics rather than those from Queensland as he knew of no one in Queensland who had been to counselling who then committed suicide.

He said Courage had little to do with forcing people to change their sexual orientation. 

“The people that come to Courage don’t actually come to have sexual orientation change, but they come in order to have fellowship, and bonhomie, and encouragement,” Mr Scarce said. 

“I’ve never gone out there and brought them in. 

“They’ve all come voluntarily and they want to live a Gospel life, and they know that having sexual relations outside marriage number one, and then with another man, is wrong. 

“But I don’t know any person in Queensland who has had conversion therapy.” 

Mr Scarce does claim to know ex-Courage members, predominantly men, who say through improving their prayer life and friendship, they are no longer attracted to men. 

“When they join the group, when they have prayer and better things happening, they’re not as attracted sexually to men, but they do actually become more interested in women,” Mr Scarce said. 

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