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24 Photos of The Center Honoring HIV Awareness & NYC's Ballroom Scene
"Reflection, Celebration, Rejuvenation" was the theme for a World AIDS Day ball hosted by The Center in New York.
As a stressful and challenging year for LGBTQ+ people comes to a close, The Center honored World AIDS Day and HIV/AIDS Awareness Month with a celebration of New York's ballroom scene.
The World of Red Ball was held at the Jean-Michel Basquiat: King Pleasure(c) Exhibit on December 1, 2022 to "create a safe space to reflect and celebrate those we have lost to HIV/AIDS as well as those continually fighting against the virus." It was organized by Yohon Tatum, Legendary New York City Father Tisci and Community Engagement Coordinator at The Center, who has been in ballroom for more than 20 years.
"Ballroom is one of the communities greatly impacted by HIV/AIDS," Tatum told The Advocate, looking back on the night and the events of the year leading up to it. "It only felt natural in the work that I do to provide this space for ballroom to reflect, to celebrate and to rejuvenate on World AIDS Day."
Photos: Zeus Vibes, courtesy of The Center
The event drew more than 350 ballroom members with more than 100 participating, and the energy was high.
"With COVID and other things, it's been a struggle for ballroom to stay afloat, as far as having spaces," Tatum said. "It had been a while since New York had had a ball, so the excitement around the ball was really big. There were a lot of notable people from ballroom there."
Being able to host the ball at the Basquiat exhibit was particularly meaningful for those in attendance.
"Initially, in ballroom, whatever space we had to create was where we came together. It could be an old worn-out warehouse, a closed business, the basement of a beauty salon. We've had some balls in some really unfortunate places. So for me, in my journey to create these spaces for ballroom, it's very important that the spaces I create for them are historic, are spaces that they've never been in before."
Tatum added, "One community member walked up to me... and he was like, 'I just want to thank you guys so much, I've always watched Basquiat's work and I've been such a huge fan of his and followed his career, and just to be in this space and viewing his artwork that I've never had the opportunity to be around means so much to me.'
"The vibe transcended throughout the ballroom. As people walked the exhibit and [saw] the artwork, it touched a lot of people to be able to be in that space and to be able to see those things. This was artwork that a lot of people in America have never seen in person before."
In light of recent political attacks and violence aimed at LGBTQ+ spaces and events, it was more important than ever that the World of Red Ball provide a safe space for the community.
"I find it heartbreaking that any time that we want to plan to get together, whether it's just to go out on a Friday night or an event of this magnitude, we have to take into accountability that there are people out there like that, who come with intent to tear down and destroy something that we worked so hard to build.
"We had a lot of discussion about security going into having the event, and I'm just grateful that things worked out and we had good security in place. I pray that as we move forward into next year that this violence somehow ceases to exist in our community, because it's tragic that we have to go through these leaps and bounds every time we get together, in fear of retaliation against us just being us."
Tatum pointed out that ballroom is becoming more widely known thanks to shows like Pose and Legendary, but outside observers often aren't aware of the history behind it, including the impact of the HIV epidemic over the years.
"The thing I want people to understand the most is that we're people too, we're just humans, we're just living. We're just trying to survive, just like everybody else. I think that we've been dealt a way more fearsome hand of cards than a lot of other communities. And here we are just trying to make the best of what we've got, and not only make the best of it, but also share it with the world.
"We're hoping that we're providing the same thing for the world that we've always tried to provide for ourselves: a safe place, a distraction from all our stress, worries and problems, family bonding, community, good energy. We're giving this out, and this is what we want in return. This is what we want people to see from us."
Looking ahead to the new year, Tatum said: "I am hoping that in 2023 that we will get closer to ending the epidemic. I'm hoping in 2023 we can rid the world of some of this homophobic and transphobic violence. I'm hoping in 2023 our community can feel supported by legislature and by government policy and health policy."
The Center's HIV & Sexual Health Services team hosts recurring safe spaces for young ballroom community members to practice their talents, get tested for HIV/Hep C, and access many differents services to support their needs and dreams. For more information, please visit gaycenter.org/hiv.