By Lou Chibbaro Jr.
May 2, 2012
A Latino LGBT community services center called Casa Ruby is scheduled to open its doors in D.C.’s Columbia Heights neighborhood on June 6, according to transgender activist Ruby Corado, the new center’s founder and director.
Corado said the center will operate in a 750-square-foot office space on the lower floor of a converted townhouse at 2822 Georgia Ave., N.W. She said the rented office comes with additional outdoor patio space in the rear of the building, which is located a few blocks from the Columbia Heights Metro station.
“It’s going to be an LGBT center with a primary focus on Latinos, which is the population that I have been working with,” said Corado, a native Spanish speaker. “But it’s open to everybody.”
Corado said the city’s existing LGBT Community Center on the 1300 block of U Street, N.W., has been welcoming to the LGBT Latino community. But similar to most other LGBT groups in the D.C. metropolitan area, Corado said the existing center lacks Spanish speaking staff or volunteers. She said a sizable number of LGBT Latinos in the area aren’t fluent in English.
“Right now there is nothing for the Latino LGBT community that is run by LGBT Latinos,” Corado said.
According to Corado, each of the new center’s five-member volunteer staff will be fluent in English and Spanish.
David Mariner, executive director of the LGBT Community Center on U Street, said the Latino GLBT History Project rents office space at the center and other LGBT Latino groups have used the center’s space for various activities.
He said the center doesn’t have the resources at the present time to hire a Spanish speaking staff person.
“I love Ruby and look forward to working with her,” Mariner said.
Among other things, Corado said she envisions Casa Ruby as a one-stop community service center for Latino LGBT people that will provide support and referrals to other service providers on such matters as immigration issues, substance abuse, domestic violence, counseling, employment services and HIV/AIDS education and prevention.
Corado said she decided to use her name for the center’s title to create an atmosphere of support and comfort and a place where people can socialize as well as seek services.
“I want this to this to sort of be a home,” she said. “I want them to feel this is their place. If they don’t have anything out there for their needs like a place to stay I want them to come and I will help them find that.”
Corado said she used her own personal funds to secure the lease and finance the start-up of the center. She said she established Casa Ruby as a project of Latinos En Accion, an LGBT organization she helped to found several years ago as a non-profit corporation with a 501 C (3) tax-exempt status.
Under the structure of the new center, supporters can make tax deductable donations, she said.
She said she has been speaking with D.C. government officials, including officials with the Office of Latino Affairs, over the possibility of obtaining city grants for various services.
Supporters of the center have already donated interior design services and furniture, computers and a flat-screen TV.
She said Casa Ruby will host a grand opening reception at the center starting at noon on June 6. She is hopeful that Mayor Vincent Gray will be among the notables attending the opening ceremony.
“I’m using my life savings to sustain this project for the next year,” said Corado. “I’m doing it because I believe there is a need for it and we can make a difference for the community we’re all a part of.”
She added, “I want to repeat that although the primary focus is with Latinos, it’s for everybody. That’s why I call it Casa Ruby because many people know me. And I want people to know that it’s a home for everybody.”
Mariner said the D.C. Center’s effort to seek a larger space in the city’s Reeves Municipal Building less than a block from its current office moved ahead last week when it submitted its formal bid for the new space.
“We’re cautiously optimistic,” he said.
The center’s bid is part of an official invitation by the city for potential tenants to offer a level of rent they are willing to pay for vacant office space at the Reeves Building. Mariner said the invitation, or request for proposal (RFP), was open to both non-profit organizations like the center or commercial businesses such as retail stores or restaurants. He said the center’s bid stresses that the center would provide an important community service that most businesses don’t offer and the city should give special consideration to granting the center a lease in the building.
The center is being forced to leave its current space in 2013, when the building in which it’s located will be razed to make way for a new hotel.