March 13, 2013 at 10:51 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Casa Ruby seeks to expand jobs program
Casa Ruby, Washington Blade, Gay News

Enrique Coronado and Felix Montes at Casa Ruby in D.C. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

D.C. resident Lovely Allen worked at a local Safeway when she was a teenager, but she complained the supermarket’s managers did not provide her co-workers with any sensitivity training.

“They called me he and stuff like that,” Allen, 22, said while at Casa Ruby on Georgia Avenue in Northwest Washington on Monday. “It’s uncomfortable when you’re trying to work somewhere and someone’s referring to you as something that you don’t agree with and you don’t identify as.”

Allen is among the nearly dozen people enrolled in Casa Ruby’s job placement and training classes with whom the Washington Blade spoke on Monday.

The Latino LGBT community center offers a variety of vocational courses that include teaching clients how to become medical technicians who can administer HIV, hepatitis and glucose tests to patients.

Eduardo Carcamo works with Casa Ruby clients who want to become make-up artists, while designer Felix Montes has offered to instruct those interested in entering the fashion industry. Interior designer Enrique Coronado, who studied in Spain, also works with Casa Ruby clients.

The classes typically last two months, and participants receive a certificate from the instructor and from Casa Ruby upon completion.

More than 60 people graduated from the latest medical technician class that ended in December. A dozen clients attended Casa Ruby’s latest make-up artistry course, while roughly 30 participants take part in job consulting and skills development workshops each month.

Both Montes and Coronado reached out to Casa Ruby for job placement and other services before they offered to work with clients.

“It is an environment where people are welcome,” Casa Ruby CEO Ruby Corado said. “There are schools out there where unfortunately people don’t feel welcome.”

D.C. resident Ismael Delgado, who is originally from Paraguay, is among those who graduated from the make-up artistry class last December.

He told the Blade he wanted to enter cosmotology school, but could not afford the $25,000 tuition.

“They are very expensive,” Delgado said.

Teri Williams enrolled in Casa Ruby’s program after she received a referral through Project Empowerment, the city’s jobs training program for transgender Washingtonians.

“My education level is not really where it should be for my age because I was doing other things when I was coming up,” the D.C. resident who just turned 50 said. “The thing is now I need to be able to sustain my life and I need financial assistance, which I want to provide for myself. I honestly want to work.”

Montes, who is originally from Puerto Rico, said he is working with Casa Ruby because he wants to help other people find work who are unable to afford expensive job training courses.

“Everyone has talent,” he said. “Nobody can say that they do not have a talent. It is a question of what you’re looking for, what you like to do and your career will be what you want it to be.”

Statistics continue to show Latinos and other underrepresented groups within the LGBT community remain particularly vulnerable to employment discrimination.

A 2011 study from the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force found trans people are nearly twice as likely to be unemployed than the general population. The jobless rate among trans people of color is four times higher than the national average.

The survey reported 97 percent of respondents experienced harassment or mistreatment while at work. Nearly half of them said a prospective employer did not hire them because they were transgender. And 26 percent of respondents indicated they lost their jobs because of their gender identity and expression.

NCTE and the Task Force further noted 15 percent of respondents earned less than $10,000 a year. This figure among blacks who took part in the survey jumped to 35 percent.

The D.C. Department of Employment Services in 2011 launched Project Empowerment as a way to help reduce unemployment and poverty rates among trans Washingtonians.

More than 70 people have graduated from the program since its inception, but those with whom the Blade spoke at Casa Ruby said city officials can do more to help trans people and D.C. residents who are looking for work.

“Project Empowerment needs to be a little longer,” Williams said. “Once you get used to working and you’re changing your ways, you’re right back out there if you don’t get your job right away.”

Allen said she had tried to enroll in Project Empowerment a couple of months ago, but she said it was full. She is scheduled to start with the program “in a few days” after she and Corado reached out to Mayor Vincent Gray.

“I do feel there’s a lack of jobs here for the gay and transgender people,” Allen said. “A lot of times I guess they [prospective employers] worry about how it makes their places look if you hire trans people or Latinas. If I can work then why shouldn’t I be able to?”

Casa Ruby has not received any grant money from the D.C. Department of Employment Services to fund the jobs program since it officially opened last June. Corado said she is planning to reach out to private donors, foundations, non-profit organizations and other groups that may want to invest in them.

Meanwhile, participants hope city officials work to address some of the underlying issues they maintain prevent LGBT Washingtonians from gaining employment.

“Here there is a lot of discrimination,” Coronado said. “I have a resume with my studies, with specific jobs but I have a Latino last name — not an American last name.”

He added the language barrier and a lack of knowledge of the benefits the city offers to those who are seeking employment and the rights they have as D.C residents are among the additional barriers.

Delgado said he would like to see the Gray administration do more to address these issues.

“We are preparing a group of people that will empower themselves, others,” Larry Villegas of Casa Ruby added as he discussed a previous jobs program for people with HIV/AIDS. Companies were able to call and look at resumes when they needed to hire someone. “We need to fill that gap from the officials to say OK we need to revamp that program that could hire anybody that is skilled.”

Allen and other Casa Ruby clients acknowledged it is their responsibility to take the initiative to find a job. They added discrimination and other barriers make this task exceedingly difficult.

“No one is going to go home and change from the woman that they are and put on a fitted hat and a pair of tennis shoes to get a job,” Allen said. “I don’t think anybody should have to do that. I don’t think you should have to alter your appearance or who you are to gain employment.”

Casa Ruby, Washington Blade, Gay News

Casa Ruby clients discuss their experiences seeking employment in D.C. on Monday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key.)

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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