When 42-year-old Ruby Corado was 16, her parents had her immigrate to the United States from El Salvador to escape the civil war. She says that when she arrived in Washington D.C. in 1986, she noticed that there were very few resources for Latinos in the area, and none for LGBT Latinos.
When Corado was 20 years old, her commitment to social justice began to develop. While she was working in real estate management, she decided she needed to give back and began volunteering at a hospice– an experience that deeply changed her. “I saw that the nuns that were there didn’t have any shoes and they were looking to help these people. They would hug them and they would kiss them and would give them so much love,” Corado says. “And this was a point in my life when I’m trying to make it in society, I’m trying to pretty much achieve the American dream, and here I am very young, 20 years old, and I see that these women were really giving.”
When Corado began living in DuPont Circle, the gay neighborhood in Washington D.C., she began meeting many LGBT Latinos that also needed support. Corado would welcome LGBT Latinos in need into her home. Many of them were immigrants. It was through these experiences that she and other members of her community began to build a sense of family. “I kept seeing some of these kids– they were rejected by their family, they were having a hard time in school. I was like a big sister to them,” Corado says. “I just didn’t understand why people would be so mean. I didn’t understand why they would reject their kids. I realized that I could be there for them,” she says.
When Corado, who is transgender, began transitioning in the 90s, she also began facing a lot of discrimination “This taught me that it was going to be difficult, but I was strong and I wanted to show these people that it’s not OK to do that,” Corado says.
What also sparked Corado’s activism was an incident in 2003, when a very close friend of hers was killed because she was transgender. That same day, another transgender black woman was also killed. “I said, this is not about color. This is not about race. This is about hate against people that are different,” Corado says.
Since then, Corado has taken on a leadership role in both the Latino and LGBT community. As a transgender activist, she says she didn’t want to leave her gay Latino community behind. “I speak a lot about the issues of immigrants. The gay movement has a very strong presence in the nation’s capital, and I’m a key player in that movement — many times I have to remind people that are Caucasian or not Latino that I am Latina and I will speak for them,” Corado says.
Last year, Corado decided to create Casa Ruby, a multicultural center and safe space serving the Latino LGB & Transgender communities of any race, color, or economic background. “I wanted to open a multicultural center because I know people of different cultures still go through some sort of rejection or discrimination, and I wanted to be there for everybody,” Corado says. “I wanted the community to come together.”
The center has now been open for 11 months and Corado says it’s currently 100 percent supported by contributions from the community. She personally has even invested $25,000 of her own money to keep the doors open.
Corado says Casa Ruby is based on three principals – social services, education, and preventive health.
The center offers a wide range of resources and programs including makeup artistry, sewing, English classes, Spanish classes, resume writing and STI testing. Corado says that the center focuses on job development to help people get out of poverty.
“We’re teaching them about how to take care of themselves. I’ve had 750 clients in 11 months and provided over 3,000 services,” Corado says. “I want them to be productive. I want them to be healthy. I want them to have access.”
Erika L. Sánchez is a poet and writer living in Chicago. She is currently the sex and love advice columnist for Cosmopolitan for Latinas and a contributor for NBCLatino, The Huffington Post and other publications. She is a recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship and the 2013 “Discovery”/Boston Review poetry prize. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook, or www.erikalsanchez.com