The Latex Ball: “Music Is My Life” in Celebration and Memory

“GMHC made a commitment that as long as HIV and AIDS are in our lives, there is going to be a Ball specifically for this community.”

GMHC’s iconic Latex Ball returns on June 3 with the powerfully evocative theme, ‘Music Is My Life,’ as both a celebration of life and a tribute to all those we’ve lost in the Ballroom community to AIDS-related complications. 

The Latex Ball is the oldest annual event in the international House and Ball community, and the organizers are expecting a capacity crowd of about 2,000 at Terminal 5 in NYC’s Hell’s Kitchen. That includes members of at least 25 Houses , which serve as chosen families for New York City’s Ballroom community, made up of mostly Black and Latinx LGBTQ+ people. 

“This theme popped up,” said the Latex Ball’s impresario and guiding spirit, Luna Luis Ortiz, “because, as I was trying to figure it out, I kept singing ‘Music is my life’,” the refrain to Patti LaBelle’s Disco Classic song.

“So, I thought—let’s do a Ball about music and influencers in music,” he said. “It’s a celebration of music and how it moves us and shapes us. When we have heartbreak, we find those love songs that help us feel better, and when we’re happy, it’s what uplifts us.”

“It’s a simple theme but it’s powerful,” said Ortiz, who is GMHC’s prevention program coordinator. “What we do at GMHC is about healing—and that is what music does.”

GMHC has been presenting the Latex Ball since 1993, combining fiercely fabulous fashion and eye-popping performances with a sexual health fair. “This community was one of the hardest hit by the HIV and AIDS epidemic,” Ortiz said, noting that youth in NYC, especially those who’re homeless, have some of the highest rates of HIV infection. “GMHC made a commitment that as long as HIV and AIDS are in our lives, there is going to be a Ball specifically for this community.”

“We want to encourage people to take care of their sexual health,” explained Ortiz, himself a father in the House of Khan and a Hall of Fame Ballroom Icon. At the Latex Ball, there will be on-site HIV testing and, this year, MPOX vaccinations, with the aim of preventing another outbreak ahead of Pride Month and the crowded summer Ball scene. There will also be free condoms and other prevention materials by GMHC and other community-based organizations.

After a hugely successful debut last year, the Latexotica VIP Lounge is already at capacity and will return with free food, soft drinks, and exclusive giveaways. To gain entry, ballgoers had to get tested in advance for HIV and STIs at GMHC’s Testing Center. Check out this special video message from Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, Deputy Coordinator, White House National mpox Response, and Harold Phillips, MRP, Director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy, about MPOX vaccines at the ball!

This year, GMHC has created a new competition category, “HealthySexual as a House,” supported by Gilead Sciences. After attending a presentation from Gilead to learn the latest sexual health information and language, each participating House creates a two-minute, safer-sex PSA, which GMHC will post on the Clubhouse GMHC Facebook page for youth. The Houses of Alpha Omega, Lanvin, and Maison Margiela are competing for a $5,000 prize, and the winner will be announced at the Latex Ball.

“What I like about this is the Houses are teaching the Houses,” Ortiz said. “It’s creative and multi-generational.”

“Bizarre” category competitor from The Latex Ball 2022. Photo: Robert A. Ripps

Music is Ballroom Magic

Music is healing—and it’s also activism, Ortiz said. “It’s the soundtrack to the movements that have shaped our lives.” During the civil rights movement with the March on Washington in the 1960s, he said, the soundtrack was Motown. For the Stonewall Rebellion in 1969, the music of the moment included Motown, R&B and Pop. 

“It’s a call to what’s happening now with the assaults on trans rights and the rise of far-right political figures,” he said. “The Latex Ball is a reminder that we still have a lot of work to do.”

The soundtrack in Ortiz’s mind for this year’s Ball started with Disco from the “Music is My Life” era of Patti LaBelle’s 1979 hit—an anthem for SoHo’s legendary Paradise Garage dance club, which DJ Larry Levan made the place to be from 1977 to 1987.

“We’re celebrating people from that era—from KISS to Grace Jones and David Bowie, to Cher and Madonna. And then we go back to 1940’s glamoure with Billie Holiday and Lena Horne,” Ortiz said, referring to performance categories that span Runway, Fashion, Face, Realness, Vogue, and Sex Siren.

Fem Queen Runway takes inspiration from Grace Jones’ boundary-breaking eye: “Grace has always turned us out wanting more with her androgynous style and timeless effects…Pick a look and terrorize us on the runway,” say the competition guidelines.

Butch Queen European Runway is all about KISS. “I’m excited to see how the performers elevate KISS,” Ortiz said. “We give ideas, but that’s just for inspirationa snapshot. It’s not about imitating—it’s taking it to the next level. That’s how Ballroom people think.”

“I’m always excited for Bizarre,” he added. This Latex Ball exclusive is the most open-ended category, and the guidance is intentionally broad: “Tonight is all about our love for music and music artists. We want you to bring the theme to life. Bring it as only BIZARRE could!!!”

“People could show up looking like a Grammy award—who knows?” Ortiz said.

Ortiz is also anticipating a Vogue team category inspired by Pop princess Britney Spears: For each team, a Butch Queen Vogue Fem competitor will adapt Spears’ early schoolgirl look from the “Baby One More Time” video, while a Twister competitor will “bring us her 2001 VMA ‘I’m a Slave 4 U’ performance look. (No live snakes please.)”

Fem Queen Realness features the R&B divas who’re “so FAB we call them by their first names.” That’s Aretha, Whitney, Mary, Mariah, Toni, Teena, Beyonce, Gladys, Rihanna, and Janet!  And for Butch Queen Realness, competitors are asked to riff off the talented and hard-working manager figures behind the divas. “We’ll see how people play with that,” Ortiz said

Luna Luis Ortiz at The Latex Ball 2022. Photo: Daphne Salgado

Celebration and Memory

Ortiz said orchestrating the Latex Ball brings him full circle, since his own gay parents in the House and Ball community, the late Hector Xtravaganza and Avis Pendavis, were part of the Ball’s beginnings. At the height of the early days of the AIDS epidemic, he said, “They came to GMHC and asked, ‘What are you going to do for us? Our kids are dying.’”

“For me, the Ball is a labor of love for the two people who mentored me. As we celebrate music as our theme, we also celebrate our ballroom angels,” he said.

“People can get caught up in the competition,” Ortiz added. “But at the end of the day we are family. The Latex Ball is a celebration of life and the lives of those who once were on the runway. It’s homage. It’s love. It’s family.”

Because the Latex Ball is a community event, admission is free. GMHC deeply appreciates the support from our generous sponsors, Gilead, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, Avita and Boxers NYC, who make that possible.