Ruby Corado escaped the civil war in El Salvador at sixteen, traveling to the United States alone. She's experienced homelessness, survival sex work, and domestic abuse. Living as a transgender woman less than two miles from the White House, Corado is faced with an administration that is working to roll back her rights every day. But in spite of these hardships, Corado has fought to make a place for the LGBT community in her adopted hometown.
Almost five years ago, Corado opened Casa Ruby, a nonprofit serving LGBT youth. The center began in the basement of an apartment building in the Park View neighborhood, a space that Corado paid for out of pocket. The nonprofit now has four more locations across DC, including a health clinic and emergency shelters, and serves more than 500 people in need of housing, immigration support, and HIV counseling.
I visited two of these spaces with Corado. The original Casa Ruby, which has expanded from the basement space to occupy the whole building, now has a drop-in center and fifteen beds for temporary housing. Almost a dozen teenagers and young adults were hanging out downstairs, eating, talking, and charging their phones — it had a distinct college-dorm vibe. We walked down the street to a nondescript house that provides long-term shelter for her clients. She plans to open more centers like these, offering extra housing, new community spaces, and additional services, including mental-health counseling.
Since the election, life at Casa Ruby has become more challenging. Two days after I visited, one of the Casa Ruby employees was attacked, and a shelter's door was shattered. It was the third act of violence against the center in two weeks. When I texted Corado two days later to see if she was OK, she told me she had already had the door replaced.
Despite these assaults, Corado is as determined as ever to keep Casa Ruby up and running. And with her history as an immigrant, former sex worker, and transgender woman, she's uniquely prepared for the fight. We sat down to discuss what it takes to keep the determination alive, being true to yourself, and the current political reality.
Jackie Snow: How did you end up in DC?
Ruby Corado: In 1989, my dad put me on a bus from El Salvador, and I ended up in the DC metro area. It was pretty much a human-trafficking situation. My dad paid to get me here, but I had no idea it was going to just be me. I went to live in this house where I became the maid. Eventually, I ran away because the owner of the house wanted to rape me.
At times, I was homeless. I spent my younger days at Dupont Circle, where many other young, homeless people also spent their time. I was working as a femboy, and it was there where I met a lot of trans people. I eventually decided that I was also trans and learned how dangerous it could be in those days. After I had already started the transition, Tyra Hunter lost her life in the hands of emergency medical technicians [who refused to care for her after a car accident], and my friend Ms. Willy was gunned down.
Eventually, I was like, Hell, I'll just go ahead and transition. If I die, I'm gonna die. But I was not prepared. As a gay, feminine boy, things were still OK. As a transgender woman, it felt like society was punishing me. It's like I was paying a price to be me — but at the same time, I had really found true happiness. As soon as I took the first hormones, I felt like I had come together.