BY LUNA ORTIZ
As we approach the date for the 23rd Latex Ball, I remember how I got started in the House and Ballroom community. I remember and cherish the legacy of my first house mother, Avis Pendavis. Back around Thanksgiving, 1988, I was hanging out with youth from the Institute for the Protection of Lesbian and Gay Youth (now known as the Hetrick-Martin Institute). We were eating, talking and getting to know each other, and I saw some of the youth vogueing. I became really excited and wanted to try it myself. I met Avis that night, and she changed my life. She invited me over to her house a week later, and brought me into the House and Ballroom community, making me a member of the House of Pendavis--one of the most distinguished and legendary houses around. Avis was just an incredible person. She was determined that her kids would succeed. She wanted her house children to finish school and get jobs, to protect themselves and be as healthy as possible; rather than focusing solely on winning prizes at the balls. I am so lucky to have had her as my house mother. She made me into the person I am today and was the architect of my approach to empowering my house children.
One of the programs that Avis was most passionate about was the Latex Project. She talked about going to meetings downtown. Only later did I learn these were the initial planning meetings with GMHC to create the Latex Project, which spawned both the House of Latex and the Latex Ball. In those days, GMHC was the only agency working on HIV and AIDS in the House and Ballroom scene – though there was always controversy. Some people in the community saw GMHC as an agency that catered to gay white men, and not to youth of color. The project helped change the perception of who GMHC served – the Latex Ball assured people that “we matter” and that GMHC cares.
As a youth, the Latex Project gave me a sense that I could do something for my community. Volunteering with GMHC gave me the opportunity to be more outspoken. I started as a peer educator, helping with the Latex Ball, and eventually became a member of staff at the agency. GMHC empowered me and let me become someone that people, from all over the country, could come to when they learn their HIV. My story is out there and Latex made me a beacon. Together we work to make the community healthier. As a result of the Latex Project and the Latex Ball, more people in the House and Ballroom community know about HIV and AIDS – what is safe and what is not. We do not preach at people, we share with them how to be safer and take better care of themselves. People listen to us more when we use this approach.
As I became more active in the community, and more active in the Latex Project, I competed in categories and became “Legendary.” I walked in the schoolboy category in my first ball in 1990, then moved on to Drag, Face and Drag, Runway, finally finding myself in Butch Queen Face. When my beloved mother Avis died in 1995, I formally joined the House of Latex, where Arbert, my new House mother, and Torrence, my new House father, helped me grow. My mentor and gay father, Hector Xtravaganza recruited me over to his House in 1997, and I continued to compete. I moved from Xtravaganza to the House of Blahnik for 4 years, and then was approached by Trevon Khan about opening a NYC Chapter of the House of Khan. I finally became a house mother myself, and am still active, having served as the Overall Father of the House of Khan, and now as the Grandfather of the House of Khan. I’ve also been inducted in the Ballroom Hall of Fame; both my gay parents Avis and Hector are Hall of Famers. The ballroom scene is about traditions, family and love.
What makes the Latex Ball special? First and foremost it is inclusion of health education and HIV testing, which remains free (to people attending the ball, or by coming by GMHC during our normal business hours). When the Latex Project was created, it started out as distributing information at different balls, which was important as the scene lacked information on HIV. We wanted to change that. When we formed the House of Latex, the members of the house were no longer just peer educators attending a ball, where people did not always know them, and they had little role. As members of the Ballroom community, they were now active participants in the balls. The Latex members walked categories, normalizing the fact that they were there, and made them more approachable.
The health fair at our Latex Ball is one of the most important parts – connecting members of the House and Ballroom community to services at GMHC or one of the other community-based organizations tabling at the fair.
This year is going to be a big one for the Latex Ball. With our new venue, and new organizers serving on the planning committee, I predict a big success. Together, we will walk and judge the categories, and make sure that everyone knows that they matter. Now that the House of Latex is inactive, other Houses such as Ebony, Balenciaga, Mizrahi, Khan, Prodigy and Garcon, among others, have picked up the banner of Latex and are educating their members. They come together through the Latex Project and compete at the Latex Ball – raising the visibility of the House and Ballroom community, while helping us save lives. The Latex Ball is successful and the largest ball in the world because we came together, collaborated and continue to embody the spirit of Avis Pendavis, and the late Arbert Santana Evisu. GMHC made the commitment to the House and Ballroom community 23 years ago, and we keep that promise every year, despite the funding for the ball being cut. Now we have to raise funds by sponsors and ticket prices.
I continue to honor the memory of Avis by working at GMHC, and keeping the Latex Project alive. Her memory burns bright as we continue to make the community stronger. I am so grateful for all of the Houses who participate and remain committed to help us in the fight against AIDS.
I hope to see you pumping the runway this weekend!
See more Luna at the Luna Show on Youtube, learn more about the Latex Ball at MyBallroomLife.com and on their Facebook page, and buy tickets to this year's Latex Ball here.