“The ballroom scene has always served as a safe haven where queer people — trans people, gender-nonconforming people, gay people, lesbians — are able to have a safe place to congregate, to show their talent, to show their art, to really, truly be a different version of themselves, that shows us who they want to show as,” says Angel Garçon, D.C. House Mother for the House of Garçon.
The House of Garçon is an international organization founded upon the principles of fraternity, education advocacy, and professional growth, which exercises those principles through participation in ballroom competitions.
Shannon Garçon, a 30-year veteran of the ballroom scene, recounts how, as a youth in the ’80s, he and many others were able to find a sense of belonging in the ballroom community, even if they were marginalized by society or rejected by their families.
“There were many people at that time whose parents kicked them out because they were gay, because they were trans, because they were lesbian or queer,” he says. “They didn’t have families, and ballroom became a surrogate family.”
Shannon, who left the House of Mugler to co-found the House of Garçon with his best friend Whitney in April 2008, says the initial vision for creating a new house was to encourage members of the ballroom community to give back to and engage with the larger LGBTQ and D.C. communities.
“We wanted something different than what traditional ballroom houses were doing,” he says. “We wanted something that reflected ballroom, but also had some advocacy work involved with it to give back to the community.”
In recent years, the House of Garçon has primarily been involved with the Wanda Alston Foundation, a housing program serving at-risk and homeless LGBTQ youth, and the Center for Black Equity, to help promote various Black Pride associations. In 2020, House members shot videos encouraging the queer and Black communities to vote in the presidential election.
In commemoration of its 15th anniversary, House of Garçon is hosting the “Black Is…” Ball on Saturday, Nov. 11 at Echostage. The goal of the ball is to foster visibility, support, and education around the unique circumstances and barriers facing LGBTQ communities of color, especially their most marginalized members, and their ability to access needed services and resources.
As with any ball, there are various categories associated with style, dress, makeup, dance, and teamwork, with participating houses competing for honors, including cash prizes. In some categories, winners of a particular “era” — with specific dance or body movements and fashion reminiscent of certain historical time periods — will compete for trophies, with the winners of each era facing off against one another for a grand prize.
“Many people who come who are not part of the ballroom scene,” Shannon says. “They’ve seen us on [Max’s] Legendary, they’ve seen other houses on Legendary, they’ve seen competitions. They can expect to see some creative and fabulous outfits. They’ll see camaraderie, serious competition, and entertainment.”
“You’re definitely going to see true dedication,” adds Angel. “You’re going to see what real preparation looks like. Some of these people have been working on their looks and effects for months. A lot of love goes into everything people are bringing to the runway.”
“The ball will showcase Black excellence,” adds House member Kenya Hutton Garçon. “And the influence that Black excellence has had on pop culture, and on culture globally.”
The House Ball comes at a time when the broader LGBTQ community has come under attack, and Kenya says the House stands firmly in solidarity with the community-at-large by fostering inclusion.
“Ballroom creates a space for individuals of any gender identity to come and feel safe and to express themselves and be celebrated,” he says. “But one of the things we need to do as a community is really emphasize civic engagement, getting out the vote, getting elected into positions of power, and making our voices heard. We need to have and take a seat at the table, so we can have a say in what’s going on. Without that, others are going to keep on making decisions for us.”
Shannon notes that the ball is open to all, and encourages those not affiliated with the ballroom community to attend.
“I’ve heard people say, ‘Well this is a celebration of identity, I’ve got to be Black to come.’ You don’t,” he says. “This is a celebration of our impact on pop culture and community. Ballroom came from people of color, from women of trans experience, but it’s all inclusive. Everyone is welcome. I look at it as a celebration of us as a people, of everything we’re going through. And anyone can partake in it and celebrate with us.”
The House of Garçon’s “Black Is…” House Ball, commemorating the organization’s 15th anniversary, is Saturday, Nov. 11, from 3 p.m. to 1 a.m. at Echostage, 2135 Queens Chapel Rd. NE. Admission is $35 at the door. Patrons must be over 18. For more information, visit houseofgarcon.com/black-is.
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