Ballroom scene to be on full display at AIDS Walk New York

Ballroom scene will be on display at AIDS Walk New York's Latex Ball

NEW YORK - We are counting down to Sunday, when AIDS Walk New York returns fully in person

This year, the ballroom scene will be on full display, with a big performance at the end of the event. 

CBS2's Aundrea Cline-Thomas got a sneak peek at the preparations, and shows us how the movement created a tight-knit community at a time when so many were being pushed to the margins. 

The House of Juicy Couture is preparing for their AIDS Walk New York performance. Long before Madonna, voguing was a mainstay in the underground ballroom scene in New York City. 

Luna Luis Ortiz was drawn to it as a teenager in the 1980s. 

"Finding ballroom also gave me the nerve to kind of show off a little bit. That pride that I am a gay man, young, living with HIV and what's wrong with that," Ortiz said. 

The community, considered chosen family, established groups known as "houses," and staged dance competitions. It became a lifesaver for so many LGBTQ people, often shunned by outsiders. 

"I was able to connect and talk about what I was going through, and some of my elders who would become my gay parents - we call it gay parents, gay families - they were able to help me," Ortiz said. 

Diagnosed with HIV at 14, at the height of the AIDS epidemic, doctors said Ortiz only had two years to live and sent him home. 

Literally preparing for his death, Ortiz said he found his voice in photography. 

"I thought I was going to die, so I wanted my family to have nice photos of me before I go, or I became the face of AIDS we would see in the media, which wouldn't be flattering," Ortiz said. 

"The way information was provided for us in Upper Manhattan was so different from what was happening in Lower Manhattan," Ortiz said. 

"Because it's communities of color?" Cline-Thomas asked. 

"Yeah, and it was felt we were treated differently," Ortiz said. 

In the '90s, Ortiz was integral in organizing GMHC's inaugural Latex Ball - it still exists today. It's a central resource fair for testing and programs, wrapped up in what can only be described as a fashionable artistic extravaganza. 

Now, almost 50, Ortiz's advocacy continues to inspire new generations. 

"I really like to say 'uncle father,' and not just 'father.' You know, uncles are more fun... so definitely an uncle father because he's definitely so much fun," said Project Vogue client Tytus Gibson Jackson. 

Jackson came to the city in 2018 with a dream to be on Broadway. At GMHC, he found a sense of belonging. 

"Services, housing, everything I didn't know that I needed. Did not know this was a thing in New York, moving from California," Jackson said. 

Ortiz now oversees Project Vogue, a program that connects Black and Brown young adults with HIV to the care they need. 

"After 10 years of not taking medication, two months I was undetectable, so I couldn't pass on anything to anyone," Jackson said. 

When society chose to judge, the LGBTQ community advocated for themselves, creating physical spaces and emotional one to exist fully. 

From AIDS Walk New York to the Latex Ball, choosing joy and celebration to honor how far they've come. 

The Latex Ball is returning in person on June 18th. 

AIDS Walk New York returns this Sunday. 

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