Two survivors of the Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016 where 49 people were killed no longer identify as gay and are now planning a “Freedom March” that encourages attendees to embrace Jesus and overcome their homosexuality and transgender identity.
The march is scheduled for Sept. 14 at Lake Eloa Park in Orlando. That’s just a five-minute drive from the site of the former Pulse nightclub.
“LGBTQ people do not need to change. Regardless of who we love or how we identify, the community is a beautiful part of society’s fabric and should be uplifted and affirmed - not,” said Joe Saunders, Senior Policy Director. “Conversion therapy is not only ineffective, it is a dangerous lie that puts its victims at risk. The bigoted and hateful practice of conversion therapy should be outlawed, not celebrated.”
Angel Colon, 29,and Luis Javier Ruiz, 36, were among the 53 people injured at the club. At the time it was the deadliest mass shooting in the U.S. It remains the deadliest attack on the LGBT community.
Colon, a dancer at the time, was shot six times and could not walk for two months. Ruiz, an Army veteran, was trampled while he was trying to leave the building and sustained several injuries.
Two years ago the two men founded Fearless Identity, an organization that seeks to “bring hope” and “biblical understanding to those seeking to change,” Ruiz told.
Despite no longer identifying as gay the two men insist their organization is not trying to change people’s sexual orientation.
“We’re trying to equip churches, even if they’re not gay-affirming churches, with the resources they need and teach them not to judge the LGBTQ community,” Colon explained to NBC. “We’re trying to share our stories through ministry and share the testimonies of people who’ve come out of the homosexual lifestyle.”
Meanwhile Ruiztold NBC he nor Colon support so-called conversion therapy.
“We are not all all advocates for conversion therapy or shock therapy,” Ruiz told NBC. “We stand with the gay community, and our main message is about falling in love with Jesus, but if an LGBTQ person wanted to talk to a pastor or counselor, that’s a whole different story.”
While the pair no longer identify as gay they don’t identify as straight either. Instead they simply refer to themselves as “children of God.”
“My life was all over the place, and I never blamed it on being gay. I was a drug addict, an alcoholic,” Colon told NBC. “I missed worshiping God, so when Pulse happened, I took the situation as a big turning point in my life.”
“People have the option to change, to choose their own path and their own journey. If there’s a drag queen doing a storytelling hour at a school, we’re not going to say, ‘Kick the drag queen out.’ We’re going to say, ‘Let’s also read the Bible to these kids,’” Ruiz told NBC. “We come in love. I’m so thankful that I get to live and that I’m breathing now.”