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Photo: courtesy of Casa Ruby

Some Place To Lay Your Head: DC’s A Beacon of Hope For The Transgender Community

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.

Capital Pride Alliance: 2000 14th St. NW, DC; www.capitalpride.org
Casa Ruby: 7530 Georgia Ave. NW, DC; www.casaruby.org

Stonewall Sports: Builds Community On and Off the Playing Field

Sports bring people together. Playing or watching games builds camaraderie, helps you establish rapport with teammates and, frankly, is an astonishingly effective ice breaker for folks who may otherwise be inclined to avoid strangers. There are a ton of options for people looking to participate in athletics on a social level after they leave high school or college locker rooms.

Stonewall Sports added their name to the list of national social sports organizations nearly a decade ago – but with a more focused mission. Yes, games are played and friendships are fostered, but Stonewall also carries the namesake of the Stonewall Riots, which pitted members of the LGBTQ+ community against police officers in New York City in 1969.

Stonewall Sports describes itself as an LGBTQ+ and ally community-based nonprofit that combines the fun of sports with the initiative to raise funds for other local nonprofits. The organization currently boasts a presence in 16 cities with 12,000 participants nationally, including a thriving DC chapter.

“I moved to DC about five years ago and Stonewall Sports had a very good presence in DC,” says Frank Criscione, Stonewall’s DC manager of community engagement. “Our community engages with locals, whether it be through philanthropic opportunities or volunteering.”

When Criscione moved to the District, he didn’t know many people. After hearing about Stonewall, he figured sports might provide the best opportunity to get to know the area and meet locals.

“It’s better than most ways to meet people, like at bars,” member Anthony Musa says. “This is an alternative way to do that and you get introduced to a diverse group of people with different backgrounds.”

Another factor that sets Stonewall apart is its mission to make members of the LGBTQ+ community feel comfortable in an atmosphere that may not always seem inclusive.

“I think it goes back to the PTSD of being an adolescent in sports,” Criscione says. “It goes back to that feeling of being the gay guy. It’s nice to know that I’m not the only gay guy on a team.

I’m on a whole team of gay guys. You don’t think about the social pressures of how you have to act or perform in that atmosphere. You get to rekindle some of the magic for sports you used to enjoy without those pressures.”

Criscione mentions he focused on individual sports growing up, but Stonewall gives him a chance to be a part of a team as opposed to competing alone. The organization currently offers everything from flag football and dodgeball to climbing.

“It’s a lot of fun, and it can be competitive depending on what you’re looking for,” Musa says. “It’s fast-paced and relatively easy to pick up. It’s a good way to interact with people you may not ordinarily talk to.”

Both Musa and Criscione gush about the fun had on the courts and fields, but the good times don’t stop there. As newcomers to DC, each points out that the teams don’t stop conversing after the final whistles. Meetups and even parties often follow.

This kind of openness helps Stonewall members in their volunteer fundraising efforts as well, as those represent the organization’s heartbeat and give the members another way to work toward an incredible achievement.

“I think Stonewall has a great impact on the community,” Criscione says. “I get to remind newcomers that it’s more than a sport. It’s being involved.” 

Get involved with Stonewall Sports at https://stonewallsports.leagueapps.com.

Photo: courtesy of Sony Music

Zara Larsson Is Proud To Speak Her Truth

Swedish pop sensation Zara Larsson has been making waves since the tender age of 15. Now 21, the outspoken singer of hits like “Ruin My Life” and “Never Forget You” prioritizes using her massive platform to advocate for herself and what she believes in. She’s headlining this year’s Capital Pride concert on June 9, and spoke to us about why Pride is important to her, being a role model to her fans and sticking up for herself.

On Tap: Why do you want to perform at the Capital Pride concert?
Zara Larsson:
I always try to go to Pride in Stockholm. It’s something I really support. I’m lucky enough to have parents who raised me to believe that everyone has the right to love whoever they want. It’s really an honor to be performing at Pride, because it’s still needed. It’s an important cause for people to come out and be able to celebrate being themselves.

OT: What can your audience expect from your performance? Do you have anything different planned?
ZL:
I know we’ll have a great time because I know when I perform with my band, we always have so much fun. Most of my set is up-tempo and fun and dancey, so I hope to bring a little party. I’m very spontaneous, but I have something rehearsed that I’ve been doing for awhile.

OT: In addition to your participation in Pride, you’re known for being outspoken about your beliefs in general. Is this something you always wanted to use your platform for?
ZL:
I think that some people might be worried because they have a career in singing and acting, and might be scared of voicing their opinions because of what other people might think. I think that human rights will always be more important than my career. I just believe it’s a part of me. I stand up for what I believe in. I have no problem with voicing that.

OT: Why is that something that’s very important to you in both your personal and professional life?
ZL:
I think it’s important for me to do that because I know I have a lot of followers who are young people looking up to me. I’d like to be a good role model in that kind of scenario. A good role model to me isn’t to not drink or party or curse. It’s more how you treat people. That’s what defines a good person to me. I’d like to influence as many people as possible. I’m very loud. If I don’t agree with something, I’ll let you know. In school, I was always arguing with teachers and my parents. They raised me in a way where they allowed me to have discussions with them, question things and ask, “Well, why is that?”

I think that kind of shaped me into the person I am.

OT: That’s a very admirable way to be, especially as someone in the public eye. Do you ever feel pressure when acting as a role model or voicing your opinions?
ZL:
It’s hard because of course you want to make people open their eyes and be more empathetic and understanding. But it is hard to argue and be sensitive when someone is saying, “Oh, but if you are gay…” Some parents will say, “You don’t deserve to live under my roof anymore. I don’t want to have any contact with you.” And when things are to that point, it’s very hard to realize how to talk sense into someone like that. It’s a f–king art form. It has to be. But it’s hard. I don’t think it’s impossible. I think that’s why we need to have this debate and talk about it all the time.

OT: You’re a huge advocate for yourself, too, especially in having creative control over your work. What’s it like for you as an international pop star to exercise that kind of agency?
ZL:
I think that everyone can kind of relate, whether you’re in music or not, just as a woman in regular life. I feel like women in general don’t get a lot of credit. People don’t really want to believe immediately that you did all this by yourself or you’re capable of doing it. The songs that I love that have been doing well are songs that I had to fight for. Growing up, I had to learn that I don’t need to listen to every single person who has an opinion on what I do. I know what’s good and what’s not, and should have control over that.

Catch Zara Larsson at the Capital Pride concert on Sunday, June 9 from 6-7 p.m. at the Capitol concert stage. The concert begins at 1 p.m. and is free and open to the public, with VIP and pit passes available for purchase. For more Capital Pride programming, visit www.capitalpride.org. For more on Larsson, visit www.zaralarssonofficial.com.

Capital Pride concert: Pennsylvania Avenue and 3rd Street in NW, DC