Can a week or even a day go by without a knock on our door? Every time our door opens, our family seems to grow at Casa Ruby, our Washington, D.C.-based bilingual, multicultural LGBT organization.
I remember three years ago when Mally showed up, not yet out of her teens. She told me about growing up in Georgia yet having lost her parents years ago. As a trans teen arriving in Washington without any family, friends or support, she scrambled to survive, never knowing if she’d have a safe place to sleep at night.
Without skills or stability, and facing tough and often dangerous streets, Mally found not merely a refuge but a future. After three years, today Mally works by my side helping others — like her and like me — not only to survive but to thrive. This week she moved into her own one-bedroom apartment, and she has a steady job and a huge heart that will help her make something not only of her life but many other lives.
Mally’s story is my story too. I first arrived in Washington when I was 16 with absolutely nothing. I know I wasn’t the first person to make a move like this, and as Mally knows, I won’t be the last. As a transgender youth, I felt especially alone and isolated. I quickly discovered there were almost no safe spaces for LGBT people to come together and connect with others who had similar needs, stories, and experiences.
I experienced firsthand how easy it is for transgender people to feel like they have nowhere to go and no family or friends to support them. I know the dangers of the streets and the violence that can prey upon us. And I still see that every day; most people who come to Casa Ruby don’t have a safe place to live or a family that accepts, protects, and loves them.
It breaks my heart to know there are so many LGBT youth around the world who feel left out every day. I have always wanted to help our community in Washington by building a truly safe space for LGBT youth who are disconnected or discarded. I started Casa Ruby as a welcoming and safe home for many LGBT young people at risk to take shelter and, above all, to be themselves.
At Casa Ruby, we provide a safe, supportive, and caring LGBT home for all we can help. Our clients can meet with counselors who speak English and Spanish, they can get checked for HIV and other STDs, enjoy a warm meal, and find a welcoming support system of people in similar situations. While we provide direct help to our clients and try to get them back on their feet, I also like to think of love as medicine for the heart, and I like to give a lot of love to my clients and guests who so often feel loneliness and fear. With all of the expressions of love at Casa Ruby, we’ve all become a family. Our own chosen family.
While groups like mine are doing whatever we can to help the community, and there has been solid progress, we still have a long way to go in making transgender individuals feel safe and included. Our voices so often are small, when what our community really needs is global support and to express love every day.
That’s why I feel the Marriott Rewards #LoveTravels campaign is such an important initiative. #LoveTravels encourages people around the world to create expressions of love for the LGBT community through art — whatever love means to them. We hosted our very own expression session at Casa Ruby where everyone got to dig in to create their own art to express their love, and it was amazing to see my family create their own expressions. For each artistic expression, Marriott Rewards will make a donation to Casa Ruby that we will use for our HIV Fellowship Program aimed at lowering HIV and sexually transmitted infections within the city’s transgender community. We’ll also use the funds to support our homeless youth programs.
During Capital Pride in June, all of the expressions will be shared in an art installation as a collaborative expression of support and love to the LGBT community. Jazz Jennings has already created her expression for the community, and YouTubers Miles Jai, Shannon Bereridge, Cammie Scott, Pepe and Teo, Trent Owens, and Luke Shayler all have posted videos of them creating their artworks. It’s beautiful to see our friends and allies joining the project.
The outpouring of love from the #LoveTravels campaign reminds us why it’s so important for more companies, leaders, and communities around the world to show their love for LGBT youth with their unique voices and reach.
By supporting Casa Ruby, Marriott Rewards is directly helping us and the transgender community to transform the world. Together, we see a world where transgender, genderqueer, and gender-nonconforming people are able to pursue our dreams and to be all we can be without fear of discrimination, harassment, or violence.
My hope is that this movement reminds people, especially those who feel isolated and lonely, that they’re part of something much bigger. This Pride season and every day — no matter where you are — we are one world and one people. If you feel like you are alone, there are millions of people just like you. And there are many expressions of love from friends, families, and strangers to make you realize you’re part of a big family where #LoveTravels with you.
RUBY JADE CORADO is the executive director of Casa Ruby.