It all starts with family.
Because without support at home, transgender people can find themselves spiraling, according to Earline Budd, a transgender woman of color who has been an activist in the DC transgender community since the 1990s.
“One of the most outstanding issues we [trans people] face is estrangement from family,” she says. “Then housing becomes an issue because you’re homeless and you have to survive, which was my case at age 13.”
Budd says because she faced homelessness at such a young age, she found herself in and out of the criminal justice system and doing sex work just to survive.
“The struggle when I got out [of jail] was still not having any housing and having to grow up on the street,” she says. “In my case, I contracted HIV.”
The 60-year-old activist says she’s heard stories like hers from younger transgender people throughout her work with various LGBTQ+ support organizations. Not having a support system, especially at a young age, is the catalyst for many of the other adversities transgender people face throughout their lives.
Because once she was put out on the street, Budd had limited options as a trans woman of color, especially back in the 1970s. But things are different now, according to Budd there are more places transgender people can turn to when they’re in need. DC’s own Casa Ruby is one such place.
Casa Ruby is the “only LGBTQ+ bilingual and multicultural organization in the metropolitan Washington, DC area” that provides an array of services including housing, health and social programs to help LGBTQ+ individuals hurdle any barriers they may be facing at the time, according to its website.
Thirty years ago, Ruby Corado, a transgender Latina immigrant, arrived in DC and realized there were no services available to support her needs. This led to the eventual formation of Casa Ruby, Inc. followed by the opening of the first Casa Ruby Center in June 2012.
“Today, Casa Ruby employs almost 50 people [and] provides more than 30,000 social and human services to more than 6,000 people each year,” according to the organization’s website.
Holly Goldmann, director of external affairs at Casa Ruby, agrees with Budd in that many of the plights transgender people experience “start at home,” especially for transgender women of color. But that’s where Casa Ruby comes in.
“We’re there to provide the most vulnerable population in the city with life skills to save their lives, make sure they’re not dismissed and give them a family,” Goldmann says. “We want to make sure they’re always welcome – not just at Casa Ruby, but in the world.”
Goldmann says Corado plans to establish a second wellness center under the Casa Ruby name in Southeast DC, with the tentative opening date scheduled for some time in June. Budd reveals she was ecstatic for this news and commends Corado for all of her service to the transgender community over the years.
“Ruby has been absolutely phenomenal when it comes to stepping up to the plate,” Budd says. “She’s seen as a kind ear and someone who has been very important in our community.”
Along with Casa Ruby and other organizations focused on trans rights in the District, Budd says DC in particular serves as a beacon of hope for transgender people because of its policies addressing gender identity.
“DC is probably one of the most liberal places where you can come and be your authentic self,” she says. “It’s a leader because of all the things that have been put in place for transgenders.”
In 2014, then DC Mayor Vincent Gray announced that public and private health insurance plans regulated by the DC government were required to cover transition-related care. But transgender rights in the DC justice system were acknowledged long before Gray made his declaration.
Since 2009, the District has permitted transgender inmates to be placed according to their gender identity, and to begin hormone therapy while in custody. Peter Nickles, who served as DC’s attorney general in 2009, wrote in a statement that “these provisions, along with other aspects of policy, will help to ensure that the rights of transgender prisoners are respected and that their unique needs are accommodated, to the extent practicable, while they are incarcerated.”
Budd says this policy, along with gender transition health insurance coverage, makes DC a place where transgender people feel more heard and accepted.
“We’re probably one of the first places in the country where the Department of Corrections developed a policy for trans inmates,” she says. “That’s unheard of in a lot of other places.”
Charlotte Clymer, a transgender woman activist for the Human Rights Campaign, says while she feels lucky to live in DC because of how the city’s police department has improved its treatment of the LGBTQ+ community, there are still shortcomings.
“There is a lack of understanding about LGBTQ+ people and the obstacles we face, so when police interact with us, they are not always passionate or sympathetic,” Clymer says.
While there is still work to be done, there is also a strong movement within the city to address these misunderstandings. The Capital Pride Alliance is one of several DC organizations dedicated to enlightening people about the barriers faced by members of the LGBTQ+ community.
At the annual Capital Trans Pride celebration on May 18 and 19, Capital Pride Alliance Board Member Ian Brown says the nonprofit held workshops on issues faced by the trans community in order to make them more visible.
“When you’re able to put a face with an issue, it becomes human,” he says. “You can no longer ignore it. That’s something I think is missing in the larger context of policy and national change. Our visibility is very important.”
The Capital Pride Alliance is holding its annual Capital Pride Celebration from May 31 to June 9 at locations all over the District. This year, the theme is “shhhOUT” to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, a series of demonstrations in New York City which served as a catalyst for the modern LGBTQ+ liberation movement.
Brown says while this year’s theme largely has to do with acknowledging this important moment in the history of LGBTQ+ rights, it also makes a statement.
“We wanted to acknowledge the forces that continue to try to silence our community,” he continues. “In being about to shout, we’re definitely giving a shout-out to our past and how we’re here now proudly speaking out in the present day.”
Budd, who will serve as a grand marshal at the Capital Pride Celebration, says she is honored for the chance to tell her story through this appointment and hopes she can inspire more transgender people to follow in her footsteps as an activist.
“I do it because I’ve been there and I believe someone has to be a mentor and be there for those who are coming through now,” she says. “But it’s not easy [to be an activist] when you don’t have some place to lay your head.”
Celebrate Capital Pride from Friday, May 31 to Sunday, June 9 around the District. Learn more at www.capitalpride.org.