This year marks 30 years since HIV/AIDS was first recognized in the media. Since 1981, HIV/AIDS has killed nearly 30 million people worldwide and GMHC (Gay Men's Health Crisis) has been the leading organization for prevention, care and advocacy. While medications have improved, HIV/AIDS continues to devastate, and earlier this month the Centers for Disease Control released a study showing a noted increase in HIV infection rates among young Black men who have sex with men. The Black community is still in an HIV/AIDS crisis. However, leave it to GMHC to combine education with the fabulousness of the ballroom scene, a Black and Latino subculture, which derived out of Harlem.
On Saturday night, GMHC presented their 21st Annual House of Latex Ball at the Roseland Ballroom in Manhattan. It's one of their most popular events and a staple in New York City every summer, regardless of sexual orientation.
One must experience a "ball" to truly grasp it, but in short, a ball is a high-octane competition event with categories in modeling, fashion, beauty and the popular dance form "voguing." "Balls" date back to 1920s Harlem when Black drag queens could not compete in white drag queen pageants, which prompted the Black queens to start their own functions. The popular subculture was documented in 1991's Paris is Burning. Many celebrities, like Janet Jackson, Beyoncé, Kelly Rowland and Madonna to name a few, have admittedly been inspired by ballroom culture.
The Roseland Ballroom was packed with over 2,000 spectators who were entertained with elaborate categories such as, bring it like "Mother Africa nursing your young," bring it like a "Geisha and wearing the traditional Kimono" and bring it like an "Egyptian pharaoh." With more beads, feathers, wigs and headpieces than a Grace Jones and Lady Gaga clone combined, the competitors delivered the creativity, walking away with trophies and cash prizes. In between categories, GMHC offered free on-site HIV/AIDS testing.
Some celebs in attendance were Miss Lawrence from Real Housewives of Atlanta, Leyomi Mizrahi, who was featured in Willow Smith's "Whip My Hair" video, and America's Next Best Dance Crew's Vogue Evolution.
This year's Latex Ball was dedicated to Arbert Santana, who was a tireless advocate in the LGBT community and the founder of the House of Latex. Arbert Santana passed away in March.
For more information, visit GMHC.org.
(Photo: Luna Ortiz)