They’re called Sunday Dinners, no matter what day of the week they may fall on. Something done, I suppose, to install a sense of warmth, family, and togetherness, even routine, for those who might be missing these things in their lives.
Last week, my dinner club went to Casa Ruby to cook for the residents there. I’ve written about DC Gay Dinner Club before and the benefits I see in it. And as a club, we began to talk about ways to infuse some charity work into our own intimate gatherings, gatherings that were started, after all, as a way to bring our community together. The initial idea was to hold a fundraiser, maybe raise some money and collect a pile of winter clothing. Both are things that Casa Ruby desperately needs. But Dinner Club is about community, and as powerful as monetary donations and clothing drives are for an organization that serves the neediest members of our community, real community building cannot be achieved by writing a check. To truly build community, you have to show up, talk to each other, express caring and solidarity, and yes, break bread together.
For those that might not know, Casa Ruby is a bilingual multicultural organization providing services for the neediest members of the city’s LGBT community. Notices on the walls alerted residents and walk-ins as to what charities throughout town offered free showers, where you could get a rapid HIV test, or a hot meal. One thing that was striking to me — sitting down with residents and talking about their needs, wants, future plans — was the need of donations, items of any kind really. But clothes are the most sought after. “So, what would you really like for Christmas this year,” I asked one. “A coat,” she replied. But for those who are in the process of transitioning, who have recently found shelter after weeks on the street, who are living their lives as their true selves for the first time, a coat means much more than warmth. Not only do these individuals need coats, they need coats that allow them to express their femininity (or masculinity). They need coats and other pieces of clothing that allow them to be themselves.
I can’t lie. The group we assembled to take to Casa Ruby was a group of cis-gender gay men, and I was a little nervous about how we would be received by the residents at Casa Ruby. I’d certainly be skeptical. But what I have come to realize through this experience, is that volunteering at Casa Ruby is a very loud and important demonstration of solidarity. We are all represented by a letter in the string of letters that represents our community, and the trans community has been left behind in so many ways over the past few decades of progress.
At the fundraiser we held at JR.’s a few weeks ago, sponsored by Dave Perruzza and his staff, Ruby stood up in front of our dinner club members and the rest of the bar’s patrons to impress upon us the importance of our activism, and the sentiment was, “We are a part of the community too. Thank you for showing that you are here for us.” Here, too, we’d like to tell you about our experience because we want to shine a light on an organization that is doing incredible and important work, life-saving work, for trans people of color and so that everyone knows that they are welcome at Casa Ruby. As I was leaving, one caseworker grabbed my arm, saying “tell everyone what we’re doing here.” I hope this story will inspire you to find a way to get involved.
Or as Gladys Zapata, the Casa Ruby house manager put it, “nuestra casa es su casa!! Sweet people and great company are always welcome home!”
Donate online or email Eve Howe at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a night for your organization to cook Sunday Dinner.
Brock Thompson is a D.C.-based freelance writer. He contributes regularly to the Blade.