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CDC HIV/AIDS/Viral Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update

ILLINOIS: House of Activism: University of Chicago Medical Center Hosting Gala to Raise Awareness of HIV/AIDS


Chicago Tribune (12.01.11) - Monday, December 05, 2011

On Friday night, the University of Chicago Medical Center was hosting an HIV/AIDS outreach fashion show targeting the city's underground "House and Ball" community.

"The community dates way back to the 1920s in Harlem, but back then it was more of a pageant-style thing where gay men would dress up and walk down the street," said Keith Green, an event organizer who is director of federal affairs at the AIDS Foundation of Chicago and co-chair of the Chicago Black Gay Men's Caucus. "In the [1990s], Madonna mainstreamed 'voguing,' but even that style dates back further than Madonna." Green has been working for two years with House and Ball community members at Stroger Hospital, with support from a National Institutes of Health grant.

Often taking the names of famous designers - the House of Chanel, the House of Escada - the Houses may comprise well-off LGBT people as well as homeless youths attracted by the physical shelter and social support the Ball scene provides.

"Young black men who have sex with men [MSM] in general have high rates of HIV infections, but the young men of the Ball community have even higher rates of HIV," said Dr. John Schneider, also an event organizer. "We've gone to the highest of the high-risk groups to reflect the epidemic on the South Side." In 2010, Schneider led a University of Chicago survey of black South Side MSM. It found that 44.4 percent of respondents were HIV-positive, with 15 percent unaware of their infection. Half of those undiagnosed MSM were ages 18-20.

Ayanna Armstrong, the transgender "mother" of the House of Balenciaga, said that despite the sense of community the scene provides, some young participants engage in sexual risk-taking because they feel no one cares about them.


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