January 9th, 2013
The House Ball Historic and Cultural Institute
Bringing positive change and empowerment to the House Ball community in 2013.
Disclaimer: “Wherever power is - government, business and community – LGBT people must be there too, demanding that our rights are included and protected, that we can live safely,
and that the world recognizes our dignity.”
Re-evaluation of the GMHC report by the Council Chairs
Dear Council member,
When an artistic community such as the House Ball community is exploited by the industry and by our own community for decades, what are we to do? How can we address those issues so we can empower our struggling community? How can we make a difference, make positive changes, and start an empowerment and healing process to benefit the House Ball community? Those issues have been on our minds for many years, and we have not yet been able to turn it around and make it work for us, to empower us artistically and economically, and to protect us from exploitation and abuse.
We hope that the Institute will become the vehicle to provide positive change and empowerment with the resources the Council has available to us. In order to do so, the chairs felt a strong need to identify the issues affecting the community, to look at them and find solutions. One way to identify the problems is to re-visit and re-evaluate the report from the meeting we had with GMHC about the controversial “Latex Project” program, to get a better understanding of what GMHC represents for our community, what the purpose of the Latex Project program is, and how it affects our community artistically, economically and socially.
After re-evaluating the information from the GMHC meeting, the chairs see a need to remind GMHC to refocus on what their health missions are and what their responsibilities are as an HIV/AIDS agency wanting to serve the House Ball community. Talking “at us”, disrespecting us and rejecting further meetings are not good community relations, and GMHC is failing again to set a good example in community leadership. We as a community are stunned by this treatment and we should reject dealing with GMHC in that way.
In this re-evaluation report, we explain in detail to the Council the larger picture of the issues we face as a community by GMHC and AIDS organizations across the country. We are providing more background information, additional commentary, asking questions, and explaining why and whom we need to hold accountable, so the Council members have an opportunity to come to their own conclusions and they can form their own opinion on how to deal with GMHC moving forward in 2013.
The chairs are asking the Council members to please review our report and to give the chairs your constructive criticism, feedback, comments and suggestions, to make this a valuable document to work from moving forward.
Report Summary from the Chairs, Wolfgang Busch and Kevin Omni
The meeting was held on September 2012 and was attended by: Council chairs Kevin Omni and Wolfgang Busch, and GMHC staff Dirk McCall, Ivan Monforte, Krishna Stone and Luna Ortiz.
From the information we received at the meeting with GMHC, we learned more about their philosophy, business ethics, strategy, and community relations. We also learned why the artistic/health Latex Project program is cutting into House Ball economics and creating community division, and how this program was strategically set up to manipulate the natural artistic house ball progression by creating their own ballroom sub-culture.
At the meeting with GMHC, we also experienced what it is like to be “talked at” when addressing our concerns, what it is like to be disrespected, lied to face-to-face, and what it is like to be ignored and rejected when requesting follow-up meetings with the purpose of working on a better future together.
All of the above are the reasons why we have to take action to stop this community abuse and manipulation by the GMHC agency. We have to use GMHC as an example for other AIDS organizations across the country that copied the GMHC model and are operating in the same or similar ways.
We have to educate our community, the public, grant-giving organizations and the media about how GMHC is doing business, how it is failing to serve and to protect our community, and how GMHC is in a position to waste money on house ball investments and other artistic programs affecting our community in a negative way, instead of focusing and investing in our health for future generations to benefit.
GMHC told us that they lost tens of thousands of dollars investing in the last two Latex Balls. They said that if they had made a profit from the admission and corporate sponsorship from the Latex Balls in 2011 and 2012, the money was to go to other GMHC programs and was NOT going back to the House Ball community. They justify their decisions and how they are running the Latex Project program in part based on the following statement made by Luna Ortiz at the meeting: “Everybody is doing what they want in the ball community.”
This statement/objective explains why GMHC doesn’t feel the need to communicate and cooperate further with the council, why they do what they want t do, why they fail to set a good example for the community, why the Latex Project is overall a failure, and why we have to take action to protect our community from this outside abuse in the form of an artistic program called “Latex Project” paid for, directed and produced by GMHC.
We offered to work with GMHC in good faith to address and resolve our issues to the best of our abilities, including the house ball member Ortiz, who is representing us at GMHC. Unfortunately, GMHC and Ortiz made the decision, which was made very clear to us, that GMHC no longer wishes to communicate and meet with the Council to talk about the problems we are facing from their Latex project program.
The chairs fully understand the sensitivities and are aware of the consequences involved when dealing with sensitive community concerns of this nature. It is the decision of the council chairs to identify all the negative impacts that AIDS agencies have on the Ballroom community and to share it with the community at large, to a) bring attention to our concerns and b) to protect the house ball community from further outside negative forces of this nature.
It is the Council’s intention to move forward by building new bridges, partnerships and programs, so we can provide a better future for our community.
Meeting Notes from the meeting with GMHC
Statements, Commentary, Questions and additional background information
1) The Latex Ball in 2012 cost GMHC over $50,000, statement by Krishna Stone from GMHC.
2) Krishna Stone reported that GMHC lost tens of thousands of dollars on the Latex ball in 2011 & 2012. When Wolfgang asked Stone, "Is this good business for GMHC?" she answered, "We are so committed to the House Ball community, we don't care if we lose tens of thousands of dollars on the Balls at Roseland."
3) Luna Ortiz pointed out, “The ball community doesn't have an organizing body to refer to or to consult with and everybody in the ball community is doing what they want to do.”
The GMHC agency is running the “Latex Project” on the following objective: GMHC statement by Luna Ortiz, “everybody in the ball community is doing what they want to do”. This statement applies to members from the House Ball community, who are individuals and active members from the house ball community and are entitled to make rules and regulations, because it is their community and artistic creation.
What is GMHC?
GMHC is a not-for-profit organization. It is not an individual, as they would like us to believe at the meeting when we talked about house ball culture and policies. GMHC is receiving funds from the government, AIDS supportive agencies, members from the community and the AIDS Walk, to educate and protect us from HIV and AIDS. GMHC is a health agency serving our community on health related HIV and AIDS-related issues.
GMHC is acting as if it has the same rights as an individual member from the house ball community. Therefore they want us to believe that they cannot be questioned or held accountable for their actions, because they proclaimed themselves to have that status and right as an individual.
Rather than GMHC setting a good example as a community organizing body and showing positive leadership by engaging and uniting the community, instead they act like a self-serving organization focusing on how they can benefit the most financially from our community and talents, which are beyond the health-related issues they should focus on. They felt they had the right to violate 20-year-old house ball policies.
GMHC gave themselves ballroom status. They want us to believe that by structuring the Latex Project program as a health program, and not as an artistic program with health-related content, they can follow a completely different set of rules and they can bypass having to address artistic, economic and community division concerns altogether. They don’t have to follow community artistic-related government regulations, because they package the Latex Project and our community as a health program in their grant writing and not as an artistic program. Therefore they are compromising our community in many ways, and they don’t have to answer to us.
In other words, a health organization such as GMHC who is representing itself to the Council as an individual that is participating in the house ball community and acts just like an active member, they feel they can reject meetings about house ball policies, history, culture and consultation with leaders and historians from the house ball community and the Council, and no questions can be asked on how to run the Latex Project program and how it is affecting our community. They are in full control and they act as if they cannot be held accountable for how the Latex Project affects the house ball community artistically, socially, economically and how it is dividing the community. We learned that when questioned, they did not respond to us and ignored our requests to meet again. They also failed to provide us with any documents upon our request from Dirk McCall at GMHC.
GMHC is acting just like the Republicans who are telling us that corporations are people too. Now we have the not-for-profits who are telling us that they are people too. GMHC is forgetting one thing: they exist to serve us and we don’t exist to serve them.
Does an AIDS agency have the same status and rights as an individual member from the house ball community? Who gave GMHC that status and that right? Is GMHC a person or a not-for-profit organization doing business like a corporation? Can they be held accountable for anything they do? What is their responsibility, objectives and mission?
Background information about employees at GMHC
GMHC for example hires members from the LGBT community such as Dirk McCall, communications director at GMHC. He is a long-time financial beneficiary from the LGBT community and a very influential individual. McCall was informed in detail about our concerns, but is failing to protect us and to act in the best interest of the community. As the LGBT advisor to former Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields, he is well educated on community relations and understands our concerns. Once a community member gets hired by GMHC, like Mr. McCall, the community concerns are compromised because he gets paid to enforce the policies of GMHC and doesn’t get paid by the house ball community to represent our best interest. These are typical signs of corruption, and it is ironic when a member from our community gets paid to serve a community and ends up abusing us because of MONEY.
GMHC hires members from the house ball community such as Luna Ortiz, who is officially representing us at GMHC as “the voice of the house ball community”. Ortiz’s job is to represent the best interest of GMHC, because they pay him. We see it in his views and documents on how he is compromising the best interest of the house ball community, and so are the actions of GMHC for 20 years. Even though there is little scientific data available, we have much documentation and personal experience on which to build our concerns.
The jobs at AIDS organizations for our members from the house ball community
We also understand that Ortiz’s intentions are in good faith and he is doing very positive work for the community in regards of HIV prevention and education, but people working at AIDS organizations cannot have it both ways and have to be held accountable for ALL of their actions. We love to see Luna’s face and smile in HIV ads in the subway and magazines and he is a respected, loved and valuable asset to our community.
On one hand we want jobs for our community. But on the other hand, when those jobs in part divide and compromise a community’s existence, do we really need those jobs? Ortiz for example, after taking a job at the GMHC agency, changed some of his views and his popularity over time changed also. These discoveries of how people change when taking these types of “community jobs” are well documented, and they are also known as “selling out” the community jobs, for reasons such as a) personal gain and special interest; b) power struggle; c) compromising the community’s best interest they are supposed to respect, represent and protect; and d) depending on how the non profit has structured its programming financially, they often have to package a community to fit the government grant guidelines in order to receive the funding.
This “Community Packaging” is very common among non-profits in general, because there is no supervision or policing on how non-profits run their programs and how they write their grants. In the case of the Latex Project program, GMHC does not talk to us nor do they talk at their meetings about the economic concerns and artistic protection of our community, nor do they want to talk about the division. It is not up for discussion or consideration at all, it is not on the agenda at the board of directors meetings, and it is naturally not included in the grant proposals. When they write the health grant proposals, their main focus and concern is to get their health programs funded based on the health services they provide, health statistics, people signing the attendance sheets, scientific data, timelines and so on. So naturally they don’t have to include any artistic, economic and social concerns a community is facing in those grant proposals, because they are packaging this Latex project as a health program and not as an artistic program, so none of that is addressed anywhere. This is the fundamental reason we are experiencing the problems that we have with GMHC.
Because GMHC is a health agency and not an arts organization or corporate entertainment company, they learned that they don’t have to answer economic, division and natural artistic progression questions. They think they can ignore our concerns completely, because for them, our concerns don’t even exist in the health grant writing proposals.
Hopefully this information is helpful in understanding the situation and the process better. These are all signs of the corruption we are facing as communities by the not-for-profit organizations, because the corporations have taken over the powerful not-for-profit boards of directors for decades now, representing corporate interests. As a result of this, our concerns are typical consequences for such a long time.
The American not-for-profit culture, including many of the LGBT leadership, has for two decades been enforcing this type of policy on us, where a member from a particular community is hired by an agency to represent his or her community on the behalf of that agency. Once they work for that agency, for one reason or another their views and community relations change, because they now have to follow the interests of the non-profit agencies they are working for.
This is very common and it is often pushed on them by people from the corporations who are working in the background. They are often sitting on the boards of directors, and are the executive directors at those powerful agencies, mainly because of their checkbooks and the special corporate interests they represent.
The true community leaders and activists have been pushed off the boards of directors a long time ago and have been replaced by those corporate people and their checkbooks. The corporate people who are on board of directors are often disconnected from knowing the history of the agency they are representing, nor do they know much about the agencies programs and who is running those programs. This culture has become our new reality, and is a widespread problem beyond the house ball community.
What AIDS agencies do in our situation is hire respected members from our community and use them as a shield, hoping that they will block us and make these type of situations we are facing very uncomfortable for us as a community and as individuals, because they are setting it up in the way that we now have to confront our friends from our own community with our concerns we have with those agencies. They use them in part to protect the agency from potential controversy and disagreements between the agency and members from the community (such as the Council) wanting to address the concerns affecting our community. They also hire them to give the agencies more credibility to receive funds from the government, other agencies and caring individuals.
This is strategically implemented by those AIDS agencies and has worked very well for them for a very long time. The only way to change this is for the community to come together, including also those members from our community who are working at those AIDS agencies, and letting the “community voices” be heard. We have to come together with our resources, speak up in public and bring attention to these issues in order to bring positive change, empowerment and healing to our community, because we cannot battle them in court with all the resources they have access to. We don’t have jobs like Marjorie Hill at GMHC that pays $250,000 a year.
This is not a unique situation by all means at GMHC; it is actually quite common in the LGBT community and beyond, and can be tracked back for two decades now, ever since the board rooms replaced the community leaders and activists with corporate checkbooks and corporate interest and greed. This corporate model has been pushed onto the community-based organizations. It has corrupted the non-profit sector and made the largest non-profits an extension of corporate interest, greed and policies.
On one hand it is hard to blame people such as Ortiz as an example, for taking a good paying job, but on the other hand, what is a community to do without resources, pushed against the wall by the most powerful not- for-profit AIDS organization in the world, with an annual budget of over 10 million dollars and with an entire legal department on staff, blocking and rejecting our requests to meet with them and discuss our concerns? On the other hand, if we, as a community, were supported by those non-profits to build an independent business infrastructure so we can build our own economy and provide our own jobs to our community, the people working at the AIDS organizations wouldn’t be put into this compromising position, because they would be working for our community and acting upon our best interest. As long as AIDS is big business, we have to fight for our rights and stand up to protect our dignity, respect, history and culture from those AIDS agencies.
Who should the community hold accountable for the exploitation and abuse that comes out of this Latex Project model created by the GMHC agency? Who is to blame at the end of the day? Can we hold anybody accountable at all? Do we have to take it as it is, live with it and move on with our lives? Are the members from our community accountable who are working at the AIDS organizations? GMHC’s communications director Dirk McCall, a well-experienced and educated member from our community who knows better? Why is he silent about this abuse? Which side is McCall on, the AIDS agency or the community? Does he care more about his paycheck than the community? Where do we point our finger to this problem? Luna Ortiz, because he is representing our community at GMHC? Why won’t he meet with us as a GMHC official?
Stone? She is acting like she has superior knowledge about our community; is
she brushing us off? Ivan Monforte, who is officially in charge of the Latex
Project - why won’t he meet with us? What about Marjorie Hill, the executive
director making $250,000 annual salary? Why wasn’t she at the meeting upon our
request? Why doesn’t she care about our community, other than giving speeches
and photo ops on our behalf? What about the board of directors? Are they
informed? Can we hold them accountable? Or all of the above?
This is a huge challenge for our community, having to deal with powerful people representing our community for such a long time, and who have been corrupted for so long.
4) Krishna Stone told us that they are looking for corporate sponsorship for the Latex Ball since 2011.
So far nobody has come forward from the industry, corporations and the community to sponsor the Latex balls, because they are familiar with this controversial Latex program and the controversial policies at GMHC overall for many years, including GMHC founding member Larry Kramer. Many members from the LGBT community at large distanced themselves from GMHC a long time ago, and stopped supporting/funding them, because GMHC has managed to run several great programs into the ground, such as the “Buddy” program and the dances. In other words, what we are experiencing with GMHC is no news flash to the LGBT community.
In 2011, GMHC started to charge admission to the house ball community and the general public to enter the Latex Ball at Roseland in
New York City. The reason
given by Ivan Monforte is that the government stopped funding certain programs
such as the “House of Latex”. So what did GMHC do? They use the artistic “Latex
Project” program also as a financial investment company, representing their
corporate entertainment interest. They dropped the House of Latex program
because of funding cuts, because they didn’t see any commercial value in the
house of latex program. GMHC kept the Latex Ball, because they saw corporate
value in this artistic event, and they decided to invest and to take a financial
gamble on the Latex balls, hoping to attract a corporate sponsor. To make it
more lucrative for corporate sponsorship, GMHC came up with the idea to include
and pitch the film “ Paris
is Burning” and its director Jennie Livingston at the 2011 Latex Ball, thinking
that it would attract sponsorship.
So what did GMHC do? they used the controversial film “Paris is Burning”, that is rejected by the House Ball historians and many members featured in this film, and they invited the director and used them as a sales pitch to attract corporate sponsorship, knowing that “Paris is Burning” is controversial and that Jennie Livingston “ripped off” many members from the house ball community artistically and financially. That is the reason why Livingston was never invited back by the house ball community to this date, except by GMHC.
Additional “Paris is Burning” background information
Livingston misrepresented herself to the community by telling them that her film was going to be a thesis for NYU, but she never told the community that it was distributed by the Miramax Corporation. She intentionally ripped off the community by not paying some members featured in the film, such as David Ultima, and she was successfully sued by Octavia St. Laurent. In addition, she used the film title “
is Burning” from Paris Dupree, which was the theme for his balls. Paris told Wolfgang
personally, before his passing, that he felt “ripped off” by Jennie Livingston.
Ever since its release, Dupree refused to do any interviews and TV/Film
appearances. As a result, much oral history and opportunities are lost because
of Livingston. This is only the tip of the iceberg of the overall devastating consequences
this film has had on the house ball community.
We asked Krishna Stone why they invited Jennie Livingston to speak at the Latex Ball in 2011. Stone told us, “Livingston contacted GMHC wanting to speak on behalf of Paris Dupree’s passing.” Kevin Omni replied, “If Paris knew that
Livingston was speaking on his
behalf, he would turn in his grave.” Krishna Stone said “Oh, we didn’t know
that”. Prior to that conversation, Stone was bragging and carrying on with
Kevin that she has been involved with the house ball community for 22 years,
since the beginning of the Latex program at GMHC. But Stone didn’t know about
the rejection and the controversy about the film “ Paris is Burning”? And that the director Jennie
Livingston “ripped off” the community and that she was never invited back by
the House Ball community since its release over 20 years ago? Only GMHC invited
Livingston back to their balls. Why and for what reason?
Just before the Latex Ball in 2011, Wolfgang was contacted by the producer Drew Katchen from MSNBC for house ball history information, because Katchen and his associate Brooke Sopelsa were doing a video production for MSNBC.com together with GMHC. Wolfgang also introduced Katchen to Kevin Omni, a House Ball historian, and together in detail we explained to him the whole “
Burning” and Jennie Livingston issues. We requested that he not include any of
the “ Paris is
Burning” content in the production and to please respect our request, because
of its controversy and for ripping off our community. We couldn’t have been any
clearer about this subject. Unfortunately, our request was ignored and they completely
disrespected the request from
the community. Drew Katchen went ahead and told his story anyway, including an
interview with Jeannie Livingston. WHY? Who gave them the green light to go
ahead and ignore the com-munity’s request? GMHC staff? If so, WHO?
Did GMHC really not know about the Paris Dupree story, the rejection of “Paris is Burning” and the “ripping off” the community by Livingston, after telling us how long and how much they care about our community, when we in detail explained it to the producers Drew Katchen and Brooke Sopelsa at MSNBC.com before the 2011 Latex Ball? Or did GMHC have a special interest to USE MSNBC for their personal gain to attract a corporate sponsor for the Latex Ball, using the film “
Paris is Burning” and Jennie
Livingston as their sales pitch, regardless of how the community felt about it?
GMHC is actually in part an entertainment and investment company and has acted as such for many years, producing artistic events, showcases, scouting for talent (in November 2012, Krishna Stone posted on the NYC flagger Facebook page that she was looking to book flag dancers for a show; the post was deleted by my friend), booking talent, producing videos, financing and running voguing classes and kiki functions, and are gambling and losing tens of thousands of dollars on the Latex Balls.
Shouldn’t GMHC focus on AIDS education, prevention and outreach instead? How many more lives could be saved by doing that, rather than producing artistic programs?
5) We asked Krishna Stone about how many people they tested for HIV at the Latex ball in 2012. She told us, “This is confidential information”.
We let GMHC come into our community to help us with our health concerns, and they are doing a good job with HIV/AIDS outreach, prevention and education. We welcomed and supported them with open arms when we first reached out to them over 20 years ago and we gave them unlimited access to our community for their scientific research, data and studies. But when we ask them about how many people they tested at the 2012 ball, Krishna Stone basically told us that it’s none of our business?
6) We asked GMHC how many of the ball kids in their programs receive the Truvada medication, because, if GMHC is in a position to gamble and to lose tens of thousands of dollars on a ball production investment, we thought they may have money to pay for insurance and medication, which we thought should be much higher on the priority list by an AIDS and health agency, than investing and gambling on entertainment balls, losing tens of thousands of dollars and artistic programs. Naturally they didn't answer the question.
In other words, GMHC does not provide any insurance or medication to any of the members from the ball community, because it is more important for GMHC to gamble and make an investment on an entertainment production, losing tens of thousands of dollars at Roseland, which was a huge financial failure, but they have no money to invest for Truvada medication or insurance for the future survival of members from our community, our health, and well being.
When we add up 20 years of Latex Balls at Roseland, spending $50,000 per year equals over $1 million on ball productions. How many lives could have been, saved and how many of our icons and legends would be still alive today, if those funds had been spent for medication and insurance? How much insurance and medication could that money have purchased? How can we even put that in perspective?
7) We gave one example on how the Latex program is dividing our community artistically and socially and Wolfgang used the example of Luna, Wolfgang and Kevin, because all parties were in the room and all are members from the house ball community. Kevin and Wolfgang clearly noticed a change in Luna’s view, behavior and his popularity within the house ball community, ever since he started working at GMHC. When Wolfgang asked Ortiz directly about the change in their working relationship, naturally Luna denied it at the meeting in front of his bosses. He doesn’t see any division or changes at all, and in his defense his comment was: “I moved on with my life and other projects.”
We see this statement by Ortiz as a change in view and character. The record clearly shows a change in Ortiz’s views, character and popularity among members of the house ball community. He has distanced himself from the natural artistic progression. He couldn’t speak the truth; because of the environment GMHC and Ortiz have created between themselves, members from the house ball community and the Council. Is this the purpose of the Latex Project? Divide and conquer?
Ortiz won’t meet with us officially as a GMHC staff member. Instead, he offered to meet in private. Why can Ortiz not meet with the Council as an official GMHC staff member?
Wolfgang feels it is important to share an entire email from Ortiz to show the Council an example of what we are taking about when Wolfgang requested a meeting with him in private, because he couldn’t meet with us as an employee from GMHC. Luna’s email was sent to us on 10/2/2012.
I can meet to discuss future projects like we have discussed. I would prefer to meet somewhere like at a bar or restaurant. We need a place that is loud.
I’m not going to sit there and discuss GMHC and all the other Community Based Organizations in the Tri-State area.
At the last meeting I believe we explained everything clearly and your notes to the “Council” were not 100% accurate.
Either we move forward as a community or not. At the last meeting we discussed ideas that were creative and fun, we need to concentrate on that.
Let me know.
a) Ortiz opened with Hello, no name, nothing, we used to open with Lunie and Wolfy, a sign of change.
b) He wants to discuss future projects in private, but the projects we talked about were official GMHC business. This is a sign of change of his view, and is dividing the community.
c) He is suggesting that we talk about these important issues in a loud bar or restaurant. This is a sign of change of character and shows a lack of concerns about these important issues.
d) He doesn’t want to talk about GMHC and other AIDS organizations. This is exactly the reason we contacted GMHC in the first place and was the reason we met and asked for follow up meetings, but now he doesn’t want to talk about it. This is a sign of change of his view.
e) Ortiz is referring to fun and creative ideas we talked about at the meeting. GMHC was suggesting a screening of “How Do I Look”, and inviting Kevin and Wolfgang to speak at one of their functions, as fun and creative ideas. Ortiz was suggesting in his email to make GMHC business a private “fun and creative” conversation. This is a change of view and character.
f) Ortiz “believes” all was explained at the meeting. “Believes” means that he is not sure, and we know for sure it wasn’t explained to us. They didn’t give us one document about the Latex Project. WHY? A 20-year history together and not one document was given to us upon request, and all was explained in full in one meeting?
g) Ortiz is questioning the notes we sent to the Council after the first meeting, saying that they were not 100% accurate, but he couldn’t give us one example that was incorrect or wrong. Is he actually admitting that we are right and was making a false statement as a cover-up?
h) “Either we move forward as a community or not”. GMHC is not a community; they are an agency working for us. We are the community. This statement tells us that GMHC actually thinks that they are the community or they have the right to decide who community is; the details are in the small print here. This statement shows that GMHC is telling us what we should do and that they are not concerned about how we feel and what our concerns are and how this program has been affecting us for the past 20 years. We look at this statement that GMHC will continue doing what they want to do, no matter what we think and have to say; and the past is not up for discussion. Not wanting to talk about the GMHC past reminds me of the Republican political handbook during the Bush/Cheney era, “let’s not talk about our past, and let’s talk about the future.” This line is used by people when they have a past they don’t want to talk about for obvious reasons, because it works against them and their best interest. We see this statement as a change of view and character, and as dividing our community.
8) We talked about the film “How Do I Look.” Luna said, “I show it all the time to my kids.” When Wolfgang asked him why we are not notified about the screenings for professional reasons and for the educational record: “Don't you think, Luna, this is information you should share with Kevin and the director?” His reply was: “I guess I should have”. This response shows a lack of professionalism, interest and respect. It is just another example of his changed view and character, and the problem with Ortiz’s statement,”Everybody in the ball community is doing what they want to”.
GMHC shows no interest in setting a good example of leadership. On the microphone at the Latex Ball 2012, Ortiz kept mentioning “Paris is Burning” over and over. Not once was “How Do I Look” mentioned, a documentary Ortiz is showing to his “Kids” all the time;, nor was the documentary “T.V. Transvestite” ever mentioned, about the Fantasy Ball 2, the first ball ever recorded in 1982.
If GMHC feels strong and comfortable to promote the controversial film “Paris is Burning” and the director Jeannie Livingston (who ripped off the ballroom community artistically and financially and hasn’t been invited back by the community for over 20 years) over the films “How Do I Look” and “T.V. Transvestite,” we have to ask: how does GMHC justify this action, and what values of the house ball culture is GMHC really representing?
When asking Krishna Stone why GMHC is promoting the controversial film “Paris is Burning” over the artistic empowerment and HIV/AIDS awareness community project film “How Do I Look,” a documentary which was co-produced and directed by many members from the House Ball community, Krishna played completely dumb. Her body language showed that she was completely uncomfortable answering this question for obvious reasons.
“How Do I Look” additional information
“How Do I Look empowers the ball” community in so many different ways. Since 2004, it received a humanitarian award and best documentary award. It is used for theses, education, outreach and research at universities, AIDS conventions and organizations, Black Pride events, during Black History Month and World AIDS day. To top it off, it is used all the time for screenings by the GMHC employee Ortiz, the assistant director of “How Do I Look,” but not mentioned at the 2012 Latex Ball. WHY? They prefer to promote a known controversial film that is rejected by many members from the community and represents them as thieves, prostitutes and drug users, over films with a positive message such as “How Do I Look” and “T.V. Transvestite.” What is GMHC thinking, and how do they justify this action? Is this the shadow side of GMHC we should know more about?
9) Why is GMHC now charging admission at the Latex balls? Ivan Monforte from GMHC, who is in charge of the Latex Project, explained to us, “The government has changed their HIV funding, and they cut the funds for the House of Latex program. In order to continue the Latex balls, we had to charge admission.”
After the government cut the funding for certain programs, where is the $50,000 coming from to produce the Latex Ball at Roseland in Manhattan every year? From the AIDS Walk fundraiser, an annual 6 million dollar pocket money fundraiser for GMHC? Where are the records about how they spend the AIDS Walk money? How is GMHC writing off the loss of the tens of thousands of dollars from the Latex ball? How are they funding the Voguing classes, if the government stopped funding for those programs? How are they funding the Kiki function? Is GMHC acting like a corporate entertainment investment company, using money from non-government sources and gambling it away on events at Roseland? Do the government and general public know who is funding these programs and how?
10) Looking at the Latex Ball press releases for 2011 and 2012, which are available on the GMHC website, (by the way, you can find more information on the GMHC website about the Latex Balls press releases and looking for corporate sponsorship than about all the Latex Project programs put together), the press releases state that GMHC is hosting the Latex Ball. There’s no mention of what type of event it was (such as a fundraiser), no mention of who actually is funding or producing or directing the ball, and no mention of where the proceeds are going to. The press releases are very unclear about what type of event it actually was, other than a spectacular creative ball, performed by a disenfranchised community in need of a lot of help by GMHC, because they are hit hardest by the AIDS epidemic and GMHC is here to help them. When we asked, “Was the ball a fundraiser?” Krishna and Ivan said, “No, it wasn’t, but it was set up to pay for other programs at GMHC.”
Their statement was a contradiction and they tried to confuse us. What they meant to say was that it was a fundraiser, just not for the house ball community. GMHC didn’t want to make a public statement in their press releases about that, nor did they want to tell us, because it is a controversial business decision on their part again and they naturally are trying to hide that information from the public, the house ball community and the Council.
A respected member from the Council informed the chairs and referred to this action as GMHC “pimping the House Ball community”, and even generalized it and said: “Many AIDS organizations operate that way across the country.”
No money was to go back directly to the house ball community from the profits from the Latex ball, if there had been any profits. On one hand GMHC publicizes the house ball community as this disenfranchised community and on the other hand they are using their talents to raise money for other programs?
11) The Roseland rental fee was $20,000; as far as Wolfgang can remember, going back 15 years or so, that’s what they charged back in the days. Ivan explained, “Roseland gave us pressure to make more income, because they don’t make enough money from the $20,000 rental fee, which was the reason why we had a cash bar, so we can make more money for Roseland for the discounted rental fee GMHC was paying”.
Kevin asked them about selling drinks: “Shouldn’t they have a non-alcohol event, when they know we have many of the ballroom patrons in RECOVERY? What are the kids to do? Get drunk and have unprotected sex?” Stone responded, “We used to [have non-alcohol events], but we had people requesting drinks and we made it, 21 and older can drink upstairs on the balcony.”
GMHC changed their non-alcoholic policy because Roseland pressured them so they can make more profits from the bar. GMHC put us at risk so the Roseland Corporation can make more money from our community.
Is it more important for GMHC to accommodate a few people to drink (because there were hardly any people upstairs buying drinks in 2012) than to represent the best interest of the community they are supposed to serve and protect?
Did GMHC compromise our health and sell us out by selling alcohol to benefit the Roseland Corporation, so they can make more money from our struggling community?
12) We talked about the voguing class and the kiki function, and what the kids learn there. They told us they invited Jamal Milan and have booked Tim Princess to teach old-school voguing, but other than that they don’t provide any educational ballroom programming at those functions. It’s basically an artistic social event, where GMHC gets an opportunity to pitch their health services and surveys to the young adults.
When Wolfgang asked, “Don’t you have access to educate our community at other balls, functions and venues after working with us for 22 years? Don’t you know where they socialize and hang out and how to reach the young adults from our community?” Ivan Monforte told us, “No, we need those functions to have access to the house ball community.”
If GMHC cannot access our community after 22 years, than what did they learn after 22 years? Did they learn how to use our talents to raise money for other programs? Did they learn how to make our community the poster child for HIV and AIDS? Did they learn how to use our community for Scientifics and statistics? Did they learn how to produce house balls? Did they learn how to run artistic programs such as Voguing classes and Kiki functions? Did they learn how to produce an AIDS Walk raising millions of dollars annually? Did they learn to operate the largest AIDS agency in the world? Why isn’t GMHC working with the flagging community, or the leather community that has suffered even more from the AIDS epidemic?
But they didn’t learn how to reach our community after 22 years!!!??? Maybe they don’t want to for personal gain and profits? How are they funding the Voguing classes and Kiki functions after the government cut funding? From the AIDS Walk money? Does the public know? We don’t know!!!
Employees from AIDS organizations, including GMHC, used to go to balls, clubs, parks, the piers and other social hangouts to reach and educate our community. Have they become so disconnected that the only way to reach our community now is through their kiki and voguing classes and artistic Latex Project programs?
After the meeting with GMHC, we learned that they are not only pimping the ball community artistically and financially, and are cutting into the house ball economics, they are also manipulating and stripping the House Ball community from its culture and they are dividing our community. Kevin mentioned to them that the AIDS organizations have created their own ballroom sub-culture.
First we allowed GMHC to enter our community because of our health needs from the AIDS epidemic. They learned that we are a very artistic and vulnerable community without resources, organizing bodies and leadership; then they learned how to divide us as a community strategically, and how to take advantage of our talents for personal gain. They learned to hire popular members from the house ball community who are willing to compromise a community for a job with benefits, and are willing to represent the interests of the GMHC agency over the best interest of the ball community. They learned how to use the members from our community who are willing to compromise our best interest as a tool to divide us as a community, cut into our economy and how to manipulate our natural artistic progression.
They learned how to package and run the artistic Latex Project program as a health program, and not as an artistic program, which is really what it is. The Latex project program is an artistic program with health elements, because it affects our community artistically, economically and socially.
Naturally no economic, no social, no artistic and no community division questions will ever be asked by anybody when they package us as a health program for government funding. They learned how the Latex Project program serves GMHC to their best financial interest.
GMHC knows those questions are not part of the government health guidelines, rules and regulations, board room and meeting discussions, which makes it very convenient for GMHC to do what they want, because they strategically set it up that way. That the Latex Project program is a huge problem for our community artistically, economically and socially is really of no concern to GMHC, because it has nothing to do with AIDS prevention and education, and their health grant writing rules and regulations will never ask those types of questions.
Because they continue to reject our true community leaders from having any discussions regarding the Latex Project program and the negative affects it has on our community, it is no longer in our best interest to give any support to GMHC and the Latex Project beyond the health prevention and education.
Who is monitoring GMHC? How are they paying for the artistic Latex Project program? Who is paying for the Voguing classes and Kiki functions? Who is going to question them? Who is allowed to question them? Who is educating them? Who is advising them? Who comes up with those strategies they are using on our community? Who gave GMHC any ballroom status? Who decided that GMHC can act as an individual in the house ball community? What ballroom standards and policies are they living up to? Who are we to blame? Who are we going to hold accountable? Who is going to stop this? Is this Latex Project the best we can do for our community?
In the next 10 years, what could GMHC possibly turn the House Ball community into, if we continue to let them do what they want?
The Council is taking actions to bring attention to our concerns, and brings this matter to the public to make them part of our conversation and to help us to find a solution to our problems, because GMHC is refusing to meet and to cooperate with us.
Wolfgang contacted Jay Blahnik and made the suggestion to help organize the members from our community who are currently working at AIDS organizations to see if we can work together with them and to turn this situation around. We are proposing to bring their resources together to make them work for us and our best interest without having to compromise. This is a huge challenge, but the chairs feel the need to reach out to our members such as Jay Blahnik to propose this idea in good faith. The chairs understand that those members are very experienced and can be helpful in the moving forward process. It’s up to them now.
The Council’s plans for 2013 are:
Art in Education programs
Introducing a Community Center outline
A Funeral Fund to help members from our community and their families with expenses.
Can you afford not to support?
Any council members interested in the moving forward process, please contact Wolfgang or Kevin.
Please email your comments and ideas to Kevin and Wolf.
Artistically and respectfully yours,
Kevin and Wolf