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Casa Ruby seeks to expand jobs program

Dozens of clients attend employment classes, workshops each month

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Gay News, Washington Blade, Casa Ruby
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.)

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Nellie’s agrees to $5,000 fine, 7-day license suspension over brawl

Penalty prompted by security guard dragging Black woman down stairs

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Nellie’s must pay a fine and face a seven-day license suspension over a June 13 brawl in which a Black woman was dragged down the stairs. (Blade file photo by Tom Hausman)

The D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Board on Wednesday, Oct 20, approved a compromise agreement it reached with Nellie’s Sports Bar that calls for the U Street, N.W. gay bar to pay a $5,000 fine and serve a seven-day license suspension over a June 13 incident in which a Black woman was dragged down a flight of stars by a Nellie’s security guard during a brawl between Nellie’s customers.

The agreement calls for a license suspension of 24 days with 17 days to be suspended and seven days to be served “so long as the Respondent does not commit any violations within (1) year from the date of this Order,” the ABC Board declared in a three-page order confirming the agreement.  

The order states that the license suspension will be served from Dec. 20-26 of this year. It also states that Nellie’s must pay the fine within 120 days from the date of the order. If the fine is not paid during that time “its license shall be immediately suspended until all amounts owed are paid.”

As a final stipulation of the agreement, the ABC Board states that Nellie’s must file a “legally compliant security plan” within 10 calendar days of the Oct. 20 order.

The security plan requirement stems from an earlier finding by the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration related to the June 13 incident that Nellie’s was in violation of several provisions of the city’s liquor law, including a provision that a security plan that meets the standards of the city’s liquor regulations is in place.

An ABRA investigation of the June 13 incident found, among other things, that “multiple assaults occurred inside the establishment while the licensee was engaged in a method of operation conducive to unlawful conduct.”

The action by the Nellie’s security guard, which took place during the city’s LGBTQ Pride weekend, was captured on video taken by one of the customers on their phone. The video went viral on social media, prompting a series of protests against the bar by LGBTQ activists and Black Lives Matter advocates.

Nellie’s issued an apology for the incident the following day and announced it had fired the private security company whose employee, who is Black, dragged Keisha Young, 22, down the stairs. Nellie’s also announced it would temporarily close for business to assess what had happened and develop plans for reopening as a safe space for all members of the community. It reopened 35 days later, with protesters continuing to assemble outside the bar for several more weeks.

 When the five-member ABC Board on Oct. 20 held a roll call vote to approve what is officially called an Offer-In-Compromise or OIC agreement with Nellie’s that includes the fine, license suspension, and other provisions, gay ABC Board member Edward Grandis voted against the agreement, becoming the only member to do so.

A video recording of the virtual ABC Board meeting available through YouTube shows that Grandis expressed general support for the decision by both the board and Nellie’s to reach a compromise agreement. But he said he objects to the license suspension requirement.

“In this particular regard, when the facts and the testimony indicate that the licensee on its own initiative without any knowledge, at least in the testimony, of prompting from the government or MPD or any party, to itself close for 35 days during – generally – the pandemic when so many companies lost their companies and their employees lost their jobs and the neighborhoods lost their establishments, I really believe that this particular situation shows that the licensee took this event seriously and accordingly in a manner that hopefully will prevent it from happening again or have better security measures to avoid this type of situation in the future,” Grandis told his fellow board members.

“And I just wanted the record to show I’m supportive of the OIC generally, but I don’t believe it was constructed in a way that indicates what this licensee has done since that incident,” Grandis said.

Nellie’s owner, Douglas Schantz, and Nellie’s attorney, Andrew Klein, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

Klein, who spoke at the ABC Board hearing on Wednesday, said in response to a question by Grandis that Nellie’s reluctantly agreed to the fine and license suspension, which he called “excessive,” among other things, because Schantz wants to put the matter behind him and to “heal” and “move on” with the community.

The ABC Board’s action came one day after the Washington City Paper announced that Nellie’s Sports Bar finished in second place among its readers in its annual Best of D.C. contest for the category of “Best Gay Bar/Club/Lounge.”

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UDC hosts event recognizing LGBTQ support at HBCUs

Seven campuses participate in annual event

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The Human Rights Campaign Foundation created the annual Out Loud Day event three years ago to ‘celebrate LGBTQ+ people and develop innovative inclusion efforts.’ (Screen capture via YouTube)

The University of the District of Columbia on Wednesday, Oct. 20, hosted one of seven “Out Loud Day” events highlighting LGBTQ visibility and inclusion at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) on college campuses throughout the country.

The Human Rights Campaign Foundation, the educational arm of the national LGBTQ advocacy group Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement that it created the annual Out Loud Day event three years ago to “celebrate LGBTQ+ people and develop innovative inclusion efforts” at the nation’s historically black colleges and universities.

“It is also a day to take stock of all the challenges that LGBTQ+ students face in their daily lives at HBCUs and to have discussions on how to foster even more inclusion on their campuses,” said Leslie Hall, the HRC HBCU Program Director in a statement.

“This is the third time that the Human Rights Campaign has hosted the day, and we couldn’t be more excited to continue to expand upon the LGBTQ+ inclusion work we have been doing for years alongside HBCU administrations and student leaders,” Hall said.

Rishard Butts, HRC’s HBCU Program Senior Manager, told the Washington Blade that the UDC event included in-person activities that began at 5 p.m. on its campus in Northwest D.C. Among the events were an open dialogue session covering LGBTQ topics of interest to student participants. He said another session focused on LGBTQ figures in history, including those who were Black, and their impact on historic developments locally or worldwide. 

He said a third session included a trivia contest in which student participants received small prizes for answering questions about LGBTQ topics of interest to the community.

Butts noted that the HBCU Out Loud Day event was taking place at UDC a little over two years after the university celebrated the grand opening of its Center for Diversity, Inclusion & Multicultural Affairs. At the time of its opening, the Center said it would provide services and a space to meet and socialize for “students of all sexual orientations and gender identities/expressions.”

According to Butts, the concept for Out Loud Day at historically black colleges and universities began, in part, as a response to National Coming Out Day, which he said is not something that all LGBTQ people of color could do.

“So, we flipped this day around and instead of putting the responsibility of someone coming out, we put the responsibility on everyone to celebrate everyone,” he said. “So, it’s HBCU Out Loud Day so everyone is ‘out loud’, and everyone is proud, and everyone is celebrating and uplifting the stories of LGBTQ people and it’s not just the responsibility of the person who is out or coming out.”

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Gay man attacked, beaten by neighbors in Northeast D.C.

Police list incident as hate crime but courthouse ‘backlog’ could delay arrests

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Antonio Zephir was beaten by neighbors and fears for his life. (Photo courtesy of Zephir)

A woman, her daughter, and a man believed to be the daughter’s father repeatedly punched a gay man in the face while the mother called him a “Jewish faggot” and other anti-gay slurs during an Oct. 13 incident on the grounds of an apartment building where the victim and the two women live, according to the victim and a D.C. police incident report.

The victim, Antonio Zephir, 51, told the Washington Blade the incident began after the mother began shouting anti-gay slurs at him as he walked past her and his roommate outside the Northwood Gardens Apartments at 4870 Fort Totten Dr., N.E. at about 12:40 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 13. 

Zephir identifies the mother as Aurlora Y. Ellis in court papers seeking a restraining order against her that he filed in D.C. Superior Court. He said she had acted in a hostile way toward him before the assault incident.

“For several months, every time Ms. Ellis sees me, she shouts homophobic slurs and I continued to ignore her,” Zephir told the Blade in an email.

He said that minutes before the Oct. 13 attack, Ellis yelled the words “Jewish faggot” when he walked past her as she was talking to his roommate, Steven Johnson. Zephir said it is well known among his neighbors at the apartment complex that he is of the Jewish faith.

“I responded with not-so-kind words. She ran towards me and assaulted me with hard punches toward my face,” Zephir wrote in his email to the Blade. 

“I punched back in an attempt to defend myself,” he wrote. “Mr. Johnson tried to break us up when her daughter Latera Cox and [Cox’s] father assaulted me,” according to Zephir’s account of the incident. “Ms. Ellis yelled, ‘Call the police, you bitch faggot. They’re not going to do anything. This isn’t over yet.”

At that point, Ellis, her daughter Latera Cox, and the man Zephir believes to be Cox’s father fled the scene, Zephir told the Blade.

The D.C. police incident report, which lists the assault as a suspected hate crime, says, “All three suspects then fled east bound” on the 4800 block of Fort Totten Dr., N.E.

Zephir said he immediately called police, who arrived on the scene and took a report on the incident. The report obtained by the Blade lists the incident as a simple assault, which is a misdemeanor under D.C. law.

But Zephir said a detective working on the case told him this week that police were looking into speeding up the process of obtaining warrants for the arrest of the three attackers based, in part, on the injuries Zephir suffered from the attack. He provided the Blade with a medical report issued by the Washington Hospital Center, where his roommate took him to the emergency room the day following the attack, in response to severe pain he was experiencing to his face and head.

The report from the hospital, which treated and released him on Oct. 14, says he was diagnosed as having a fractured nose; a fracture of the “interior orbital wall,” which is the bone surrounding one of his eyes; subconjunctival hemorrhage or bleeding of his left eye; and “laceration of oral cavity” which means an injury inside his mouth caused by trauma from the assault.

Zephir told the Blade that the same detective told him last week that due to a “backlog” in cases at the D.C. Superior Court, it could take between one and two months for police and prosecutors to obtain warrants for the arrests of the two women and the man who assaulted him.

A police spokesperson told the Blade the case remains under active investigation. A spokesperson for the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, which acts as the prosecutor for adult criminal cases in D.C., said he would look into whether the office could publicly comment on the status of efforts to obtain arrest warrants for the three attackers.

Zephir said rumors had surfaced prior to the assault incident that Ellis may have access to a gun. Based on what he feared was a threat by Ellis when she told him during the attack that “this isn’t over yet,” he said he persuaded his roommate to drive him to the courthouse on the same day as the attack to apply for a court restraining order to prevent Ellis from harming him again.

Court records show he also filed a civil complaint against Ellis, Ellis’s daughter, and Ellis’s roommate, Linda Miller, who Zephir says in the complaint acted as an “enabler” for Ellis’ hostility toward him.

The complaint, which is a civil lawsuit that Zephir wrote by hand and filed by himself without hiring a lawyer, calls for $18,000 in damages.  

“I have nightmares,” Zephir told the Blade. “I can’t believe it happened. I keep reliving the experience over and over and over in my head,” he said. “And I feel like I’m a prisoner in my own apartment. I don’t feel safe because I, honest to God, feel like she is going to bodily harm me and I might be, God forbid, murdered.”

Ellis, Cox, and Miller could not immediately be reached for comment.

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