MS. REBECCA SHEIR
So, earlier in the show, we talked about the mass migration of Salvadorans to the D.C. region. And our next story focuses on a Salvadoran activist named Ruby Corado. Corado had big dreams when she came to D.C. as a teenager, but as a transgender Latina, she's found it hasn't always been easy to make those dreams a reality. These days, Corado is running a multicultural center for LGBT people. And she wants to do even more to help Washingtonians who are living on the margins. Lauren Ober brings us her story.
MS. LAUREN OBER
Ruby Corado never expected it would happen to her. She had a good job, friends who loved her and she was a contributing member of her community. But then...
MS. RUBY CORADO
I was the victim of a sexual assault in 2008, and I lost everything, and I became homeless.
As a transgender woman living in the District, Corado had seen scores of LGBT friends lose housing and end up on the streets. She just never thought she'd be among them. But after being beaten and raped in her home, Corado turned to drugs to cope. She ended up couch surfing for months while she pieced her life back together.
LGBT homelessness, it is a real issue. I lived at myself, even after I had a lot of economic opportunities, and it can happen. You're not immune to it.
Corado is the founder and executive director of Casa Ruby, a nonprofit serving LGBT communities of color. People can swing by the three story townhouse on Georgia Avenue to get a free meal, use the internet, or catch some Spanish language telenovelas on TV. But Corado wants to do more. Her own bout of homelessness and her work at Casa Ruby planted a seed. And now she wants to open the first adult LGBT homeless shelter in D.C.
If it gets off the ground, the shelter would be one of the first in the country to cater to LGBT adults.
The one thing I learned through my own transition, through my own life, is that I have to be persistent. I am hoping and I'm praying that I will get a shelter by the end of the year.
Corado is a plus size force of nature, with flowing black hair and red nails so long it's a wonder how she operates her iPhone. She came to the US in 1986. Her native El Salvador was engaged in a civil war, and fleeing was the safest option for her family. A few years after she arrived in D.C., she knew there was something different about her.
When I got here, I basically got educated through the movies. And I knew that there were people that were gay. So, my thing was, well, I am gay, because I like other men. That's what I thought, but as I started seeing more about the culture, I realized that I was a little more gay than most gays.
A move to DuPont Circle in the late 90's exposed Corado to the city's transgender community, but coming out as trans was dangerous, even deadly. Transgender women were often brutalized, and authorities were less than sensitive to their needs. If a trans woman made it past 30, she was considered an elder in the community.
I knew that was gonna be a choice that was gonna bring negative consequences, but it just felt right.
Growing up in El Salvador helped embolden her.
There was something that took me back to the years when I grew up in a country that had a civil war. So, I had come from a childhood that, I was used to seeing dead bodies on the street. I was used to hearing the helicopters and the shootings.
War, Corado says, prepared her for her personal battles and for her work as an activist.
It didn't matter that my sisters were getting killed. I wanted to speak up.
Casa Ruby opened its doors in June of 2012. Since then, the center has served more than 700 clients. They come to Casa Ruby for help with all types of issues. Immigration, employment, housing. You name it and Corado has seen it. About half of her clients identify as transgender or gender nonconforming.
MR. HENRY MATICORENA
Many of these individuals have (unintelligible) due to persecution, based on sexual orientation, and they carry with them this stigma for being different, for being unique, for expressing openly their gender identity.
That's Henry Maticorena, a volunteer at Casa Ruby. At Casa Ruby, we provide them with a safe space where they can express their gender identity and their sexual orientation openly without fear of being verbally harassed or bullied.
Corado has seen how Casa Ruby filled a void for LGBT communities of color here in the District. Now she wants to do the same with her proposed homeless shelter. And the need, she says, is critical. A recent survey showed that 40 per cent of D.C.'s transgender population has been homeless, at some point, due to discrimination. And many were denied entry into shelters because of their gender status.
I don't care if it takes me another 20 years, but I will have the resources to help the people that come to Casa Ruby. And I think that because I am committed to that, one day it will come.
That optimism is welcomed by people like Ricky Falcon, who lost his job and his apartment last winter, and has been living in a shelter. He's a Casa Ruby client as well as a volunteer, and he's hoping to find a permanent place to live soon.
MR. RICKY FALCON
I would love to see this place become what Ruby wants it to be. You know, a shelter, somewhere where people could come in and feel comfortable, don't feel threatened by society. I feel that I could go to Casa Ruby and I'm home. I'm actually home.
And everyone will have a place at Ruby's house. I'm Lauren Ober.
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