Nearly half of Washington D.C.’s homeless youth identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, according to a new census. Many may wonder why these kids travel great distances — from cities that seemed to have forgotten them. But if you were to ask Ruby Corado, she’d give it to you straight.
“We’re in the nation’s capital,” the 43-year-old transgender activist said, speaking to the Washington Post. “People across the country just want to survive, so they hear about D.C. … and they see a local solution for a national problem.”
The founder and executive director of Casa Ruby, the capital’s only bilingual and multicultural organization providing housing and support to at-risk LGBT youth, Corado hopes to offer more than a local solution. She strives to build a revolution — brick by brick.
“It is nearly impossible to be in a room with Corado and not be inspired,” Jody Michael Huckaby, Executive Director of PFLAG National, tells Plus. “As someone who is living with HIV, I am reminded of what it means to lead authentically with every encounter I have with her. Ruby saves lives.”
The first life she saved was her own. At 16, the young Latina fled a civil war in El Salvador and traveled to D.C. on her own. “As a transgender youth, I felt especially alone and isolated,” she wrote this June, in an Advocate editorial. “I quickly discovered there were almost no safe spaces for LGBT people to come together and connect with others who had similar needs, stories, and experiences.”
It was that experience that gave Corado her dream of establishing a home for homeless queer and trans youth. Unfortunately, even 27 years later, homelessness is still a significant issue for LGBT youth. Shelter allocated specifically for LGBT youth is scarce, but Corado was able to get the city to fund 20 beds at Casa Ruby and the Wanda Alston House. Last year they added five new crisis beds and 16 winter beds to prevent hypothermia (part of the District's Winter Plan for the homeless); but Corado says there’s still much more to be done.
One study surveyed 60 homeless youths in the city and found that many don’t go to shelters either because they don’t know about them, are too embarrassed, or the beds are all taken.
“When I started this work, trans women lived on the other side of town, unheard and unseen,” she told to the Elton Johns AIDS Foundation, which helps fund Casa Ruby. “Today I am proud to say that we are three blocks from the White House. We are creating success stories for trans women everywhere.”
As Plus has reported, trans women are disproportionately impacted by HIV. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly a third of all trans women of color are HIV-positive. Other studies show trans people continue to experience higher levels of violence, and have more difficulty gaining access to medical care. (Editor's note: As Sharmus Outlaw's story demonstrates, even delaying access to medical care can have devastating effects.)
“You wake up every day to a world that is designed to delete you from the face of the planet,” Corado once said, speaking of her own personal experiences.
Casay Ruby tries to give LGBT youth a place to wake up in where they can be safe and empowered. For example, “clients in critical need can access financial emergency assistance up to $100 and they also get Metro cards or food cards,” Corado explained to YogaDistrict . “We link them to emergency housing services and crime victims’ services. We get them health insurance. If they are LGBT youth between 18 and 24 and homeless, we get them housing and support for up to 18 months.”
Earlier this year, Corado established a partnership with Marriott Rewards and their #LoveTravels campaign, resulting in a donation to Casa Ruby’s HIV Fellowship Program.
Her success has inspired other advocates, including Morenike Giwa Onaiwu, co-chair of the Global Community Advisory Board of the AIDS Clinical Trials Group, who tells Plus, “Ruby is an amazing role model not only for people of color and people living with HIV, but for all of us. She is, like the Bible says, ‘far more precious than rubies and nothing can compare to her.’”
Indeed, Corado is seen as a mega-force in the eyes of the HIV and trans communities — but last year it seemed like she had pushed herself to a breaking point, when she told the Washington Blade that she intended to take a year (or two) sabbatical to reenergize. Instead, she has stayed on and doubled down on her efforts to support LGBT youth.
“It breaks my heart to know there are so many LGBT youth around the world who feel left out every day,” she wrote in the Advocate. “While we provide direct help to our clients and try to get them back on their feet, I also like to think of love as medicine for the heart, and I like to give a lot of love to my clients and guests who so often feel loneliness and fear. With all of the expressions of love at Casa Ruby, we’ve all become a family. Our own chosen family.”
David Artavia is a New York City writer and founder of Real Gay Guy. He loves living vicariously through his friends. Follow him on Twitter and like his Facebook page.