'Ex-Gay' March Set for Orlando Includes Two Pulse Massacre Survivors

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday August 20, 2019

An upcoming "Freedom March" - an event that shifts to different places around the country and that is organized by a group that believes gays can choose to be straight and trans people can choose to be cisgender "by the grace and power of Jesus Christ" - is slated to take place in Orlando, Florida, the same city where a terrorist opened fire at gay nightclub Pulse and murdered 49 people on June 12, 2016.

What's more, the event touts the inclusion of two survivors of the massacre who now say that they have rejected their old identities and are no longer gay.

Newsweek reports that the event is slated to take place only minutes away from the site of the tragedy, at Lake Eola Park.

The upcoming event will be the second one of its kind for Pulse survivor Luis Javier Ruiz, who attended a Freedom March in Washington D.C. last spring, Newsweek noted.

Ruiz has commented to the media and on Facebook before about his newly non-gay identity. Just before the Washington, D.C. event, he was quoted by NBC News as posting this message to Facebook:

"I should have been number 50!"

In the post, Luis also wrote, "I remember my struggles of perversion, heavy drinking to drown out everything and having promiscuous sex that led to HIV. My struggles were real! The enemy had its grip, and now God has taken me from that moment and has given me Christ."

NBC noted at the time that:

The event's organizers have partnered with Voice of the Voiceless, a religious group whose mission is "to defend the rights of former homosexuals, individuals with unwanted same-sex attraction, and their families," according to its website.

The NBC article noted that Voice of the Voiceless was co-founded by anti-LGBTQ activist Christopher Doyle. In 2016, just days after the Pulse massacre, Doyle seemingly suggested that the gunman - a Muslim who had turned to extremism, with some positing that he himself was gay and deeply conflicted - had been searching for love and acceptance from the gay community and lashed out with deadly violence when he did not find it.

Doyle claimed at the time that the gunman was from "a very oppressive family and faith [where] he wasn't really able to discuss this issue or get help."

Doyle further speculated that the gunman went "into the gay bar, seemingly to get acceptance and love, and he's rejected there." Doyle painted a portrait of "a very hurting individual who really doesn't have a clear sense of his own identity" who might not have committed mass murder if he "had the right kind of love and support from his family and from his community."

FBI investigations into questions and rumors regarding the gunman's sexuality uncovered no evidence that he was, in fact, gay. However, those investigations reportedly did uncover evidence that the gunman was involved in affairs with women other than his wife.

Given that Doyle's organization trucks in claims of "freeing" people from "unwanted same-sex attractions," the "right kind of love" might well have been the practice of so-called "conversion therapy" - a debunked practice that dangles promises of "curing" gays, as though they suffered from a pathological condition. The practice has been denounced by reputable mental health professionals, who warn that "conversion therapy" is ineffectual and could even be dangerous.

Indeed, the dangers attributed to the practice are so acute that a number of states have outlawed its infliction on minors.

Newsweek noted that the organization Fearless Identity, which Ruiz and the other "ex-gay" attending the event, Angel Colon, founded, does not condone or promote "conversion therapy."

Colon, Newsweek noted, was one of the 53 people injured in the massacre. He survived five gunshot wounds as well as injuries that resulted from being trampled by panicked nightclub patrons.

But Luis also seemed to suggest that a prayer he'd made prior to the tragedy might have triggered divine intervention in the form of the mass murder.

"A couple months before June, I started praying to God and I told him, 'Lord, You know my situation, You know my heart, You know I want to worship you. But I cannot do it on my own will,' " Luis told a Christian podcaster named Julie Roys.

" 'Please help me come back to you,' " Luis says his prayer continued. "And at that moment, I call it the dangerous prayer. And I said, 'Lord, do whatever you have to do to me for me to come back to you. And I don't care what it is.' "

Luis went on to tell Roys, "Pulse was the vehicle that God is just using to let people know that, that was grace."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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