Tanisha Phillips, a transgender woman, hugs Ruby Corado, founder of Casa Ruby, on July 19, 2016. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)
Columnist

On the same day that Ruby Corado found out that the Trump administration was considering plans to erase her identity, she stood in front of the congregation at her D.C. church and spoke about another man who tried to wipe away her existence.

It was a man she had been intimate with and had trusted. He told her he was bringing her a gift and as she got ready in her apartment to meet him, she suddenly saw his face in her bathroom mirror. He yanked her by her hair before he punched her, raped her and held a gun against her neck.

She thought about jumping out of her eighth-floor window. She closed her eyes instead and for nearly two hours, until he left, tried to stop feeling.

When Ruby shared that story with her church Sunday as part of a talk on domestic violence, she did not yet know what the next several days would hold. She did not know that a New York Times article revealing that the Trump administration was considering defining gender based strictly on a person’s anatomy at birth would cause her phone to start ringing and not stop. She did not know that she would be asked to speak again and again about why she and other transgender women and men deserve to exist and live free of fear.

In the days since the Times story ran, Ruby has been a prominent voice in the nation’s capital on the issue, standing in front of TV cameras, behind lecterns and amid a crowd that gathered in front of the White House and waved signs that read “Enough” and “We Will Not be Erased.”

But to feel the full weight of her words, and to understand why we should be listening to them now, it is important to know what she has endured before this moment — and it is more than most. That brutal beating that left her bleeding and broken on her couch was just one test of her strength among many.


Ruby Corado cries as she talks about the years she spent as a sex worker in the District. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)

“To every transgender person who is sitting at home doubting about their future,” Ruby, 48, said at one recent news conference, “I am standing here to guarantee that it will be okay.”

Without knowing Ruby’s story, that might seem a simple message. But for those who know her and what she has been through, it is this: a powerful reassurance from someone who understands survival.

“We’ve been through this before,” Ruby told me when I spoke to her this week about the possibility of President Trump leaving transgender people unrecognized and unprotected. “We will get through it.”

She sounded upbeat, energized even. She said that the news has stirred fears and even panic, but it has also brought people together and shown the transgender community just how many people support them.

“There are some wonderful people who have assured us that we’re not alone,” she said. “Today, more than ever, I saw allies.”

If Trump intended to take an eraser to the transgender community, he might have accidentally picked up a highlighter instead.

Worries about the administration’s plans have pushed people to share photos and stories on social media under the hashtag #WontBeErased, putting hard-to-ignore faces on the issue. Others have called for donations to be made to organizations that support the transgender community. And leaders such as Ruby who have long spoken up and faced threats for it are more determined than ever to be heard.

“To me, silence equals death,” she said. “And if I’m going to die, I’d rather die fighting for my existence.”

That is after all what she has been doing since she was a teenager.

She was a teenager and named Vladimir when she arrived alone in Washington from El Salvador. Her father sent her away, fearing an effeminate boy would get killed there. As she tells it, she worked as a live-in maid with a family but ran away after an attempted rape. She later made a living as a sex worker. She had been living openly as a woman for more than a decade when the assault occurred at the hands of a man she had dated but refused to move in with.

Afterward, she said, she felt “destroyed” and “empty.” She quit her job as an outreach worker at the Whitman-Walker clinic and, when she couldn’t pay her rent, became homeless. Through therapy, she finally reached a point where she was able to help herself and others. In 2012, she opened Casa Ruby, a drop-in center for homeless LGBT youths. Now, the organization provides housing and services to thousands of LGBT people in the District each year.

I have spent time at Casa Ruby, and the atmosphere is lively and joyful on the surface and heartbreaking just below it. Some young people come looking for a community they couldn’t find in other cities, and others come from local families that discarded them. Many of the young transgender women call Ruby “mom.”


Tanisha Phillips and Maybelline Rivas, whose face is not shown, hug Ruby Corado outside Casa Ruby on July 19, 2016. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)

Ruby calls the latest move by the Trump administration “disgusting,” and she is right. It is a gross attack on a group of people who despite having strong leaders still have a higher suicide rate than the general population and face constant threats because of who they are. At least 21 transgender women in the United States have been killed this year so far.

When I was at Casa Ruby one day, a transgender woman was attacked in an alley nearby. I sat on the porch with her as she cried and watched as she wrapped her arms around Ruby, who of course understood.

That is what Ruby hopes will come out of this moment — a swell of understanding and support — because she knows too well that no matter what the current administration decides, there have long been and will continue to be attempts to erase transgender people.

“Change is in our hands,” she said. “We may not be able to change federal policy, but I know there are many people who have the power to create change in their local communities.”

In that way, she said, this moment is as much about us as it is about Trump.

“It is about being able to stand against what is wrong,” she said. “It is about being able to show the people who are still taking punches that they are not alone.”