Brands cash in on inclusivity as LGBTQ+ movement goes mainstream
The queer community is making its presence felt beyond the confines of events such as annual Gay Pride marches - and advertisers are taking note
The African Pride Month edition of Le Grand Ball is taking place this coming weekend at the Ellis Park Tennis Club rooftop, where "houses" will go up against one another, sending their members sashaying down a makeshift runway, competing in categories such as Bottom's Revenge, Leather Lace, Kama Sutra and others, under the Fetish Ball theme.
The move to the rooftop - from inside the club, where the drag ball was previously held - is a response to the popularity of the event, which marks its third outing this month.
Event founder Treyvonne Moo, better known as Original Hunty, is also the founder of the House of Diamonds, and previously told the Sunday Times that the ball came about as the result of a desire to create a safe space for Johannesburg's queer community.
They add that there's an emphasis on black trans bodies specifically.
"We're not excluding white or any other bodies, but there's a definite bias for black trans bodies," Hunty says. "It's about going out as a black, queer person to spaces where my identity is validated; where I don't feel invisible, and it's about being around people like us."
Le Grand Ball is one of several queer events that have sprung up locally in the past year or so, modelled after the famous ball scene of New York, most recently made famous by TV series like Pose and the classic Paris Is Burning documentary, which traces the ball culture's development in 1980s New York.
Pose, currently in its second season, has catapulted its cast of queer and trans actors to global stardom with lead actor Billy Porter winning an Emmy award for outstanding male actor - the first LGBTQ+ actor to do so. Its other stars have registered high-profile achievements too, with actress Indya Moore becoming the first trans person to be on the cover of the US edition of ELLE Magazine, for example.
There's little doubt about its role in bringing mainstream awareness for the ball culture and its real-life communities.
For a few years now, the scene has served as the entry point for global brands seeking to become more inclusive by including the queer community.
Most recently Nike featured trans athlete Chris Mosier in a television advert. The advert gives a glimpse into the athlete's life, his motivations, and the questions he constantly faces. It forms part of Nike's "Unlimited" campaign.
This follows just two years after the brand's 2017 Pride Month campaign featuring US vogue dancing legend Leiomy Maldonado.
Back on these shores, Nike sponsors Le Grand Ball and recently ran a social media campaign featuring DJ Lelowhatsgood, founder of the monthly Vogue Nights events in Johannesburg, mirroring what the brand is doing globally.
Among other brands that are increasingly exhibiting a desire to become inclusive are razor brand Gillette, whose recent campaign showed a father helping his transgender son with his first shave. It sparked controversy on social media, but the brand stuck to its guns.
These are just a few examples of how brands are beginning to take notice of the increasingly vocal queer community, and its demands for equality, and safe spaces.
Sure, uptake on the local front is slow, as with most things, but what the popularity of both Le Grand Ball and Vogue Nights shows is that this is a community that's finally finding its voice and making its presence felt beyond the confines of events such as annual Gay Pride marches.
GO TO LE GRAND BALL
Le Grand Ball presents The Fetish Ball on Friday, October 25 at the Ellis Park Tennis Club.
The ball will feature Johannesburg's most flamboyant and exceptional personalities going toe to toe in a runway "walk off" designed to highlight the wealth of creative juice that flows through the city and through the LGBTQ+ communities.
After the runway segment, the public and participating houses are invited onto the dance floor to show off their death-defying vogue combos.
Tickets at quicket.co.za