Securing Sanctuary: Ruby Corado
Ruby Corado isn’t your typical executive director, and she’ll be the first to tell you so.
“Most executive directors in DC, guess where they are? In their beds, shopping,” she says, laughing. “But we’re here.”
“Here” is a pale yellow roadhouse on Georgia Ave, across the street from Howard University. Today, it’s full of people. Some step in and out carrying cleaning supplies and bags of clothing. Others rest on the porch, talking. Corado presides over everything: after all, it’s her home.
Casa Ruby is the only bilingual, multicultural center for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LBGTQ) people in the District of Columbia. Corado, a 43-year-old transgender woman with a shimmering rose-gold ombre manicure and matter-of-fact candor, founded Casa Ruby in 2014.
Corado and her staff strive to help all who come through their doors, whether they need a place to escape the cold for one night or to stay for months while they find housing. Recent immigrants to the United States can come to Casa Ruby for help getting government IDs and learning how to use public transit. People who are homeless and need an address for government paperwork can have their mail sent to Casa Ruby. There are baskets of condoms and shiny silver hypothermia blankets. In all, Casa Ruby sees nearly 300 clients per year.
Today, volunteers from all over the city are helping Corado and her staff with various chores: cleaning bathrooms, sorting donated clothing, putting together bags of toiletries.
“They just came here and they made our place look beautiful,” Corado says. “The ones that come in tonight to sleep, they’re gonna sleep in a very clean place, have a clean bathroom.”
Last summer, the first citywide census of homeless youth in the District found that over half identify as LGBTQ. Nationally, 7 percent of the general youth population identifies as LGBTQ, but up to 40 percent of LGBTQ youth are homeless, according to the advocacy group True Colors Fund.
Frequently, LGBTQ youth become homeless because their families reject their sexual orientation and/or gender identity, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless. Many are forced out of their homes upon coming out. They commonly experience discrimination when seeking alternative housing and often aren’t safe in conventional shelters.
Corado remembers when she first became aware of this problem. After coming to the District from El Salvador as a teenager, she started hanging out at the Dupont Circle fountain with other queer teens. After a while, she realized that some of them never left.
“There were some people who weren’t going home because they didn’t have a home,” she says. “And some of the ones who had a home, it was a living hell.”
After Corado realized that so many LGBTQ people in the District were homeless, she had a dream.
“I was running a shelter for them, and I was putting satin sheets on all the beds,” she says, laughing.
In the years that followed, Corado built a life for herself. She worked as a counselor for LGBTQ people and became an activist in her community. But seven years ago, everything changed: an acquaintance became obsessed with her.
“I didn’t want them,” she recalls. “I had a boyfriend. They were like ‘If you don’t want me, you won’t get no one else.’”
Corado was raped, beaten and left for dead in the living room of her apartment.
“My world just crumbled,” she says. She quit her counseling job.
“How could I counsel them?” she says. “Someone just tried to kill me, and now I want to kill myself because I can’t deal with the pain.”
Without her job, Corado couldn’t pay her rent, and she soon found herself on the streets. There, members of the LGBT homeless community she’d met as a teenager took care of her.
“They became my protectors,” she says. “We had nothing but ourselves.”
It took years for Corado to take her life back. Once it got too cold to live on the streets, she moved to a homeless shelter. There, she witnessed firsthand the need for safe spaces for people like her.
“I needed a place to live, but it wasn’t safe for trans people,” she says. “It wasn’t safe for LGBT people, period.”
Eventually, Corado won a disability claim and received a lump sum of $13,000 from Social Security. That’s when she turned her focus to making the dream she’d had as a teenager—the LGBT shelter, the beds with satin sheets—come true.
“I called 20 of my best friends, and I told them ‘I’m going to open a gay center—would you help me to pay the rent if I need money?’” Corado says. But in the nearly four years since Casa Ruby opened, she’s never had to ask those friends for help.
Corado has worked hard to develop a good relationship with city authorities. Now, when people drive by Casa Ruby shouting slurs at the people on the porch, Corado can call the police. When she got married in 2014, then-mayor Vincent Gray walked her down the aisle.
But while trans voices like that of Caitlyn Jenner are elevated in the media, Corado says she doesn’t see much of a difference on the ground. She does acknowledge, however, that the increased visibility of transgender people helps bring more attention to the work that she does.
“People will be like, ‘Oh, I know Casa Ruby, and they’re just like Laverne Cox,’” she says. “Actually, they tell us we’re a lot better because we actually save lives—they just look pretty on TV.”
And Corado does save lives: Bela Muney can attest to it. Today, the first thing you notice about Muney is her infectious smile, then her bright gold eyeshadow and long black-and-blonde braids. But when she transitioned a little more than a year ago, she was contemplating suicide.
“I told someone, I was like ‘I don’t know what to do,” Muney says. “‘I’m stressed out, I’m depressed and lonely—I’m just gonna kill myself.’”
That person told her to wait, and they introduced her to Corado.
“[Ruby] saw that I was serious about it,” Muney says. “She was just like, ‘I’m gonna make your life a whole lot better,’ and my life has been totally better since I met her.”
Now, Muney calls Corado her mom. It’s a lighthearted term of endearment on one level, but on another, it represents the core of Corado’s mission. Corado believes in the idea of a chosen family for those whose biological parents don’t accept them for who they are, as is the case for so many LGBTQ people.
“The concept is that we take care of one another,” she says. “We have a house now. We have bedrooms. It’s a family. And the goal is to make sure that no one feels like they have nobody.”
Muney had a background as a party promoter, so Corado took her on the team and gave her a title: Outreach Activities Promoter. Now, when people host fundraisers for Casa Ruby, Muney and her friends go out to represent the organization.
And they have a motto. “When we go out, people see us and they’re like ‘Who are those girls?’” Muney says. She snaps her head back, her braids whipping through the air. “It’s Casa Ruby, bitch.”
Corado jumps in. “I said to them— ‘cause sometimes people are like ‘You will never survive. You will never make it,’” she says. “I will say, ‘Of course you will make it.’ And if people ask you why, you tell them, ‘This is Casa Ruby, bitch.’”