Luna Luis Ortiz (@lunalens on Instagram) has been a part of New York’s Ballroom Voguing Community scene and a photographer since the late 1980s. In 1989, he began his journey as an HIV awareness spokesperson for youth living with HIV. Today, Ortiz continues to inspire and empower youth of color around the world with his personal story of living with HIV for 35 years.
Q: What jobs have you had at GMHC and what do you do now?
I started working at GMHC in 2007 in a role as a liaison between GMHC and the Ballroom Community. Over the years, I have worked to strengthen GMHC’s connection with the Ballroom Community and provide HIV prevention education through events such as the Latex Ball.
Part of my work today as a program coordinator is to link people to services at GMHC and to help young people feel seen and heard. I also help people navigate life with HIV — whether they are newly infected or long-term survivors. I want to be a role model and advocate for those living with HIV, especially youth from the Ballroom Community.
Q: What makes GMHC special?
A: I love working at GMHC because of how grounded the organization is in the community. Everything that GMHC does has to go through clients whom we serve and the community. It is important that people feel safe. GMHC was born to help people with HIV. We hold people’s hands and guide them through tough times and celebrate the good times.
Q: What are your fondest memories of working at the agency?
A: For 30 years, we’ve held the Latex Ball for the Ballroom Community. This event is not only an opportunity for participants to perform, but also a health fair and a community event. GMHC was one of the first agencies to invest in the Ballroom Community. I also think fondly about AIDS Walk, which is a tribute to all my friends who have died of AIDS. While there may be thousands of people in the park for AIDS Walk, there are so many more people walking with us who are not there. AIDS Walk and the Latex Ball are both GMHC’s most celebrated legacies.
Q: What is the biggest misconception about GMHC?
A: GMHC was founded by six white gay men, and I know for many years that GMHC was not appealing to Black and Brown people. Now, when I look around and see who works at GMHC and who is coming in for services, it is mostly people of color. While the faces of the organization were once predominantly white, I feel it was because GMHC was located in downtown Manhattan, and now that has completely changed. GMHC is here to serve the world.
Q: How has being a leader in the Ballroom Community influenced your work at GMHC, and how has working at GMHC influenced your leadership in the Ballroom Community?
A: In the Ballroom Community, we are divided into “houses,” which are chosen familial units and performance groups. I am a parent and a leader in my house, which has given me extraordinary empathy and intuition. I am proud of being accessible even at 2 am in the morning when someone may need my help. People also hit me up on social media asking for help about resources on how to live with HIV from the other side of the world. I always try to respond right away. These skills directly relate to my work at GMHC, where I always lead with an opened heart.
Q: What about working with younger people gives you hope?
A: Despite the challenges of COVID and the adversities of the last year, young people still performed by creating virtual balls. Early in the pandemic, we hosted a virtual ball at GMHC, and it all began with the social media application, BigoLive. We learned that we have to keep going and continue doing what we love. This resilience goes back to the original founders of GMHC, who were a group of young men who came together to create something amazing, and this is what people in the Ballroom Community do. We come together to do something amazing, and we celebrate each other in the process. This is what helped us survive and mourn all of these years.
Photo caption: Luna Ortiz at the 2016 Latex Ball.