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WIGAYZ centers the stories of Wisconsin's unique and vibrant LGBTQ+ people. This six-part podcast explores the complexities of this community in Wisconsin.

Protecting Wisconsin's Ballroom scene

Vogue Night at This Is It bar
Glenda Mitchell

Our Lives
Vogue Night at This Is It bar

Late last month Milwaukee held its first Awards Ball. It was an event held to honor participants who have walked in Milwaukee balls before.

Ricardo Wynn, also known as TeeTee Mizrahi, coordinated the Awards Ball. He's also a Mother of the Milwaukee Chapter of the Iconic International House of Mizrahi. A "house" in Ballroom is a chosen family in the absence of or in addition to someone's biological family.

Wynn says in Wisconsin it's about more than the glitz and glamor.

"It's actually a public health initiative because when people come to walk balls that can get money so they can sleep, they can eat. They can live a healthy life; we often offer tests. Health care services in space information," says Wynn.

Wynn says the Milwaukee Ballroom scene draws people from all over.

Ricardo Wynn
Protect Ballroom banner

Khamillion Mizarahi says she was attending the awards ball in Milwaukee to support her Ballroom family, where she feels loved and a part of a tight knit community.

"I've always been interested in Ballroom since I was a little baby gay. I will say this is my third or fourth ball. But I've always been interested and when a new scene came to Milwaukee, I definitely wanted to grab that by the horns," says Mizarahi.

But while love and support are the norms in places like the ball, homophobia remains a problem in mainstream society. This summer in New York, O'Shea Sibley, a 28-year-old Black gay man, was stabbed to death when voguing to a Beyoncé song in a gas station parking lot.

Michael Roberson is a leader within New York's LGBTQ+ community. He is also an adjunct professor at New School where he teaches Vogue'ology.

Roberson knew Sibley personally. He says Sibley's death epitomizes the battles the Ballroom community faces.

"I knew it was a watershed moment by the way people were responding when it happened. The notion: Expressing yourself freely. That you get your life taken away. Most people outside of New York City would have said, ‘Even in New York City?' because the perception or the misperception is that it's so open," says Roberson.

O’Shea Sibley's death highlights the growing need for safe spaces for LGBTQ+ brown and Black folks.

Ricardo Wynn points out that while Ballroom is inclusive, it should always be remembered that Ballroom was started by Black and brown drag queens and trans women.

Extended Conversation

"There are limited spaces where Black and brown people can see people like themselves or just where people in general, right? And so these spaces are created and needed for that very purpose," says Wynn.

Wynn invites everyone to observe and be a part of their local Ballroom scene.

The next Milwaukee Vogue night is at This Is It Bar starting Aug. 31.

He says just come around, get informed and then come into the space and see if you have the courage to walk.

Kobe Brown was WUWM's fifth Eric Von fellow.
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