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Queer, Crip and Here: Meet blind writer Caitlin Hernandez

Author navigates intersecting identities in life, work

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Caitlin Hernandez

(Editor’s Note: One in four people in America has a disability, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Queer and disabled people have long been a vital part of the LGBTQ+ community. Take two of the many queer history icons who were disabled: Michelangelo is believed to have been autistic. Marsha P. Johnson, who played a heroic role in the Stonewall Uprising, had physical and psychiatric disabilities. Today, Deaf/Blind fantasy writer Elsa Sjunneson; actor and bilateral amputee Eric Graise who played Marvin in the  “Queer as Folk” reboot; and Kathy Martinez, a blind, Latinx lesbian, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Disability Employment Policy for the Obama administration, are only a few of the queer and disabled people in the LGBTQ community. Yet, the stories of this vital segment of the queer community have rarely been told. In its monthly, yearlong series, “Queer, Crip and Here,” the Blade will tell some of these un-heard stories.)

Some creators agonize for years before plunging into their art.

This wasn’t the case with queer, blind writer and teacher Caitlin Hernandez. Hernandez wrote her first “novel,” “Computer Whiz,” she writes in her bio, when she was in the fourth grade. She kept her monitor off so no one would see her “masterpiece.”

Reading and writing have been a part of Hernandez’s life for as long as she can remember. “I was writing, even as a little kid,” Hernandez, who was born in 1990 and grew up in Danville, Calif., said in a telephone interview with the Blade, “In first grade, I wrote stories in braille. They taught me to type. Because people were having to translate.”

As a kid, Hernandez used a tape recorder to tell stories. “That happens so often with blind kids,” said Hernandez, who lives in San Francisco with her partner Martha and Maite their Rottweiler.

Maite was Martha’s dog when the couple got together. “I call her my ‘stepdogter,’” Hernandez said. It’s clear from the get-go that she doesn’t take herself too seriously. Maite, her “stepdogter,” is “currently writing a picture book,” Hernandez jokes in her bio.

It’s commonly thought that disabled people lead sad, tragic lives. But Hernandez busts this myth. Martha, her partner, “reads braille with her eyes,” Hernandez whimsically writes in her bio.

Hernandez is committed to teaching and writing. But, she “loves eating coffee ice cream, watching Star Trek Voyager, singing, skipping and using her rainbow cane – sometimes all at once,” Hernandez writes in her bio.

Queerness is an integral part of Hernandez’s life: from her fiction, which tells stories of LGBTQ people, disabled people, and people of color to her rainbow cane.

“Queerness is considered cool now in many places,” Hernandez said, “it’s normalized.”

But that’s not true with disability, she added. “Generally, there’s more fear and misperceptions around disabled people,” Hernandez said.

Because of their discomfort with disabled people, she’s often left alone at social and literary gatherings.

“Because I’m blind, people frequently won’t talk to me,” Hernandez said, “even if I’ve read at an open mic.”

To make people feel more comfortable with her, Hernandez, totally blind since birth, sometimes uses a rainbow cane. “I designed it,” she said, “it has the colors of the rainbow flag. If you’re queer, you’ll get that.” 

But it’s also beautiful because it’s a rainbow, Hernandez said, “It’s a great ice-breaker.”

(Hernandez uses her rainbow cane when she’s out with friends. When traveling by herself, she uses the white cane used by most blind people.)

Once people get to know [disabled people],” Hernandez said, “they’re chill with us.”

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), a landmark civil rights law, despite problems of enforcement and compliance, has done much to change life for disabled people.

The ADA generation (those born when or after the law was passed) has grown up with the expectation that disabled people have rights. They’re not surprised to see curb cuts or braille menus. They expect employers to make accommodations for disabled employees and hospitals to have sign language interpreters for Deaf people.

Yet despite the ADA, ableism persists (even within her own ADA generation), Hernandez said. A key reason why discomfort with and fear of disabled people is still so pervasive is the problem of representation, she said.

Hernandez, a Lambda Literary Emerging Writer Fellow in 2015 and 2018, is acutely aware of how disabled and queer and disabled people are portrayed in fiction and nonfiction.

“Our lives are often represented so badly,” Hernandez said,  “often by nondisabled creators. There’s a lot of fear and inaccuracy.”

Thankfully, there are a few fab books with disabled characters by disabled authors, Hernandez said. She loves “The Kiss Quotient” by Helen Hoang, who is autistic. The novel portrays the romance of an autistic econometrician and her biracial male escort.

Hernandez is a fan of “The Silence Between us,” a young adult romance featuring a Deaf character, by hard-of-hearing author Alison Gervais.

 “The Chance to Fly,” co-authored by Ali Stroker, the bisexual, Tony-winning actress who uses a wheelchair, and Stacy Davidowitz, is one of Hernandez’s faves. The book, a novel for middle-schoolers, tells the story of a theater-loving, wheelchair using girl, who defies ableist expectations.

Hernandez began to think she was queer when she was in high school. But, she didn’t come out then to anyone except a few of her friends. “They kinda didn’t believe me,” Hernandez said, “because a friend of ours had already come out as queer and they thought I was trying to copy him.”

After she was in college, Hernandez, who earned a bachelor’s degree in literature from the University of California, Santa Cruz in 2012, came out to her parents.

Her folks, now divorced, were fine with her being queer.

Because nondisabled people frequently don’t see disabled people as datable or sexy, some aspects of coming out are more difficult if you have a disability, Hernandez said. “We often miss one of the rites of passage of coming out,” she said, “of saying ‘I am queer – here with my queer date (or partner).’”

Hernandez’s first relationship was with a woman who was closeted. “We couldn’t be out,” she said.

Hernandez got together with her partner Martha in November 2019. Then there was the pandemic and everything was cancelled. “So we didn’t get to go out as an out queer couple,” Hernandez said.

“Everybody knows I’m partnered with Martha,” she added.

But because of ableism, sometimes people don’t see her as Martha’s romantic partner, Hernandez said.

Like many, Hernandez navigates intersecting identities. “I’m thinking more about my being of mixed race,” Hernandez said, “My Mom is white. My Dad is one-half Mexican and one-half German. I can pass as white,” she added.

She’s grappling with what it means to have a Latinx last name, Hernandez said. 

She wishes she had taken Spanish. “But I took French,” Hernandez said, “I wanted to do what my friends were doing.”

As a writer, Hernandez hopes to help children who live with intersecting identities.

Her work has appeared in “Aromatica Poetica,” “Wordgathering” and in “Barriers and Belonging,” “Firsts: Coming Of Age Stories by People with Disabilities” and other anthologies. 

In 2013, “Dreaming in Color,” a musical written by Hernandez, was produced by CRE Outreach at the Promenade Playhouse in Santa Monica, Calif. 

Hernandez’s unpublished young adult novel “Even Touch Has a Tune” is about a queer, blind girl falling in love with another girl and surviving sexual assault, Hernandez said in an email to the Blade. “It’s fiction but has a lot of autobiographical content,” she added.

If you’re disabled, you’re more vulnerable to sexual assault. When she was a freshman, Hernandez became friends with a fully sighted guy who she’d met in her classes. “He seemed nice,” she said, “but then he came over and touched me inappropriately.”

“I froze up,” Hernandez added, “if you’re disabled, you’re vulnerable. You’re taught to be polite – to keep quiet.”

While there’s more representation of disabled people in fiction, Hernandez is still discouraged.

Because of ableism, many literary agents may not want her “disabled and assault novel,” Hernandez said. (Her unpublished YA novel “Even Touch Has a Tune” is represented by Emily Keyes of Keyes Agency.)

Too frequently, representation of disabled people is focused on ableist tropes like “inspiration porn” and “overcoming,” Hernandez said. There isn’t interest in portraying scary, difficult aspects (like sexual assaults) of disabled people’s lives, she added.

But discouragement doesn’t stop Hernandez from writing or from connecting with kids as a teacher.

Hernandez earned a master’s degree in special education and her teaching credentials from San Francisco State University in 2016. Today, she is a resource specialist with the San Francisco Unified School District.

Hernandez enjoys forging a connection with disabled and nondisabled students. “Nondisabled kids come to me for extra help,” she said.

Hernandez has accomplished much. But, “I’ve learned I don’t have to be a role model,” she said, “I don’t have to be perfect.”

Caitlin Hernandez working with BraileNote and BraileSense.
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Travel

Quito and the Galápagos on Celebrity Flora: blog #4

Turtles, iguanas and birds abound

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Celebrity Flora

After Floreana Island we continued our tour of the Galápagos with stops first on Isabela Island, and then then the next day we continued to spend some time on a different part of Isabela Island, and then went on to Fernadina Island. Then Friday it was South Plaza and Santa Cruz Islands.

Each day there continued to be morning and afternoon excursions off the Flora. Some involved walking, and some were taking a tender around the Island. The first day on Isabela Island we had the option of a long walk and a short tender ride, or just a tender ride in the morning. They warned everyone it was a very rocky trail. I passed on that, and took the tender ride where we saw some amazing sights. Turtles in the water, hundreds of Iguanas on the rocks, and loads of birds of all kinds. Then it was back to the Flora for lunch and relaxing. We had a great lunch outside on Deck 7 in the Ocean Grill and Bar.  In the afternoon we were given the option of a short walk and swim, or just a short walk. Basically, the same thing. It only mattered as to what time you got on the tender to head back to the ship.  I took the short walk and saw tortoises up close, more Iguanas, various birds, including flamingos. We are seeing many of the same animals on most of the Island walks, but there always seems to be a new one, something a little different, and it has been so much fun. I have some great pictures. 

Then it was time for the cocktail of the day; a Margarita, served in the Discovery Lounge on Deck 4. That is the place where we get briefings from naturalists each day, and the place we meet to leave for our excursions. Dinner was at the Seaside restaurant, the indoor dining room, also on deck 4.  Then a lazy evening. They did show a movie in the Discovery Lounge, Life on Fire, about the active volcanos in the Galapagos. There are still five alone on Isabela Island.  It was Valentines Day and to celebrate the pastry chef baked heart shaped cookies. They were really good. I know because I tasted one of each kind. While I haven’t been blown away by the food in general, I think the Executive chef is maybe trying too hard to be different; the pastry and dessert chefs have done a yeoman’s job. Could just be I like sugar.

The next day’s morning options were either a short or long walk, and I did the short one. In the afternoon there was only one option, a tender ride. Then back to the ship for another cocktail of the day. This one called the Yellow Warbler, served again in the Discovery Lounge.  Before dinner there were some games, including a trivia challenge. Then dinner outside in the Ocean Grill and Bar. To eat dinner outside you needed to make a reservation and Mike and Scott did that and ten of us ate together. The evening ended with the option of another movie; Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life. There are TVs in the suites with a number of options, and if you are into the news like I am, they had the usual Celebrity channels available; FOX, MSNBC, and the BBC.

Friday dawned clear and the options were a short or long walk. This was to be a dry landing which meant you could step onto shore without getting your shoes wet. But it was not an easy walk as you were on some volcanic rock, and uneven paths. I decided to take a sea day, and stayed on the ship. I used the time to do some writing, including starting this blog, interviewing the Captain, and to relax with some friends who decided to do the same. We had lunch in the indoor dining room where they served a meal which they called Asian inspired. Some sushi and other dishes. The afternoon choices for those who wanted to head out were; a long fast-paced fitness walk, or a short walk. We did pass Daphne Major Island, and a naturalist told us about it. We could see it from our balconies on the Port side, or from deck 7 or 8. I headed to deck 7.

Then for those of us traveling with Scott and Dustin of My Lux Cruise, we got a reminder of our transatlantic cruises. They hosted a 6:15pm cocktail party in their suite. They do this regularly on the longer cruises. They had a great spread and a bartender. It was fun. Then the crew of the Flora wanted to pretend they were a bigger ship, and announced a ‘silent disco’ party in the Discovery Lounge at 9:00pm.  I was surprised at the silent disco as it didn’t seem to fit the Galapagos. But to be fair, there were many who did enjoy it. 

Now our last full day in the Galapagos will be tomorrow, Saturday, and it will be different. I will share that in my final blog, so hope you will keep reading them.

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Travel

D.C. Travel and Adventure Show to highlight LGBTQ travel

Event to take place at Walter E. Washington Convention Center this weekend

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A sunset in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

This weekend D.C. welcomes travel enthusiasts and adventure seekers looking to find their next destination. The ticketed event is open to travel professionals and consumers alike. It’s the first time the event comes to the nation’s capital.

One may wonder why LGBTQ travelers need a pavilion of their own. Ed Salvato, a consultant for the organization hosting the event, is a travel professional who is an educator in tourism, hospitality and marketing at New York University recently spoke with the Washington Blade. 

“Vendors, suppliers, destinations, marketing companies, airline marketing companies, etc. when they think of travelers the image that probably comes to mind is heterosexual couples. Maybe 1.5 kids,” Salvato said. “Most likely able-bodied, and maybe white.”

Gay travelers, however, may feel compelled to ask, “Will I be comfortable with my same-sex partner at your resort, destination, venue? Or “I’m traveling with my same-sex Latino partner and he’s a little younger, and will he be welcome at your resort?”

“The idea you know that, if I send an email or ask that the response can come across as defensive, ‘Oh, everyone is welcome here,’” explained Salvato.

Many community members may be familiar with this response. Many also may not have found the response to be true. A city or destination may come off as being liberal due to its politics. But what about that particular hotel you booked in the next town over?

“It should be, ‘Oh, everyone is welcome here! What are your needs and concerns? What can we do to make you feel comfortable?’ That to me makes me want to visit the destination,” Salvato said.

The point of the pavilion can go larger than just LGBTQ individuals. It also reflects the diversity, equity and inclusion of other individuals.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

“In reality,” Salvato says, “everyone travels with unique characteristics, some hidden, some not so hidden. Two Black travelers, a traveler in a wheelchair, solo women. A family coming up to me and asking where they can go for a family reunion which includes a bi-racial lesbian couple. A grandmother wanting to send her son and his husband on safari, where will they be safe and welcome? That kind of thing.”

There is also the stereotype of the gay couple being rich, white, living in an elite neighborhood in a city, and traveling frequently.

“But that’s not really the case. We’ve got a lot of ‘Chuck and Bobs’ out there. Let’s say, Chuck is an accountant, Bob is a public school principal, they live in Jersey somewhere, almost all their neighbors are straight, they may have a child they adopted together. Where can they go as a family on their vacation and feel comfortable?”

The LGBTQ pavilion will be an inclusive space. But, of course, Salvato expects there’s going to be a touch of whimsy for which our community is known.

“At a recent event, we had three bears promoting an event in Fort Lauderdale. A really cool bear event.”

As Salvato earlier explained he once saw camels as part of a vendor display and photo opportunity, this reporter was confused.

Trained bears! Indoors?

“No. Members of the gay, male bear community.”

Madrid, Spain (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Félix Alcaraz Vellisca, the consul for Tourism Affairs with the Tourism Office of Spain, explained why the country is consistently ranked one of the best international destinations for LGBTQ tourists.

“Spain is already widely known as one of the most LGBTQ-friendly destinations on the planet, but it is important to continue communicating and explaining this to all our potential visitors. Spain is a very diverse and heterogeneous country but sometimes,” he explained. “LGBTQ travelers know only the most important spots. But we want to gradually publicize other destinations that may be interesting for LGBTQ travelers. In any case, we are happy to know the extremely positive perception that all LGBTQ travelers have of our country and the desire they have to visit us. And that’s why we will be at the D.C. Show, to help travelers to fulfill their wishes.”

Vellisca, and his organization, are also using this appearance at the pavilion to celebrate the 2026 Gay Games, which are being held in Valencia.

“The audience comes largely from the United States,” she said. “We also want to be there to communicate this event and provide information about it.”

Vellisca’s booth will also entice guests to come experience Spain through a raffle of Spanish gastronomy.

Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Of course, there are also destinations which are normally welcoming centers for the community. One state in particular which some LGBTQ travelers may be wary of heading due to some recent press: Florida, which has come under scrutiny due to the “Don’t say Gay” law. 



Many would-be tourists have stated they wouldn’t spend their travel dollars in the Sunshine State. But that’s a blanket statement that will potentially harm gay-friendly destinations and gay-owned businesses. Towns like Wilton Manors, adjacent to Fort Lauderdale, and Key West come to mind known as they are for gay guest houses, nightclubs and dining options.

Michelle Pirre, who represents the Naples, Marco Island, Everglades Convention and Visitors Bureau, will not be at the D.C. event but was at a recent New York event representing Florida’s West Coast.

“The NYC Travel Pavilion was amazing and well planned! While thousands came by our booth, we spoke directly to over 1,000 LGBTQ attendees with a genuine interest in our area,” she stated. 

Clearly she wants gay travelers to realize her destination is and continues to be welcoming. 

“We collected hundreds of names for our newsletters, distributed standard visitor guides, LGBTQ guides and so much more collateral from weddings to golf and arts and culture, we had very little leftover. Looking forward to next year,” she said.

Aaron Tabor and his husband David Ardelean, the first gay couple married in Everglades City, Fla., met in Wilton Manors. They found their way back to Tabor’s hometown located near Naples on the Florida Peninsula’s West Coast. They later became stewards of the Parkway Motel and Marina of Chokoloksee, as they are avid outdoorsmen, they were saddened to learn so many LGBTQ tourists were swearing off the Sunshine State due to the controversies coming from Tallahassee.

“Living authentically, we openly invite and affirm all of our guests regardless of their individualisms,” the couple shared. “Political theater can be dramatic sometimes, but this doesn’t need to stand in the way of the enriching travel experiences we offer guests as the gateway to the great southwestern Florida outdoors.”

Their motto is, “Fuss less, fish more!” to entice LGBTQ travelers to still come to Florida they hosted a booth at the New York show. For the D.C. event: Timothy Kelley, the Parkway Motel and Marina Manager will be on site at the booth to explain and engage visitors along with a $200 travel voucher sweepstakes along with some really cool swag give-aways. 

This is a ticketed event taking place on Feb. 24-25 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. To learn more, visit TravelShows.com and look under “Shows” to book one or two day tickets to the event.

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Photos

PHOTOS: Cupid’s Undie Run

Scantily-clad joggers face freezing temperatures for a cause

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Cupid's Undie Run was held at The Wharf DC on Saturday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Cupid’s Undie Run, an annual fundraiser for neurofibromatosis (NF) research, was held at Union Stage and at The Wharf DC on Saturday, Feb. 17.

(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

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