“Click, clack. Click, clack. Click, clack.”
That is the sound of a young man’s sky-high stiletto heels as he walks into a grocery store in Washington D.C. in the 90s. As other shoppers see his glittery eyelids, long eyelashes, and pink outfit, they gasp in disbelief. But the man from El Salvador pays no attention to them. He’s used to the dirty looks and the snarky head-shakes, and all he wants to do is get his groceries and leave quietly. But as he goes up to the cash register, the cashier says, “We don’t serve people like you. Go buy your groceries elsewhere.”
The young man is shocked, but determined to win this battle over his right to buy groceries wherever he wants to, no matter what he is wearing. After a long argument, the young man calls the police because he knows they will legally be on his side. The police agree with the young man and force the cashier to sell him the groceries, but they also say that he better not come to that particular grocery store again in order to avoid future problems.
The next day, the young man comes with 20 other drag queens in full makeup and the highest stilettos they can find. The cashier falls silent when he sees them, and does not say a single word.
That was the first time that the young man, now a successful woman named Ruby Corado, stood up for her right to wear whatever she wanted, and be whoever she wanted. Corado emigrated from El Salvador to the United States in her early twenties, back when she was still biologically male. When she arrived in Washington D.C, she was immediately caught up in the human trafficking and sex industry. She later fled her human traffickers, and became homeless for years in the city.
Over the years she learned more about her sexuality and gender identity, and says she became increasingly more “flamboyant.” When she was a young man, people used to tell her, “Ruby, I’ve met gay people, but you are like ‘super gay.’”
She says the first time she truly felt like herself was when she bought her first pack of glittery eyeshadow. She was so excited to try on the eyeshadow that she went into the store’s bathroom to apply it immediately. As she looked at herself in the mirror, young Ruby Corado realized who she was meant to be and that she did not want to conform to society’s gender norms anymore.
“I had to conform to a gender to go into a government building, go to a grocery store, or go to a public bathroom,” she says.
But after a long time in the sex industry, being homeless, experiencing terrible customer service in many places, and getting rejected when she asked for a gender change on her government-issued ID, Ruby wanted to create a movement of “disposable people” that can make changes.
“I wanted a place where I could wear glitter and not shave and not have to wear clothes that force me to conform and make me uncomfortable,” Ruby says about her inspiration behind later founding her LGBTQ center Casa Ruby in 2012.
Back when she was sleeping on park benches as a homeless LGBTQ youth herself, Ruby would dream about a better life, both for herself and for others.
“In one of those dreams I run a gay shelter, and now I run a black bilingual gay shelter!” says Corado.
Casa Ruby is the only bilingual LGBTQ center in Washington D.C., and provides social services to more than 6,000 clients and provides 100 beds for homeless LGBTQ youth, she said.
Corado was able to open this shelter because of a domestic violence attack that almost killed her. Her boyfriend, a man who said he loved her, left her on the floor of the apartment to die. In the hospital afterwards, the nurse told Ruby that she shouldn’t look in the mirror because her face was so disfigured that it would make her sad. Luckily, Corado was later awarded $12,000 in damages because of the attack, which she used immediately to open Casa Ruby.
Casa Ruby is helping 23 confirmed asylum-seeking migrants coming up from Mexico in the caravan of 5,000 people that President Donald Trump has called an “invasion.” These migrants hope to gain asylum and come live in Casa Ruby until they find stable employment in the U.S., she said.
“Under the Trump administration, I will not remain silent, and I will make a difference,” she said.
Ruby knows she has become a beacon of hope for the LGBTQ community in Washington D.C., and says she will not let her people down.
“People tell me that ‘If they know that Ruby is there, they know they will be safe,’” Corado says.
Corado also gives speeches at universities, churches, and many other organizations. When she speaks in those churches, she makes it a point to prove that she has no regrets and loves herself no matter what.
“To the haters out there, I say that wherever I am going after this life, I know I will be able to go in peace. I will go knowing I didn’t hate anyone, or impose my religious beliefs and views on anyone, and I made my own and others’ lives better,” says Corado.
On Thursday, November 29th, Ruby Corado was Syracuse University’s keynote speaker at the Trans Day of Remembrance commemoration, an internationally recognized day that memorializes and honors transgender people who have been murdered because of their gender identity.
After the event, Amery Sanders, a genderqueer graduate student in the international relations program, said celebrations like the event held on Thursday night are positive sources of support and help for vulnerable trans people. Sanders is the co-facilitator for the trans discussion group on campus and has asked to be referred to with the general neutral pronouns of ‘they’ and ‘them’.
Sanders said the way people are recognizing Trans Day of Remembrance has been changing.
“In the past couple years there has been a real push to make these ceremonies more about what can we do now, how do we celebrate the people that are living, and how we can join together to figure out what needs to be fixed or built to achieve change,” they said.
“Give us our roses while we’re still living,” they said.
Gabriela Knutson is a senior studying broadcast and digital journalism and geography at Syracuse University.