"We’re trying to share our stories through ministry and share the testimonies of people who’ve come out of the homosexual lifestyle.”
Angel Colon and Luis Javier Ruiz were two of the 53 injured at Pulse Nightclub in June 2016, and they say the experience has changed their lives including their sexual orientation.
Colon was hit six times by gunfire and Ruiz was trampled during the ensuing panic.
The two men have returned to religion and no longer identify as gay, they instead call themselves "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 News. “I missed worshiping God, so when Pulse happened, I took the situation as a big turning point in my life.”
The men founded Fearless Identity Inc., a group that in their mission statement says they 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. We bridge the gap between that marginalized and misunderstood, wounded, and survivors to bring those individuals to wholeness in Jesus Christ."
But they are also feeling the backlash of people who are criticizing their motivations as a veiled form conversion therapy.
“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. “We’re trying to share our stories through ministry and share the testimonies of people who’ve come out of the homosexual lifestyle.”
On September 14, they have organized a "Freedom March" at Orlando’s Lake Eloa Park, only a few minutes from the nightclub-turned-makeshift-memorial.
Even though Colon and Ruiz insist the rally is only an attempt to join the LGBT community and places of faith together, some are saying the event is an insult.
Christopher Cuevas, the executive director of QLatinx, an Orlando-based Latino LGBTQ advocacy group, claims the march is an “attempt to wash the community in a thicket of hate and bigotry.”
"While we honor the freedom for expressions of faith, and hold the beauty of religiosity in our community, we cannot condone the gross misuse of religious text and faith to exploit LGBTQ+ people or support conversion therapy,” Cuevas wrote in an email. “The expressions of our queer and transgender identities are the embodiment of divinity and grace, because we are living our most radical truth by celebrating and centering our LGBTQ+ identity.”
Colon and Ruiz say they do not endorse conversion therapy or shock therapy, instead, "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," said Ruiz.