Friday, August 23, 2013
Saturday, May 12, 2012
EBONY.COM FEATURE ON MOTHERHOOD ON A.DIORI "House Mothers": Motherhood Redefined for LGBT Youth BY By Marcus Brock
"House Mothers": Motherhood Redefined for LGBT YouthHouse Mother Aisha Diori of the "House of Latex" has been a loving maternal comfort for score of "kids." GLAAD's Marcus Brock gives her the Mother's Day adoration she deserves
By Marcus Brock
House Mother Aisha Diori of the House of Latex
Aisha Diori recalls a time when her child was brutally attacked, beaten over a head with a bottle and sent to the hospital. She’s had to intervene when her children were in despair or were victims of hate-crimes because of their sexual orientation. But, Diori has stayed with her children on their path to renewal.Diori is not biologically related to those she impacts—yet they are still her adoptive children. Mothers like Diori have invested in selfless work among LGBT youth—evoking a sense of hope when the danger of futility looms on the periphery.
These mothers and their children, are more affectionately deemed, “house mothers” and “the children.” At their core, house mothers establish community, instill knowledge, shed tears, evoke laughter and at times go into their own pockets to help out those who are less fortunate. Perhaps such an "eleganza" spectacle permeated your media devices with Vogue Evolution on MTV’s America’s Best Dance Crew? If not, perhaps you were caught up in the rapture with the gritty, Evelyn “Champagne” King, 80s-funk-rhythm-and-blues-laden, Paris is Burning? Frank Simon’s,The Queen? These instances took the “ballroom scene” from subculture to cultural phenomena—depicting the ills of societal discrimination and socioeconomic tensions for Black and Latino LGBTQ communities.
The balls these films showcase are a main component of the ballroom scene, and usually consist of performers who are larger than life, who boast great costumes and enter into a series of choreographed hand and body gesticulations, namely “vogueing,” which captivate audiences in competitive categories lasting for hours—and then some. The vast vernacular spans: realness, butch, queen, femme, model effect, “that was ev-erything” and “living for the kids.” But, these high-powered walks-offs are more than invoking Grace Jones or iconic, haute fashion—it is a family.
And, far beyond the flamboyancy, hand-made costumes and gender non-confirming categories lies a deep connection. These families are more commonly called "houses." And at the helm of the house, there is the mother of the house, acting as mentor, confidante and refuge to a host of LGBT youth, which Diori is proudly “all wrapped in.”
"I didn't seek out motherhood it found me," she offers. "The ballroom scene offered me an outlet to share the love I did not feel from my biological mother with my House and gay kids. The scene shatters the norms of family in many ways because it proves that blood is not thicker than water. It taught me that family support can come in different ways, from different people and through different mechanisms. I'm still evolving in my motherhood role because I am still learning the right navigation techniques— and I realize (my children's) failures are not mine and their successes are not mine. I am just here to give them the right resources to help them facilitate healthy and productive choices."
Far beyond the flamboyancy and hand-made costumes lies a deep connection. These families are more commonly called "houses." And at the helm of the house, there is the mother of the house, acting as mentor, confidante and refuge to a host of LGBT youth.
The intrigue of the effervescent energy of the ballroom scene made a lasting impact on Diori while she was studying fashion. When she finally met Arbert Santana, who was the mother of Latex, he would forever change her life when he asked her to become his successor. The House of Latex began through New York’s Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), an organization devoted to outreach prevention and advocacy for HIV/AIDS. Thus, “Serving the runway” in the name of safer sex became Diori's mantra as she worked diligently as an outreach prevention worker before continuing her work with LGBT youth at the Hetrick-Martin Institute (HMI) in New York City. Diori credits her own Gay mother, Cheyenne Francis, for helping to shape her decisions. The old high school friends have a sealed bond.
“I love Aisha because she gives so much to the community; she’s resilient and lifts people up,” says an emotional Francis.
However, in Diori's role as house mother, she has a challenging 24-hour work day like any other mother. “You hear so much and hold so much in your heart,” she admits. With a significant amount of house members being homeless or impoverished—she’s had to provide recourse and shelter without complaining. After six years in the House of Latex, she stepped away to pursue other goals, but her unrelenting quest to create change would eventually return her to prevention outreach, where she realized a greater purpose in life—to be a solution for others.
Her sensitivity to youth outreach initiated joining the Innovative House of Prodigy in 2006 and the creation of the House of Iman in 2007 alongside Nicole Powell and the founding of the “Ki-Ki House” scene as an intervention measure for LGBT youth, ages 12 through 24. More importantly, the Ki-Ki scene became a safe space for LGBT youth to evade societal discrimination and receive holistic, sex education. Foster care, homeless, college and high-school youth redefine motherhood and family through the house structure.
Symba, who affectionately refers to Diori as his godmother, lost his own mother to a terminal illness in 2006. Then, Symba turned to Diori.
House Mother Aisha Diori of the House of Latexfor guidance. Without hesitation, she accepted Symba into her own life and has mentored him for over ten years. “She became my house mother, but she also became my mentor.”The ten-year relationship between the two has been a catalyst for Symba to pave the road forward for those who will come after him. By creating a make-shift shelter in his home, he began to offer his own home to homeless youth and impoverished youth. With his limited means he made a limitless impact, through the effect of Aisha’s mentorship.
Youth in the LGBT community face a vast array of verbal and physical discrimination. Furthermore, transgender youth and communities of color face discrimination and violence at alarmingly higher rates. In 2010, The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs reports that LGBT people of color were among 70 percent of the murders. The recent murder of transgender advocate, Brandy Martell in Oakland, the May 2012 sentencing of Chrishaun “CeCe” McDonald and the expulsion of Darnell “Dynasty” Young in Indianapolis highlight the devastating reality. Overall, the LGBT youth communities feel unsafe in society and in their own schools. Aisha’s committed to changing that.
While ballroom culture may have a fringe following—the endless support by house mothers for youth communities of color has a far-reaching impact. In recognition of Mother’s Day, their lead and example does not go unnoticed. Their resilience is tremendous. Their selflessness is invaluable.
Marcus Brock is a Media Field Strategist at the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD). Follow him on Twitter @broccolimarcus and Adiori on twitter @MothaIman
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Monday, April 16, 2012
The Aisha Diori Biography!
These are just a few of the adjectives that can be used to describe the Legendary Aisha Diori. Diori’s tenancy in the Underground Gay sub-culture known as the “Ballroom” scene is vast and long standing and her presence as a leader in the scene continues to shape its direction.
True to Diori’s tenacious temperament, her initial interaction with the ballroom scene was ostentatious. In the summer of 1997, Diori attended the Mooshood Ball and was immediately enamored with the gender non-conforming, queer pageantry. Diori notes the ball wasn't simply a gay dance party, recalling “[i]t was full of safer sex messaging, freedom, pageantry sexiness, beautiful feminine women, strong handsome butch [women]…” Compelled to be apart of this community, Diori attempted to approach the late great Arbert Santana, the then Mother of the House of Latex. Though unable to make contact, Diori did spot and connect with fellow Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) classmate the Legendary Big Boy Runway Ricky Revlon. Revlon, who subsequently became Diori’s gay father, along with Santana who later became Diori's mother, helped usher Diori into the House of Latex, forever changing her commitment to the LGBTQ community.
In a not too distant future, Diori began participating, or “walking” balls. Under the guise of her gay parents, Diori was advised to walk in the Women’s Face and Big Girls Runway categories for her first ball, The Black Pride Ball. Diori was praised as a smash sensation and won top prize in both categories. Diori would go on to win a number of balls and her interests in the ballroom scene began to shift from active participant to organizer and intervention specialist.
After graduating magna cum lade from FIT with a Bachelors of Arts in Advertising and Communications, she assisted Mother Santana conceptualize and facilitate the “Are You Served Latex” ball, and quickly discovered she enjoyed being on the planning side of ballroom interventions. Combining her love of the ballroom scene with here passion for serving the LGBT community, Diori began working as a outreach worker at the Gay Men's Health Crisis (GMHC), hosting balls that sought to effectively curtail the number of newly HIV infected youth. Diori would go on to create over 8 Latex Balls drawing in over 3000 people, culminating with her appropriately titled "Ladies Choice" ball. The first ever Latex Women's, Butch and Transgender (WBT) ball, Ladies Choice garnered the support of over 700 participants and spectators while highlighting the health and economic plights many of the community members were expecting, while also celebrating its rich diversity and beauty. Denoting her fervor for the scene, the House of Latex decided that in 2002, Diori would assume the title of House Mother, a title she held for nearly 6 years.
In 2003, Diori's pioneering spirit and prioritization of LGBTQ youth development led her to develop something that would forever change the ballroom community and prevention efforts. Acknowledging youth were not best served in the mainstream ballroom scene, she along with Mother Arbert Santana created the KiKi scene: a ballroom infused intervention focusing on LGBTQ youth ages 12 - 24. Since its inception, the KiKi scene has conducted over 200 safer-sex/harm reduction functions through various different providers including resources for some 20000+ at-risk LGBTQ youth. Diori's KiKi scene has been replicated by other youth providers in NYC as well as in in other parts of the US.
In recent years, Aisha Diori has continued to persevere. Leaving the House of Latex in 2006, she created the House of S.K.U.L.L.S. (Sexy Klassy Unique Ladies and Lord Society), a house focusing on prevention measures for lesbian and trans-men. Diori continued her love of planning balls and other special events with the House of S.K.U.L.L.S., but ultimately decided to close the house down in order to refocus and rebuild on new groundbreaking intervention methods. Then, in late 2007, Diori opened the House of Iman, pairing safer sex and prevention messages that specifically targeted the WBT ballroom scene. As overall mother, Aisha brought a new energy to the WBT scene, infusing progressive safer sex messaging with elegant pageantry that can both be educational and entertaining. The House of Iman, a name that pays homage to Diori’s Nigerian heritage, continues to be the leading house in the WBT to this day.
Aside from being a house leader, Aisha Diori was the Assistant Director of After-School Programming at the Hetrick-Martin Institute (HMI) where she continues to engage LGBTQ youth. Diori organized KiKi Lounges: 2-hour long sessions ran by HMI interns where youth can come and learn how appropriately to vogue while also being informed on issues that affect their lives. Through Kiki lounge, a number of youth have been connected to care for HIV/STI treatment, accessed and successfully graduated from the HMI GED program, been accepted into a litany of different internships, and accessed other services in the HMI space. Additionally, Diori has also convened a committee of other providers, affectionately called the Kiki coalition, to create effective interventions across NYC as well as coordinating Vogue Femme Fridays, a monthly ball celebrating youth and promoting awareness and safer sex.
Furthermore, Diori plays an integral role in the social marketing campaigns for HMI. Over the past several years, Diori has created several award winning social awareness campaigns including the “You Are Loved” campaign and the NO SHADE campaign, both highlighting the importance of self-love and self-efficacy amongst our youth surrounding education, sexual health and civic engagement.
Diori's tireless work with LGBTQ youth and communities hasn’t gone unnoticed either. She has been showered with accolades from colleagues, different agencies and elected officials, including, The Advertising Women In America scholarships, The House of Blahnik Community Mobilization Award, Black Pride Award for Community Work, The Ross Infinite Award for Outstanding Community Mobilization, The HMI Damien Award, and Project HEAT Awards for KiKi Scene Prevention Work as well as sponsoring the Ball of the Year in 2006. Denoting her consistency, Diori was also awarded Mother and Women’s Face of the Year titles consecutively in the early 2000’s and was also named Woman of the Year numerous times. Aisha also currently sit on the nation House Ballroom National Alliance and offers a needed voice in making sure that best practices are maintained when it comes to HIV prevention education within the Ballroom scene as well as helping in reinvigorating the constantly evolving scene. Diori is a formidable force within the LGBTQ community and continues to do great things. Her persistence, confidence and tenacity are well suited for the places she intends to go.
Diori joined the renowned Schomburg Center For Research In Black Culture in Harlem as an employee. Serving as Special Events Manager for the Schomburg, Diori has secured many successful rentals and has brought many exciting and culturally relevant events to the Schomburg. She is also curates the Monthly networking gathering First Fridays which is a community based event that opens the doors to the people to experience the Schomburg Center on a social and cultural level.
The history and legacy of the Harlem drag balls Numerous historians and cultural commentators have traced the origins of today’s house ball scene to the notorious culture of Harlem drag balls in 1920s and 1930s New York. Between roughly 1919 and 1935, an artistic movement that would come to be known as the “Harlem Renaissance” transformed the culture of uptown Manhattan not only as a result of its establishing new trends in black literature, music and politics but also for its scandalous night life and party culture.
However, not surprisingly, the early drag balls were plagued by an imbalance of racial power. Black performers, though allowed to participate in and attend the events, were rarely winners at the balls and often felt restricted in their ability to fully participate in the scene. Soon the black queens looked for opportunities to create a sociocultural world that was truly all their own.
An exclusively black drag ball circuit in New York City began to form around the 1960s; almost three decades after the first “girls” started to compete at the earlier drag events. However the cultural and political landscape of Harlem, specifically the neighborhoods’ earlier carefree “acceptance” of drag culture, had changed drastically.
Due to the growing popularity of 1960s black nationalist rhetoric (with its rigid restrictions on how “real” black men should express themselves), the balls became a more dangerous pastime pleasure. The balls began to be held as early as 3, 4 or 5 a.m. — a tradition that continues to this day — in order to make it safer for participants to travel the streets of Harlem safely with high heels and feathers when “trade” had gone to sleep. The early morning start times also made renting out halls cheaper, and ensured that “the working girls” (i.e., transsexuals who made their money as late-night sex workers) would also be able to make the function.
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