The unprecedented security in D.C. ahead of Inauguration Day has put transgender and LGBTQ people experiencing homelessness at increased danger as tents continue to be taken down, Airbnb bars reservations and shelters reach capacity.
LGBTQ and trans leaders are preparing for a dangerous Inauguration Day after extremist supporters of President Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, and are expected to return as President-elect Biden is sworn in.
“We expect violence, we do expect disorder, and we expect the people who will be coming to D.C. are not coming on friendly terms,” said Ruby Corado, founder and executive director of Casa Ruby, a homeless shelter for LGBTQ youth in D.C.
Encampments in Georgetown, NOMA and other areas of D.C. have been taken down ahead of Inauguration Day. Airbnb also barred reservations in the days surrounding the historic day, which is often used by LGBTQ and trans people as emergency housing when shelters are full. Funds to pay for the rooms are obtained through mutual aid groups or other avenues.
Trans and LGBTQ people experiencing homelessness and inconsistent housing are now facing more unknowns as usual options are unattainable. With Airbnb restrictions and many hotels housing Trump loyalists, trans people have limited options for housing in the immediate area. Churches in downtown D.C. have also been mandated to shut their doors, Corado said.
The D.C. government in December announced plans to reduce funding for local nonprofits that serve residents experiencing homelessness.
Ahead of Inauguration Day, Casa Ruby collaborated with Ward 2 Mutual Aid and N Street Village to help those affected by this week’s events. Corado has created a command center of 12 volunteers and hired a driver to provide a rapid response. The center is located in Northwest D.C. and is away from downtown, she said. The space is 22,000 square feet to allow for social distancing and hot food will be available. Corado also added 30 beds to the 100 she already has to house more people.
“For people who face trauma under the arms of the police, this is very triggering. That is why we are protecting them,” she said.
Those in need of these services are encouraged to call the emergency hotline at 202-355-5155 or visit casaruby.org.
— Casa Ruby (@CasaRubyDC) January 19, 2021
No Justice No Pride also provides housing for adults who are trans and has five safe houses in the D.C. area. Emmelia Talarico, the organization’s executive director, said the mass removals of tents around D.C. are a major concern.
“MPD is always messing with our community,” she said, referring to the Metropolitan Police Department.
The encampment at the K Street underpass in NOMA was recently removed, as well, Corado said.
“You can’t say no to the feds. That’s the law of the land,” Corado said. “And they don’t care whether you have a place to go or you don’t have a place to go. When they tell you to move, is what you’ve got to do.”
Talarico said she received several emails from trans people who said their tents are being taken down under the guise of “safety.” The removal of encampments, such as the one on K Street, has been an ongoing issue, she said.
For Corado, these events surrounding the inauguration are personal. A trans woman who experienced homelessness on Sept. 11, 2001, she said she is determined to provide shelter and a safe space.
“I was here in D.C. when the plane hit the Pentagon. It shook me,” Corado said. “And I remember everybody said, ‘Go home, go home.’ And at the time, I didn’t have a home. So I went under my bridge, where I used to sleep on 23rd and P. And everybody said, ‘Seek refuge.’ And I remember how petrified I was.”
Two trans women experiencing homelessness have died in the last two weeks, as well, Corado said. The cause is unclear, and Corado said MPD has not provided more information.
The MPD press office told the Washington Blade they asked the Special Liaison Branch and Homicide Unit about these deaths, and could not find any additional information related to the cases.
“Trans people are not a priority in Washington, D.C.,” Corado said. “People are going to protect properties, people are going to protect their buildings, people are going to protect these government buildings before they protect a human being that’s already considered unwanted in the current system … So what happened to those girls? We may never know, but I do know that we are going to prevent some more.”
While Airbnb canceling reservations surrounding the inauguration affects those seeking emergency housing, National Center for Transgender Equality Executive Director Mara Keisling said there is no “perfect” way to protect the city while also keeping the resource for those who need of emergency housing.
“The next two weeks is going to be hard in D.C.,” she said. “I hope that we as community members do everything we can to find the folks who are locked out because of this.”
National Center for Transgender Equality Deputy Executive Director Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen shared his personal experience on Jan. 6.
Trump supporters stayed in the townhouse across the street from his and his husband’s Capitol Hill home. While Heng-Lehtinen and his husband did not directly interact with the group, he described the situation as “nerve-wracking.”
“It was certainly something that we needed to be cautious about,” Heng-Lehtinen said. But, he said he did not let the event overwhelm him and his husband “because we have to live our lives too.”
Heng-Lehtinen said he is glad Airbnb canceled reservations, but recognized the resource it serves as emergency housing.
“I just wish that there had been some kind of way to distinguish, to know more about who is renting any given unit,” he said. “But I think Airbnb was right to take this seriously.”