The Latex Ball is back! This storied ball–a fiercely beloved tradition for the NYC House and Ball community–returns June 18, themed ‘Summer of Love’ for its 30th anniversary celebration.
The Latex Ball is unique in Ballroom, because it combines flagrantly fabulous fashion with an informative health fair. Well over a dozen HIV and AIDS service organizations will be on hand to link the community to HIV-prevention resources, along with an abundance of free condoms, other safer sex supplies, and HIV testing.
Luna Luis Ortiz, the Latex Ball’s impresario and guiding spirit, said Summer of Love “felt right,” after two years of COVID-19 lockdowns. “We want to provide love. It’s summer in New York, and we’re continuing to love and support each other through the Latex Ball.”
“Being in the room with everybody,” is what Ortiz, GMHC’s program coordinator for Project Vogue and Ballroom community liaison, said he’s most anticipating. “It’s a beautiful night. I look forward to seeing what looks people bring for every performance category–and what celebrity might pop up.”
It’s been three years since the last Latex Ball, and there’s a lot of pent-up fashion energy. The organizers are expecting a capacity crowd at Terminal 5, which holds 3,000 people.
While free HIV testing is always part of the ball, this year ballgoers who test in advance for HIV, STIs and hepatitis will gain entry to the exclusive Latexotica VIP Lounge.
“We want to encourage people to take care of their sexual health,” said Armstrong Tingwane, GMHC’s vice president of prevention programs. “Yes, it may seem like a big party, but it’s also an intervention for sexual health, wellness, and HIV prevention.”
The House and Ball community is made up of mostly Black and Latinx LGBTQ+ people, who belong to different Houses that become a chosen family. “These Houses continue to be crucial for LGBTQ+ youth who may have been rejected by their birth family and who otherwise may be homeless,” Ortiz said.
The Ballroom community, supported by GMHC, created the Latex Ball in the early 1990’s as a response to the many members lost to AIDS after the epidemic’s onset a decade earlier.
This year, one Vogue category, New Way, honors that history with the directive: “Tonight, we want to see you in all black with red gloves representing the AIDS epidemic. The story of your performance tells the untold stories of those we’ve lost to AIDS.”
Besides Vogue, the evening’s performance categories span Fashion, Runway, Realness, Face, Body and Perfect 10’s. “The whole point is to bring the look outlined in the competition category flyer,” Ortiz said.
Ortiz’s own favorite performance category is Bizarre, a Latex Ball exclusive, because it’s so creative and open-ended. A few years ago, he said, a sparkly alien advanced down the runway and gave birth to another alien. “I don’t even remember the theme. I was like, ‘OK, Alien–bring it on’.”
The guidance for Bizarre this year is simple: “WOW US!!!!” Competitors are invited to “create a Latex Runway moment that will influence the next 30 years of Ballroom Bizarre.”
Some categories, like Bizarre, are open to all, while others are for specific gender identities, like Butch Queen for cis-gendered gay men, Fem Queen for transwomen, Trans Man, and Women. The Latex Ball is ageless, with some competitors in their 60s, but ballgoers must be 21 or older.
Ortiz is looking forward to seeing how the community reinterprets haute couture from Paris Fashion Week’s spring-summer 2022 collections by designers like Schiaparelli, Jean Paul Gaultier, Alexis Mabille, and Elie Saab.
“RESEARCH. Make it work!” says the competition flyer. “Knowing the community, they’ll probably even look better than what the Paris designers are doing,” Ortiz added.
Trophies and cash prizes go to the best looks. “Recreating a look that costs $6,000 to $10,000 on the Paris runway could mean spending $500 or $1,000 to get the right fabrics and materials,” Ortiz said.
While it attracts illustrious celebrities and fashionistas, the Latex Ball is not a stand-alone event. It is part of GMHC’s year-round House of Latex and Project Vogue programming that uses creative approaches to safer-sex messaging, HIV prevention and navigation services to reach people at balls, LGBTQ+ youth venues, and through social media.
Admission is free at the door, because the Latex Ball is a community event, so support from sponsors is crucial to putting on a proper ball.
This year’s sponsors and supporters to date are: The New York Community Trust’s CFDA-Vogue Initiative/New York City AIDS Fund, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Gilead Sciences, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, Boxers NYC, Avita, and Dr. Kenny & Alvin Jones. The organizers expect additional supporters before the Latex Ball on June 18.