As a Trans Black man, I spent years searching for a space where I felt like I had value. In 1987, I finally found it in the Ballroom scene.
Ballroom has saved and continues to save countless lives of LGBTQ+ individuals of color, especially those of Transgender and gender non-conforming experiences. As a subculture that began out of resistance in the 20th century, Black and brown LGBTQ+ people began to come together for various competitions, showcases of art and performances. Each community member belongs to a house, which often serves as a home for those ostracized from their families and society overall.
The root of Ballroom is community. Finding Ballroom gave me an opportunity to find kinship, offered me the freedom to explore my identity and showed me what solidarity felt like, something I carried with me when I opened my LGBTQ+ center Destination Tomorrow.
As we continue to celebrate Pride, we must understand the roots and impact of this culture that cultivated a Black and brown queer renaissance, which is why I’m so proud to share Ballroom in Focus on Google Arts & Culture: the largest collection of Ballroom archival material in one place. The project brings together never-before-digitized images with over 25 curated stories, coming directly from Ballroom’s leaders and icons themselves.
Working with community members and their own photographic archives, Google Arts & Culture partnered with Destination Tomorrow and Ballroom expert Ceasar Williams to digitize over 1,000 images from the 1970’s to today. Preservation of these images and archives is essential to honoring the pioneers that have made Ballroom the cultural powerhouse it is today. Listening to Junior LaBeija share his memories, or exploring Luna Luis Ortiz’s personal collection of photographs, is a powerful reminder that Madonna’s Vogue or Beyoncé’s Renaissance didn’t just happen — they all came from Ballroom.
So enjoy diving into Ballroom culture, whether you’re exploring by era or by icon. To get you started, here are 5 of my favorite stories from the project: