Saturday night marked the 22nd annual House of Latex Ball, presented at “New York’s largest ballroom facility,” the Roseland Ballroom. Each year, Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) brings together hundreds of spectators and ball culture participants in the name of health education to celebrate an underground culture of dance, fashion and professional fierceness. Most important, the legendary event creates awareness to the still vital conversation around HIV and AIDS.
This year’s theme of the Latex Ball, “The Enchanted Forest,” inspired a multi-gender hodgepodge of androgynous personifications of nature: pirates, fairies and Cinderella-type looks all graced the floor. Whether the view was from the balcony or ground-level, one’s attention could easily be shifted between those pounding the runway or the monstrous crowd.
Just as HIV isn’t an epidemic that impacts one group of people, the Latex Ball wasn’t just an LGBT-focused event. The function is a chance for various identities to come together to unite. Participants from Russia to Japan to Jersey “walked the runway,” highlighting contributions from an often marginalized community. Also, as the Latex Ball took place, GMHC held confidential one-on-one HIV and STD screenings; providing a space to “know your status."
What was once highlighted in the 1990 doc Paris Is Burning has turned into a cultural phenomenon, gaining international appeal. Vogue choreography is in demand in places like Europe and Asia and by celebrities like Beyoncé, Willow Smith and Janet Jackson — who famously attended the 2006 Latex Ball.
With over 2,000 in attendance, the success of this year’s Latex Ball painted a clear picture of just how far-reaching and influential the ballroom community is. Damon Humes, also known as Jay Blahnik, is a ballroom legend and received the 2012 Arbert Evisu Outstanding Award. He talked to BET.com about the start of the Be the Generation Bridge Project, which was introduced at this year’s Latex Ball. “This is a national initiative that I am the co-director of through the Legacy Project at the Office of HIV/AIDS Network Coordination and FHI 360/HIV Preventions Trials Network. The project invested resources — through Reach LA, House of Blahnik and House of Garcon — to increase awareness of and support for HIV prevention biomedical research within the house and ball community.” Jay adds, “I am a true hybrid of ballroom and public health.”
Jaimee "The Face Diva" Paige, a ballroom legend known for her striking beauty, says, "After 22 years, the Latex Ball is still important because the fight against HIV and AIDS never stops. Our community battles with this everyday — no one should be dying, they should be living!" Jaimee stresses, "We need to continue the fight together. Thank you, GMHC."
It was a good week for the Black and Latino LGBT community. Keith Boykin’s For Colored Boys, an anthology of 45 writers developing their own sense of empowerment, was released and the legendary Latex Ball proves this is a community that will not be silenced. Furthermore, each year the Latex Ball and GMHC challenge New Yorkers to not only be inclusive, but to integrate all cultural expressions into the fabric of society — and to just have fun.
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(Photo: DNAinfo/Yepoka Yeebo)