A survivor of the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016, Luis Javier Ruiz, is speaking out again following his public decision in the spring to abandon his gay lifestyle and pursue “freedom.”
During an interview in mid-July with the Billy Graham Evangelical Association, Ruiz, now in his thirties, shared his story and his ultimate decision to walk away from homosexuality, a struggle he said he remembers from childhood.
Growing up gay
“I grew up in a time when it was not even talked about,” Ruiz explained. “I learned, basically, how to keep secrets, how to lie to my family, my parents, the church. That reigned in my heart for a very, very long time.”
He went on to recall when he told his mother he was gay. It was her birthday when she and Ruiz were listening to a sermon on a local radio station by a preacher who was speaking with hatred about homosexuality and those who have same-sex attraction.
Overcome with anger, Ruiz blurted to his mother, “Well, mom, you know what: Your son is gay, how about that?” Those words — and the weight they carried — put a major strain on Ruiz’s relationship with his parents for years.
“It was really hard for my family,” he said, “because a lot of times my mom was like, ‘What did I do wrong? What did we as parents — where did we go wrong?’ So [for] a long time, it was just affecting their hearts, affecting who they were in Christ. They were questioning their ministry — everything.”
Ruiz continued his pattern of secrecy when he joined the U.S. Army, where he served for 15 years. Though he said he enjoyed his time in the armed forces, Ruiz told the BGEA he had to live two separate lives because, at the time of his service, military members could be dishonorably discharged for being openly gay.
His fellow soldiers, Ruiz recalled, “saw this one guy in the Army, and at night I would go out to the gay clubs and go hang out and party and live my life the best way I knew how without God.”
After leaving the military, Ruiz ended up in Florida. There, he continued to carry on two separate lives: In one life, Ruiz was heavily involved in a local church, while in the other, he was an active member of Orlando’s thriving LGBTQ community.
It was the latter that led him to the Orlando Pulse nightclub on Saturday, June 11, 2016.
Surviving the Orlando Pulse shooting
“I hear what sort of sounds like fireworks,” Ruiz remembered. But it wasn’t fireworks. It was a gunman, Omar Mateen, a 29-year-old security guard, who opened fire in the nightclub, ultimately killing 49 people and injuring 53 others in a deadly terrorist attack.
After hearing someone yelling warnings, Ruiz immediately started running toward the club’s exits as gun shots rang out and bodies dropped around him. The entire time, Ruiz said, he was thinking, “I’m about to die, I’m about to go to hell. Like, why did I even come?”
Ruiz finally got out of the nightclub, but had to find a way out of the enclosed area, which was protected by a fence too tall for him to climb. Finally, he and a friend noticed a gate in the perimeter and successfully kicked it open. A mad dash, though, from other club-goers resulted in Ruiz being trampled underfoot, sustaining multiple injuries, but he made it out alive.
“I was sick, depressed and hurting for a long time,” he said, noting his anger was compounded when he learned he was HIV positive.
Walking away from homosexuality
In the midst of so much tragedy, God showed up.
Ruiz said he felt the Holy Spirit prompting him, asking him to choose between submitting to God’s calling for his life or continuing down a destructive path that’s “just going to get worse after this.”
Uncertain of what to do, Ruiz did what he had done since he was a child: He prayed and he handed his worries to the Lord.
“I even said, ‘I’m gay, God. This is how you’re taking me. Take me as I am. I don’t know if you’re supposed to take this away from me or not. I’ve tried this many times,’” Ruiz said. “And in the midst of all that, automatically, things started falling off of my life.”
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The shooting survivor said he surrendered his struggle with homosexuality and pornography to God. Today, he’s working to bridge the ever-growing chasm between the Christian church and the LGBTQ community.
Ruiz is part of a new community, a thriving band of young men and women who — like him — have stepped away from homosexuality, lesbianism and transgenderism in pursuit of sexual chastity.
“We are free. We are free in Jesus. Yes, you can come out of homosexuality. You can be free from porn addiction. From anything,” Ruiz explained.
With his rekindled faith, Ruiz is confident God has a plan for his life. He told the BGEA he is grateful for the chance to share his “story of hope” and let others know “there is a God who changes [people] and who transforms.”
“I tell people I was ‘born that way’ too. I was born a jerk, I was born a liar. You know what? We must be born again,” he said. “The Bible says we must be born again. If there is sin, God is going to walk you through it, in his timing and his process.”
Following Ruiz’s initial testimony about his decision to abandon the gay lifestyle, several news reports issued warnings about so-called “conversion therapy.” In an interview with The Christian Post in May, Ruiz said he’s “never been through” any kind of psychological treatment for same-sex attraction.