One of the founders and leaders of ICS’s LGBTQ support group Rainbow Connection gave a rousing speech in front of the legendary Stonewall Inn to mark the start of Pride Weekend in New York City on Friday, June 22.
Evelyn Castillo was part of a roster of speakers invited to show off the diversity of the LGBTQ community in New York. Before a boisterous crowd, Evelyn spoke of her identity as a lesbian who acquired her disabilities, which have affected her mobility to the point she now uses a power wheelchair to get around, in adulthood.
Embracing a New Life
“Before my disability,” Evelyn said, “I didn’t have any physical difficulties or obstacles preventing me from having relationships. Now that I am disabled, it’s very hard to find love. Before I was disabled, I used to have crowds—20 to 30 people—around me at all times. I was the Queen, the mother, and I held court. It was an awesome time in my life.
“Once I became disabled, the crowds diminished, my identity shifted—and the crown fell off my head. It was painful to realize that because I wasn’t able to do as many things as I once could as an able-bodied person, those people disappeared from my life. But, that’s what happened.”
Evelyn went through a period of unfamiliar loneliness as she adjusted to her new circumstances. “With the help of an organization called Independence Care System,” she said, “I learned to embrace my disability and the new differences in my body. They taught me to become more independent and to feel supported.”
Doing Things Differently
“Listen: I can still do things. I just do them differently,” Evelyn continued. “I don’t let my physical disabilities stop me from doing the things that are important to me, the things that I have always done, the things that make me happy, the things that I’m passionate about –that make me Evelyn. I am still active and involved in the community.”
The crowd cheered when Evelyn talked about her work as a crisis counselor at a Brooklyn hospital, where she has volunteered every week for the last 17 years. She added that, in addition to her role in the Rainbow Connection, which is now in its second year, she is also part of the Women’s Empowerment Initiative, another group based at ICS. “These women have welcomed me with open arms and have been a fantastic group of sisters that I respect and love,” she said. “At first, when I told them that I was a lesbian, I was afraid to see their reactions and worried if anyone would have a problem with me. Their response was like, ‘So what, girl? We love and accept you. And, we really don’t care.’ From that moment on, I was touched and felt so comfortable and welcomed. So, thank you, ladies, for making it easier for me to be even more comfortable in my own skin.”
“Disability is like a relationship,” Evelyn continued. “In a relationship, you learn to adjust yourself and accommodate your partner for the betterment of you both. Disability is like that. My disability is with me all the time, so I have learned to become flexible and transform myself in order to work with it.
“My wheelchair, for example – I have found it be very useful beyond its obvious purpose. It’s my portable bed. It accommodates any position I desire. I can go to sleep anywhere. I just push a button, lie back and see what happens. Not to mention I always have a seat on the bus or train.”
Evelyn closed her speech, saying, “I am honored to have been given the opportunity to speak in front of all of you and share my story with you. I hope people become even more accepting and compassionate when it comes to people of the LGBTQ community with disabilities. My people. Me. Us.”
Anyone who wants to celebrate the Rainbow Connection’s second year, please come to ICS Brooklyn‘s Friday night hangout tomorrow, June 29, from 5 to 7 p.m.
For more information about the Rainbow Connection, click here to listen to Evelyn talking with Independence Radio host Stephanie Wallace.