Two survivors of the Pulse nightclub shooting hosted an ex-gay rally in Florida over the weekend, alongside a number of Christian groups, pushing the message it is possible to change one’s LGBTQ identity through faith.
The event took place on Saturday at Lake Eola Park, just a few miles from the Pulse nightclub, in front of a banner reading “Freedom March.” Over 100 people attended, according to the Orlando Sentinel, some wearing shirts reading “changed,” in reference to their claim that they have changed their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Far from a “Freedom March”, the Religious Right exploited desperate and vulnerable LGBT people to hold a “Fraud March” in Orlando, where these folks renounced their humanity to get a pat on the back from homophobic bigots. Fortunately, the Truth Wins Out.https://t.co/WPgRWTxD5b
— Wayne Besen (@WayneBesen) September 14, 2019
I walked by the freedom march today in Orlando, basically an anti-lgbt rally. I just wanted to walk around the lake with my boyfriend only to be reminded that Orlando isn’t safe from gross hatred towards my community pic.twitter.com/ro5Rkyz053
— Daniel – Gay Werewolf Extraordinaire (@RadeDRB) September 14, 2019
Angel Colon (at top, seated, left) and Luis Javier Ruiz (below, baptizing) were both injured during the Pulse shooting in 2016 and went on to form the group Fearless Identity, which, according to its website, seeks to bring “hope and understanding to the LGBTQ community and the church through education, biblical clarity, and support in a judgement free environment for those seeking the option to change.”
The group hosted the event alongside the Florida Family Policy Council, which advocates against LGBTQ rights.
“I want to make a public declaration: This is not conversion therapy, this is not electrotherapy, this is not shock therapy,” Javier Ruiz told the crowd on Saturday. “This is all the Holy Spirit, this is the man that died on the cross. This man never cheated on me, never slept with my best friend. He’s the man on the cross.”
“After God dealt with my heart, he began to pour his love into me, and all I ever wanted was love,” said Devon Johnson, who also claims to be ex-gay and who works for the group Freedom March. “I was looking for attention, affirmation, acceptance, and in the homosexual community, it’s more about sex.”
The rally comes as advocates in Orange County are pushing for a statewide conversion therapy ban. The practice, which claims to be able to change a person’s gender identity or sexual orientation, has been debunked and is warned against by major medical and psychological association in the country, such as the American Medical Association, the American Counseling Association, and the American Psychiatric Association.
Another Pulse survivor, Brandon Wolf, addressed a county commission meeting last week, where he called on elected officials to “take a stand against conversion therapy.”
Orlando City Commissioner Patty Sheehan revealed in an interview with the non-profit group Truth Wins Out that she was subjected to the practice as a teenager, describing the experience as “abusive.”
Full video of the rally can be found below.