The last few weeks, media outlets have lit up over Uganda’s proposed “Anti-Homosexuality Bill” of 2009. In case you have been living under a rock for the last month, here’s the Cliff’s Notes version: Ugandan legislators will soon vote on whether the government will execute HIV-positive men, imprison people for three years for not reporting homosexual activity and for seven years for supporting gay rights or providing services to gays and lesbians.
Last week, while following the story on Box Turtle Bulletin, I was shocked to see a familiar face in several related posts. Caleb Lee Brundidge, a staffer at “sexual reorientation coach” Richard Cohen’s International Healing Foundation, attended a Uganda anti-homosexuality conference organized by the Family Life Network. Brundidge was photographed eating lunch with American holocaust revisionist Scott Lively, Exodus International board member Don Schmierer and Family Life Network’s Stephen Langa.
I was surprised because I had met Brundidge the month before his Uganda trip. In fact, I asked him out for lunch. Let me explain:
I’m a straight dude who went undercover in so-called “ex-gay” programs. In February, I attended Journey into Manhood, an intense, 48-hour “experiential” retreat designed to help “same-sex attracted men” (SSA-men, in the lingo) become straight. Brundidge was a “Man of Service”, one of the lower-level volunteers who supported the senior staffers, called “Guides”, leading the weekend.
JiM staff employed all sorts of odd exercises intended to initiate us into the elusive world of masculine heterosexuality. To become straight, for example, men reenacted traumatic childhood memories and engaged in the holding-touch therapy pioneered by Cohen. (JiM co-founder Rich Wyler, a Brigham Young University public relations graduate and Certified Life Coach, is listed on IHF’s referral therapist page.)
One exercise, called Clearing, is a conflict-resolution technique where two men stand facing each other while grasping a gnarled wooden walking stick and verbally work out the issues they have with each another. Step 1: Physically describe the person. Step 2: Verbalize the story I tell myself about him. Finally, to resolve the conflict, staffers encouraged us to arrange later one-on-one time to speak with our fellow clear. Most men couldn’t hold back the embarrassed grin as they asked, “Would you have lunch with me today?”
I picked Brundidge for Clearing. I didn’t have an issue with him. Rather, he didn’t look like any of the other men attending the weekend. Brundidge’s long dreadlocks, tattoo-covered forearms and, yes, his dark skin—he’s an African-American man—distinguished him from the clean-cut, tattoo-free Anglo men attending the retreat. Clearing was my chance to speak with the one guy who didn’t look like everyone else.
Our clearing session was awkward. I followed the protocol explained by camp staffers while Brundidge shifted back and forth on his feet and kept looking away. Finally, I asked him to have lunch. He accepted.
OK, there was a personal reason behind my selecting Brundidge for Clearing. See, I love tattoos. At the time, I had two large tattoos hidden safely under my short-sleeve shirt. I wanted a third somewhere on my forearms, but I was freaked out about how visible ink could hinder my future employability. I wanted to know how Brundidge dealt with people’s reactions.
Brundidge found me at lunch and we talked about our ink-work. He told me how people were often shocked to learn he’s Christian. But, he sees that as a lesson they can learn about being quick to judge.
“You can’t choose how people will react,” he told me through bites of food. “You can only be true to yourself and to God.”
Brundidge sure doesn’t look like a stereotypical Christian, and he doesn’t worship like one, either.
He writes techno worship music, he said. He spins bass-heavy praise music at Club Mysterio, which, if you ignore the cry to “Awaken your hearts to God” coming through the microphone, looks like a tame rave. YouTube videos reveal strobe lights, glo-sticks and teenagers writhing to his music. (Brundidge can also be booked for weddings and high school functions, by the way.)
I would learn after the retreat that Brundidge’s involvement with Phoenix-based Extreme Prophetic Ministries included not only throwing raves-for-Jesus, but raising the dead. In another YouTube video, Extreme Prophetic Itinerant Melissa King describes how she and Brundidge took a field trip to several Phoenix mortuaries asking if they could resurrect the deceased. I’m guessing they didn’t have much luck.
I didn’t speak to Brundidge again until last week, after I had learned he traveled to Uganda to participate in the Family Life Network conference.
In his write-up in the summer 2009 IHF newsletter (PDF: 7MB/12 pages), Brundidge gives few details about the trip. He addressed the Ugandan Parliament, the Family Life Network conference and a church. He spoke on the radio and was interviewed by a newspaper. He describes his speech to Parliament as an effort “to help them understand a more compassionate response to anyone who experiences SSA.”
They must have missed that message. How could they get the message when Brundidge himself writes this about the situation in Uganda:
“As I mentioned, homosexual behavior is illegal and punishable by life in prison or even death. They have fear to go [sic]. On the other hand, the word is out on the street to the young people: If you want to make good money, pretend to be ‘gay.’ Why? Gay activists are recruiting impoverished young boys and girls, offering them money to impersonate homosexuals. ‘Just tell people you are gay and we’ll pay you money.’ In this way, they are trying to skew the data regarding the numbers of people who are homosexual.”
In April, the month after Brundidge and company participated in the Family Life Network Conference, Ugandan legislators began drafting a bill to execute gays.
I e-mailed Brundidge last week, and, after identifying myself as a writer, asked him what he felt about all this. He referred me to the statement on IHF’s website. I pressed him in a follow-up e-mail. After all, didn’t he see how his “gays can change if they want to” message may have influenced the proposed legislation?
His reply, again, was brief:
“I really don’t have anything to say. What I shared is listed on the website on IHF. Thank you for emailing and giving me a opportunity to share. I believe you got a chance to get to know me at JIM so you know my heart is the heart of God. That is Love for all people.”
Up until now, Brundidge was relatively unknown in ex-gay circles. My guess is Brundidge’s race played a factor in his selection to travel to Uganda. Again, from his write-up:
“Upon my arrival, I was greeted by my host Stephen Langa…. He said, ‘Welcome home my brother.’ I was truly home! I saw my mother’s face in many women.”
I made several attempts to get a comment from Cohen. He didn’t return my calls or e-mails. My guess is he stands to benefit financially from mandatory conversion therapy also being considered in Uganda; Brundidge has facilitated IHF’s TLC seminar and could easily hold similar—or even more intense—events there in the future.
This whole mess in Uganda is an example of how ex-gay ministries play both sides of the field: Brundidge and company speak of love and tolerance and being true to yourself while simultaneously spreading paranoia about gay activists recruiting children. They then feign shock when countries like Uganda draft “kill the gays” legislation.
Leaders of the ex-gay movement still don’t see how they are pawns in the hands of people like Don Schmierer and Scott Lively. Ex-gays and their “people can choose to change” message are used to justify punishing those who choose not to. When will ex-gays wake up and take a stand against the very people who want to see them dead?
I was certainly affected by my lunch conversation with Brundidge. The month after I returned home from JiM, I got a tattoo on my right forearm. Who cares if someone doesn’t like it?
Ted Cox is a free-lance writer from Sacramento, California. He was interviewed earlier this month by Sena Christian at AlterNet about some of his experiences from attending a retreat with Journey Into Manhood.