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As we honor Pride month, we must embrace its spirit of inclusivity through boundless celebration of all LGBTQ+ lives, including Black lives. Notable Black individuals throughout history have been queer identified, but Black queer love has often been concealed by criminalization and stigma. The lives, innovations, and artistic contributions of Black queer community must be celebrated, not erased.

Black LGBTQ+ love is both controversial and liberating, with roots embedded within the names that some people praise as heroic, and others seek to eliminate from the bookshelves and public discourse. Despite being the strategist behind the Civil Rights Movement, Bayard Rustin was rejected from leading civil rights strategies because his queerness was weaponized politically. Authors James Baldwin and Alice Walker and musician Tracy Chapman paved the way for scholars like E. Patrick Johnson and musicians like Lil Nas X to celebrate their authenticity and Black queer love freely. Pepper Labeija (Paris is Burning) created significant opportunities for Black and Latinx queer folks to shine through the ballroom. From her legacy, Willy Ninja brought voguing to mainstream popular culture, and RuPaul made drag a family show.  

The ballroom scene is an important part of honoring and celebrating Black queer legacy. Societal oppression within and outside of the biological family created an urgent need for Black queer chosen families. Many Black queer youth are kicked out of their homes, threatened with violence, or ostracized by their families and community. Black queer youth have been experiencing this for more than 50 years.

Thus, the ballroom scene community for Black and Latinx queer folx was born. 

The ballroom scene emerged as a space of solidarity in authentic self-expression. At balls, community members gather as contestants and compete in diverse categories: Runway, Realness, Voguing/Performance, etc., for prizes and acknowledgment from community leaders. Houses are not always physical structures; they offer a chosen family that provides safety, acceptance, love, and affirmation. Historically, these chosen families provided families for people rejected by society and their essential connections. The earliest known occurrence of a ballroom scene event happened in New York during the post-Civil War era. Ballroom scene events occur all over the United States today, and some derivatives have sprung up internationally.

Balls serve as both a form of entertainment and a means of empowerment, allowing individuals to celebrate their identities and find validation within their chosen family. During an interview with Dr. Singer, legendary House Father Jahari Stamps describes leaving home as a teen and finding a safe and welcoming space within the ballroom scene community.

“What was really dope to me was this idea of the family of choice where individuals who were not blood related but could come together in communal space for [co-creation and togetherness] …What makes Ballroom a safe space is that it is affirming and non-judgmental. It has been an absolute saving grace not only for my life but for the many, many people I have come across who are in this scene.” 

The ballroom scene continues to provide a support network and sense of belonging for those who celebrate Black queer love. The ballroom culture, with its elaborate balls and competitive categories, provides a platform for members to showcase their creativity, talent, nerve, identity, and vogue dancing skills.

Ballroom scene has also become a space for culturally and linguistically appropriate resources (e.g., sexual health, workforce development, etc.). For example, New Directions, a ball hosted by Chicago’s Southside Health Advocacy Resource Partnership (SHARP) and sponsored by various stakeholders from community organizations to corporate entities, continues the culturally normative practices of competition, prizes, trophies, seating, and decorations.

New Directions and other ballroom scenes have become a space to advocate for the health and protection of those within queer communities by providing linkage to resources and testing for sexually transmitted infection (STI) and HIV, COVID-19, and Mpox. 

Jahari Stamps, legendary Ballroom Scene father and co-chair of SHARP, expresses how ballroom scene and Black queer love are deeply tied to create a supportive environment in the face of systemic oppression and rejection. Being Black and queer are two levels of marginalization that have created a whole new level of caste. Even though someone may look down on you because of the color of your skin and the person that you love, ballroom has been a haven for queer individuals of color for many years. 

Support public health and safety and celebrate the endurance of Black queer authenticity at one of these upcoming LGBTQ+ and ballroom events in the Chicago area: Pride Prom on June 1, Love of a Father Ball on June 15, Back2Basics Ball on September 21t, Rags to Riches Ball on Oct 5 and  New Directions Ball on Nov 16.

is a Black queer community curator with 10+ years of experience developing, leading, and expanding social initiatives. Noel is an Obama Foundation Scholar, Black Bench Chicago Fellow; and ForbesBLK member. He is also a clinical therapist, Chief Operating Officer of Southside Health Advocacy Resource Partnership (SHARP), and Founder/Chief Executive Officer of CoLiberate USA.
is an Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois Chicago and affiliated with Third Coast Center for AIDS Research and Write to Change the World.
is an Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois Chicago and a Public Voices Fellow with The OpEd Project.