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Two survivors of the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub have announced plans for a "Freedom March" for ex-gay activists. Scheduled for September 14, which coincides with the 30-year anniversary of ACT UP's protest on the New York Stock Exchange, the march will occur just a five-minute drive from Pulse's location.
Organizers Angel Colon and Luis Javier Ruiz were present for the shooting in 2016. Colon worked at the club as a dancer and survived six bullet injuries, and Ruiz was a patron injured in the stampede to escape. Following the shooting, they formed an organization called "Fearless Identity, Inc." The organization's mission is somewhat convoluted and unclear and is connected to a maze of related ex-gay groups.
Though Colon and Ruiz have claimed in interviews that they do not support so-called "conversion therapy," the language used by Fearless Identity is similar to rhetoric used by groups which believe it's possible to change a person's sexual orientation or gender identity.
"Fearless Identity brings hope and understanding ... in a judgement free environment for those seeking the option to change," reads a statement on its website.
Photos on the Fearless Identity website advertise an organization called "CHANGED," which claims to be for people who "have confronted the pain, rejection, and despair that often accompany the homosexual experience ... men and women who have chosen identity in Christ above that of LGBTQ+."
The CHANGED organization is led by the Equipped to Love ministry, which offers a "Leaving Homosexuality" e-course for $129. The course is set to launch Fall 2019.
"I don't want to tell everyone it's a 'gay-to-straight' thing," Ruiz told NBC News. "I love the [LGBTQ+] community."
But writing on the CHANGED site, Ruiz describes the experience of learning that he was HIV+ after the Pulse shooting. "I dropped to my knees and wept," he writes. "I chose to leave the homosexual lifestyle to pursue my true identity in Jesus. I now live a life free of depression, anxiety, and fear."
That language is similar to wording used by National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality Policy institute (also known as NARTH), a notorious ex-gay group founded by Joseph Nicolosi in 1992. "Clients have the right to claim a gay identity, or to diminish their homosexuality and to develop their heterosexual potential," reads its mission statement.
The march scheduled for September 14 will feature baptisms, according to organizer Jeffrey McCall, who describes himself as a "former transgender."
Despite claims that LGBTQ+ people have the ability to "leave" their identities, every leading U.S. medical group has condemned conversion therapy as harmful and ineffective, including the American Medical Association (AMA) and American Psychological Association (APA). It has been outlawed in 18 states and the District of Columbia.
Meanwhile, there are also numerous groups that provide affirming religious community for LGBTQ+ people for want to be affirmed for who they are..
"The Bible doesn't condemn, but actually affirms, same-sex love," begins an essay from the Christian group GALIP.
The Jewish organization Eshel describes its mission as creating "community and acceptance for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Jews and their families in Orthodox [Jewish] communities."
"For many, being [LGBTQ+] is, or becomes, a great blessing in their lives," reads a statement by Affirmations, a group for LGBTQ+ Mormons. "We hope it will be for you as well."