Health/Fitness » HIV/AIDS

Thousands to Attend GMHC’s Legendary Latex Ball

by Winnie McCroy
EDGE Editor
Wednesday Aug 14, 2013

Thousands of people from the New York City area will gather at Terminal Five on Saturday, Aug. 17 for GMHC's 23rd Annual Latex Ball. This new venue will feature 27 competitions in dance, voguing, fashion and appearance. It is also a great way to raise money and awareness around HIV among young MSM of color.

"It really is a cool thing, because the house ball scene is primarily in communities of color," said GHMC's Director of Community Health and Research John Guidry. "Risk factors contributing to new infections are related to the lack of self-esteem and self-worth; things that put young people in a place where they do risky things."

More than 2,000 people from the NYC area, across the nation and around the world are expected to attend, including fashion models, designers, famous photographers and members of House and Ballroom community. The Latex Ball is the largest ball for the House and Ball community in the world.

The event incorporates HIV testing and sexual health messaging provided by GMHC, 30 other community-based organizations, as well as the New York City and New York State health departments.

"The Latex Ball is an important public health intervention that primarily reaches Black and Latino youth and adults who continue to be disproportionately impacted by HIV," said GMHC Chief Operating Officer Janet Weinberg. "The ball taps into the creativity, resiliency and strength that exist within the House and Ball community, celebrates their community and dynamism and encourages members to channel their talents into ways that impact mainstream culture."

This year, the competition categories were designed around the cheeky theme of "Controversy Through Time: Where Scandals and Celebs Meet." A panel of esteemed judges will select individual and team winners for trophies and cash prizes in various categories. Prior to the start of competitions, entertainers perform to the delight of the audience.

Appearing are singers Lexz Pryde, Lourdes ’Lulu’ Morales (Deep In Vogue) and Miesa, entertainers Dina Marie and Harmonica Sunbeam and the dance team The New Breed. Honorees include celebrity photographer Mike Ruiz, who supports GMHC, the Ali Forney Center and the Trevor Project. Hearing HIV prevention messages from performers they value can help kids realize that someone cares about them.

"Kids are convinced they don’t matter in the world -- they are pathologized by the health system, demonized in law enforcement, and in their own eyes are dealing with what it means to come out. Events like this not only celebrate the house ball community, but also partner with it to give them ownership of the categories and nature of the event."

The House and Ballroom community, popularized in Jennie Livingston’s 1990 documentary "Paris is Burning," is built upon a "house," which functions as a surrogate family, with a house "mother" and "father," and "children," who adopt the house surname, (ie. Willi Ninja, The House of Ninja).

Members of the houses, both young and older, compete in balls and related activities sponsored by various houses and promoters throughout the year. House mothers and fathers often provide support for LGBTQ youth who otherwise might be homeless or without any parental guidance.

The Latex Ball, formed by GMHC in 1989, is just another example of GMHC’s attempt to do prevention marketing to this at-risk demographic. Another is their series of 30-second PSAs, "You Matter," adding, "Events like this are important because they say to kids, you really matter because of who you are."

GMHC also hosts mini-balls, also known as "kiki functions," that reach hundreds of youth and young adults, offer HIV testing and prevention materials, and serve youth who are not affiliated with a house, but who are part of the broader ballroom community. In the face of city and state budget cuts to HIV prevention programs, the Latex Ball is more important than ever.

"In light of budget cuts, it is important that events like this continue to fund services for young gay men and transgender women of color," said Guidry. "In these populations, the incidence rates of new infections continue to go up astronomically higher than the young white population. With prevention money for negative people being cut, it is crucial to have an event like this."

The 23rd Annual Latex Ball will be held on Saturday, Aug. 17 from 8 p.m.-4 a.m. at Terminal Five, 610 W. 56th Street. For more information, visit

Winnie McCroy is the Women on the EDGE Editor, HIV/Health Editor, and Assistant Entertainment Editor for EDGE Media Network, handling all women's news, HIV health stories and theater reviews throughout the U.S. She has contributed to other publications, including The Village Voice, Gay City News, Chelsea Now and The Advocate, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.


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