Transgender activist Ruby Corado is known affectionately as “Mama Ruby” among Washington D.C.’s LGBTQ youth.
After escaping war-torn El Salvador in the 1980s, the advocate overcame a series of hardships before founding homeless LGBTQ shelter and advocacy organization Casa Ruby in the nation’s capitol. She lived on and off the streets after losing her job at a rental office when she came out as transgender in the mid-1990s. Though she struggled, the experience inspired her to dream big.
"I had a dream I was running a gay [homeless] shelter, and in this dream I was putting these satin sheets on the beds, and it was so pretty, and it was very gay," Corado said.
In 2003, Corado co-founded the DC Trans Coalition, an advocacy organization that became a leading force for transgender rights in Washington D.C. But her dreams were nearly shattered after a boyfriend brutally attacked and nearly killed her in 2009, she said. Traumatized, she was unable to work or pay her rent. She moved into a homeless shelter and was granted a $12,000 disability check. She decided to use the money to open the shelter she dreamed of.
"I'm like, 'This is it, I'm going to start the organization. I'm going to open a center.' And a big part of it was healing myself from a lot of pain," Corado said.
In 2012, Corado opened Casa Ruby. Originally a single-floor, drop-in center, the shelter has expanded to multiple houses that provide services and emergency housing for Washington D.C.'s LGBTQ population.
"I sat there before I opened it, and I was like, 'Dreams do come true,'" Corado said, her voice breaking.
The 40-bed shelter has housed more than 500 people over the past several years. And while Casa Ruby accepts people of all ages across the LGBTQ spectrum, a large portion of those it serves are transgender and gender-nonconforming youth of color, according to Corado.
"Some housing programs will kick them out if they don't come home at 10 o'clock, but I don't do that," she said. "I work with them. I understand them because they have trauma. I have trauma."
The 47-year-old said running an LGBTQ center has its challenges. In March, a man threw a brick through a window and attacked one of the center's transgender staff members — the third time in two weeks the center had been vandalized. Following the attacks, Casa Ruby received overwhelming love and support, including cards and donations from people across the country. A local gay bar raised $17,000, and an online fundraiser garnered $15,000 for the center.
"It just filled my heart," Corado said.
Corado said 110 youth are currently on Casa Ruby's waitlist. To her, it means there is a lot more work to do.
"I'm not done," she promised. "I have a big community behind me."
Ruby Corado was nominated for NBC Out's #Pride30 list by Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin, who called Corado a "tireless advocate and champion of equality in Washington, DC, inspiring LGBTQ people of all ages through her work and unyielding commitment to expanding opportunity for LGBTQ young people."