(Milwaukee, WI) Two major voices in Milwaukee’s gay community are joining forces and collaborating with Milwaukee’s oldest gay bar to tackle HIV and other racial and health-related disparities, while also providing a safe haven for people of color in the LGBTQ+ community in Milwaukee. The Empowering Community Action Initiative, a grassroots initiative led by queer people of color (QPOC), along with the historic gay bar This Is It! and Health Connections, Inc., are collaborating to bring Vogue Nights MKE to Milwaukee’s LGBTQ+ community. Vogue Nights MKE fuses “House” and “Ballroom” culture while also providing HIV testing and information on safer sex practices and substance abuse services. House and ballroom culture are a creative subculture that has transformed into a global phenomenon through films such as Paris is Burning and FX’s show Pose. Vogue Nights MKE will be a safe space, providing the QPOC community with an affirming environment to build community and cultivate healthy lifestyle choices. It will be a monthly event series that will allow QPOC to compete in ballroom competitions, including categories such as voguing, dance, and modeling.
Originally an underground scene, QPOC individuals created their own “houses”, or chosen family members, and competed for trophies in a series of categories during an event known as a “ball”. Through Vogue Nights MKE, programming will center the health and wellness of QPOC individuals, while also empowering them to embrace and thrive in the truth of their authentic selves. The event series will be hosted by two local ballroom houses, the Milwaukee chapters of the Iconic International House of Mizrahi and Dimera Alian-Mikli. The Iconic International House of Mizrahi was founded in 1992 in Brooklyn, New York by founder, Pioneer-Icon, Andre Mizrahi. Chad Carroll, community leader and faith-based advocate, is also Father of the Milwaukee chapter of the House of Dimera Alian-Mikli.
Empowering Community Action Initiative is a grassroots-led initiative in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and other surrounding areas that was birthed through the vision of Ricardo Wynn, whose work has included implementing and overseeing capacity building efforts to help build leadership among QPOC in Milwaukee. “This partnership reflects what it means to serve queer people of color (QPOC) while creating space to address their needs and concerns in an innovative and non-traditional manner”, says Wynn. Empowering Community Action Initiative focuses on building healthier Black LGBTQ+ and Same Gender Loving (SGL) communities throughout Milwaukee and surrounding areas through education, special events, advocacy, and other community efforts with an emphasis on House and Ballroom communities. This initiative aims to address social determinants of health in hopes of better serving historically under resourced populations that have been disproportionately affected by HIV and other racial and health-related disparities.
This Is It! was established in 1968 and is Milwaukee’s oldest gay bar, as well as one of the oldest, operating gay bars in the Midwest! “We are beyond excited to host the upcoming ball at this is it. I know the community is hungry for it, and many have asked us to facilitate an event just like this, and there is no question that having Ricardo and his team approach us was nothing short of a godsend! Events like the one they are planning are essential to the queer community, and are paramount in representing our queer community of color. I believe we are extremely fortunate to have a team of professionals who are not only organized, but also philanthropic in their intentions. I personally hope that this is the start of something recurring and fruitful for all charities involved!”, George Schneider, owner of This Is It!
The major voices of Milwaukee’s queer community are collaborating with other community partners as well as Health Connections, Inc., formerly known as Greater Milwaukee Center for Health and Wellness, Inc. Health Connections, Inc. is a non-profit organization that provides quality health care services and social service assistance to the Greater Milwaukee area, with a special focus on vulnerable populations who have historically experienced barriers in accessing health care—such as the LGBTQ+ community.