Combining life with a disability with LGBT pride

Published 21, Apr, 2016
Author // Félix Garmendía

Out NYC poz guy Felix Garmendia says “For the longest time, I wanted an LGBT symbol to decorate my wheelchair”. So he did it –and immediately got noticed.

Combining life with a disability with LGBT pride

For the longest time, I wanted an LGBT symbol to decorate my wheelchair.

I thought about a pink triangle, in the tradition of paying homage to all those LGBT concentration camp victims of WW2. For those of you who are not familiar with the pink triangle history, it was the Nazi's way of “tagging” LGBT people. LGBT prisoners in concentration camps were identified by a pink triangle sewn onto their prison uniforms. 

Another very well known symbol of gay pride is our rainbow flag. “The rainbow flag was popularized as a symbol of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) pride and diversity by San Francisco artist Gilbert Baker in 1978. This version is also sometimes called 'the freedom flag'.” 

I decided to use this symbol to decorate my chair. My husband Denis bought me a rainbow seat belt that I placed in the back of my wheelchair with a lot of pride.

After months of going unnoticed, today, for the first time a very special person changed that. 

It was a beautiful day so we decided to jump on the bus and head downtown. After a couple of stops a very frail elderly couple boarded the bus, accompanied by a beautiful little girl about seven years old. It was obvious that grandma and grandpa had taken this lovely little girl on some kind of special outing. Apparently, part of the outing included "face painting". Her face was adorned with magical fairy motifs.

The little girl smiled at me, and I smiled back. Immediately after, the little girl told her grandmother, “Look grandma, he has a rainbow on his chair”. The grandmother noticed the rainbow accessory on my power wheelchair, then looked directly at me and my husband and said, “People can love anybody they want”.The girl was completely satisfied with grandma's statement and continued to smile at us.

I was so very touched by grandma's wise counsel. I knew I couldn’t leave the bus without acknowledging grandma's wisdom and kindness in addressing this precious child's curiosity. I looked at the grandmother and thanked her for her words, fully knowing that not everyone from her generation would necessarily choose such kindness, compassion and insight. Not everybody of her generation would have decided to teach a lesson of equality and love at the mere mention of the word, rainbow.

I looked at the little girl and told her, “You have a really cool grandma you know?” With the brightest of smiles, the little fairy princess joyfully agreed.

Our bus arrived at our stop and I said goodbye to the elderly couple and the little girl. “You all have a wonderful day, and by the way, you are a very special lady”, I told the grandmother. She and her husband both thanked me and I exited the bus with a beautiful rainbow of peace hugging my heart.

What a beautiful experience that was! Her words resonated in my brain loud and clear like a freedom bell. Like a poem of echoes that will forever forge a young mind. I just witnessed a teacher in action, an inspired soul that has a very clear view of her mission in this lifetime. I was lucky enough to have witnessed an old soul spreading the limitless light of unconditional respect, empathy and eternal love.

My rainbow seat belt served its purpose. One more time, the harmony of the six colors has inspired joy on our LGBT flag that stand for red (life), orange (healing), yellow (sunlight), green (nature), blue (harmony), and violet (spirit).

These beautiful rainbow colors have crowned the little girl with the fairy face. Long live the fairies! 

About the Author

Félix Garmendía

Félix Garmendía

"I was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico in the 60s. Living in Puerto Rico, and growing up there was a bumpy process. I was very aware of my homosexual identity at a very early age, so fighting the stigma was a very intense journey in my native island.

I love art. The Ponce Art Museum was my shelter since I was in high school. As my first job ever, I guided bilingual tours for locals and tourists from all over the world.

In high school, I was introduced to music and theater, after that, I chose to pursue a B.A. in theater at the U.P.R. ( University of Puerto Rico ). Rio Piedras campus.

In college, I discovered many things about myself. My sexual identity became established, my religious beliefs changed dramatically and my awareness of my role in society became the first and biggest challenge of my life. I became a proud gay man, an atheist and an activist. The political climate in Puerto Rico was very far away from recognizing any kind of gay rights so I knew that I needed a community that I could call my own, and be myself. After several years in Puerto Rico, in my twenties, I moved to N.Y.C. to pursue a Master’s Degree in Art Education and Art Criticism at New York University. I decided to stay in Manhattan. Here I found myself. I discovered my passions, causes to fight for, and the strong community that I always dreamed of. I became a passionate man with strong convictions.

After graduation I became a N.Y.C. school teacher. I taught art in the South Bronx, Spanish Harlem and Upper Manhattan for 15 years.

Sometime in my twenties, I was exposed to HIV. I tested HIV-positive and after a serious depression, came out strong and victorious. I became an AIDS activist. My passions in life became the gears that fed energy into my existence.

Very early in my N.Y.C. years, I became a staunch liberal. All my causes were related. I was trying to survive in a world where not everybody cared if I did or not. Politics made clear who cared for me as a human being.

That’s why I’m very vocal about my postings. Not because I want to convince anybody, but I do it for those who, like me, once needed some direction in life. I want to share the "real" me with those friends with similar beliefs or at least respect for my beliefs.

Today, I still live in Manhattan. I’m legally married to my husband Denis Beale and I’m disabled. My life is not easy, I have several health related conditions that are a real challenge these days. This bring me to another one of my causes. From personal experience, I believe in the legalization of cannabis (marijuana). 

I consider myself a loving, compassionate and spiritual person. I have no patience for bigotry, especially the kind of sanctimonious bigotry that wraps itself in prayer and fake compassion.

This is a synopsis of who I am. It would be really helpful to start introducing myself with my favorite warning. Warning: I’m human, far from perfect, passionate about life, the pursue of difficult answers, and the conviction that we are all equal."

Felix has been featured in The Huffington Post’s Queer Voices; see the piece here

You can follow Felix on Facebook here or here, on twitter @PozHeart and also on Instagram, here.