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
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.