Every year since 1970, New York City’s LGBTQ community has commemorated the Stonewall riot of June 28, 1968, with a joyous parade through the city.
This year’s Pride March, held last weekend, may have been slightly more subdued because of the violence in Orlando at the Pulse nightclub earlier this month, but hate has never been able to keep this life-affirming party down.
Next month, we look forward to the second annual Disability Pride Parade on July 10. Between these two celebrations, then, seems like a good time to introduce Rainbow Connection, a new group for people with disabilities who are LGBTQ and their allies. Formed this past March, Rainbow Connection is the newest of several affinity groups hosted by ICS, including two for women and one for men, that meet regularly at our Brooklyn office.
In a new Independence Radio podcast with host Stephanie Wallace, Evelyn Castillo reflects on what brought this group together and what their intentions are for this new forum. “It’s basically a group for LGBTQ and affiliates to come out and … have a place that feels safe to speak about whatever issues they may have,” Evelyn says. “Also to educate them, and be able to explore different possibilities of doing different things with your disabilities.”
Safety in Numbers
Evelyn acknowledges that some people may hesitate to join the group. “Even though not everybody that’s in the group right now is LGBTQ,” she says, some might think, “‘If I go into this group, everybody’s going to know I’m gay. How are they going to react to me?’ Those things start working in their mind because there are so many things that are happening against LGBTQ people, especially what just happened in Orlando.” (Evelyn herself lost two friends in the Pulse shooting.)
“There’s so much hatred out there,” Evelyn says, “so many people judging you. [Some] don’t feel safe or comfortable, and especially if you have disability, it’s even harder….”
“We cannot change [other] people’s minds and way of thinking,” Evelyn continues, “but we can have a place where [LGBTQ] people can come and discuss whatever issues they’re having and whatever they’re feeling and at least let them feel comfortable and be themselves and at ease for the time that we have the group.”
“Because you’re dealing with two things at once,” Evelyn says, being LGBTQ and disabled brings with it special difficulties. “People with disabilities already have a hard time dealing with their disability and dealing with the outside world. It’s the same thing with being LGBTQ, but it’s additional. So it’s additional pressure, it’s an additional discomfort, it adds more to their anxiety… It affects your health, period.”
On top of social pressures, cultural and family pressures may conspire to keep LGBTQ people with disabilities from coming out. Evelyn’s background in social services has exposed her to the sad fact that so many of LGBTQ young people become uprooted from their homes and end up working as prostitutes to afford enough to eat.
“I feel that it helps to have someone in the group who has dealt with the LGBTQ community in a clinical environment,” Evelyn says. “If they know there’s a social worker there who is also LGBTQ, they’ll feel comfortable enough to open up and release whatever it is they’re feeling inside.”
“Being a member of the LGBTQ community is not always a downer,” Stephanie points out, based on the experiences of friends of hers in the group and the wider LGBTQ community, including Evelyn. “You have people who have no problem with it at all. And these people can come and share and inject their joy into the group for the other members.”
Safe, Proud and Loud
Though one member volunteered at the after-parade party on the Hudson piers, Rainbow Connection did not participate as a group in this year’s Pride March. “The gay pride parade in Manhattan is one of the largest,” Evelyn explains. “It’s very difficult to get around, especially in your chairs. There are no bathrooms… It’s not safe.”
Next year, Evelyn hopes, the group will be large enough to be included in the Pride Parade. “I just want to get the Rainbow Connection to be a larger group than it is right now. We have currently only five members that consistently come. We want to build that by triple that amount for next year….
“I would like to see more members come in and participate and be able to have a gay old time!”
If you are interested in joining Rainbow Connection, you can contact ICS Manager of Social Programming Latricia James at 1.718.907.1622. You can also contact Latricia if you want to march with ICS (along with Rainbow Connection and other ICS members) in the Disability Pride Parade.