A Photographer Captured Venezuela’s Rising LGBTQ+ Ballroom Scene And These Photos Give Us Hope

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Phone cameras flash as neon colors dance across concrete walls. People strut, pose and “death drop” to the beat, as the screams of fans and friends meld with the music.

“Tens, tens, tens across the board,” announces Honey, tonight’s emcee, in English.

Ballroom has been revived in the Venezuela capital of Caracas, thanks to a group of determined enthusiasts who came together through their love of dance and longing for a space where they can celebrate who they are, without inhibition or fear of harassment.

Fans watch as performers walk in the "Navi-Dark" ball, hosted by House of Fantasy in El Casino — an abandoned casino-turned-cultural center in downtown Caracas.
Fans watch as performers walk in the “Navi-Dark” ball, hosted by House of Fantasy in El Casino — an abandoned casino-turned-cultural center in downtown Caracas.
A performer named Rwal walks in the "Navi-Dark" ball.
A performer named Rwal walks in the “Navi-Dark” ball.

Despite its self-proclaimed leftist government, Venezuela is decades behind a number of other countries in providing equal rights to LGBTQ+ citizens. On paper, there is legislation that recognizes transgender identity and punishes discrimination — but it is nothing more than lip service. The reality of being queer, trans or nonbinary is drastically different than those laws might suggest.

A model and trans activist named Carli (left) participates in House of Fantasy’s shoot for a trans rights video campaign in Caracas. A police officer walks by after warning about not recording in front of a legislative building.
A model and trans activist named Carli (left) participates in House of Fantasy’s shoot for a trans rights video campaign in Caracas. A police officer walks by after warning about not recording in front of a legislative building.

Nobody knows this better than Mulan, the founder of House of Fantasy — the group leading the effort to establish ballroom in the country. When Mulan, who uses they/them pronouns, started dressing differently, eventually coming out to their family, they were kicked out of their home.

With nowhere to go, they were taken in by a trans sex worker in downtown Caracas. Staying on the streets but with the emotional support of a new mother figure, Mulan lived through a lot. One day, the mother figure told Mulan to leave. The next day, she was killed by her pimp, potentially saving Mulan from a similar fate. This kind of tragic death is not uncommon in Venezuela, with trans people often the victims of violence.

Mulan poses for a portrait in El Casino in Caracas. They are known as the "Housemother of Venezuela" for their role in bringing ballroom to the forefront.
Mulan poses for a portrait in El Casino in Caracas. They are known as the “Housemother of Venezuela” for their role in bringing ballroom to the forefront.

After the kindness and sacrifice they received, Mulan made it their mission to provide a safe space for others. An avid voguer, Mulan started House of Fantasy with the intention of creating a celebratory space for people like them. Now known as the “Housemother of Venezuela,” they also wanted to educate queer youth in Venezuela about fights worldwide spearheaded by LGBTQ+ people.

Beyond hosting balls, House of Fantasy holds free educational and dance workshops for anyone who is interested. The group says that this allows people to learn more about the “categories” of different ballroom performances, practice voguing and dig into the history of ball culture. It even screened the famous 1990 film “Paris Is Burning,” which documents how New York’s modern ballroom scene evolved and developed out of necessity among Black trans people in the 1980s.

House of Fantasy has a similar background. The group started by practicing on the streets and in plazas. With time, it gained the support of local spaces to practice and hold events. After nearly two years, its influence is spreading, as other groups create houses, host balls and take up space on the streets of Caracas.

Just like their predecessors in New York, young queer people in Venezuela are emerging after years of crisis to create from the ashes of what was — demanding to be seen and celebrated.

See more photos of Venzuela’s ballroom scene below:

House of Fantasy members pose on the stage during a voguing workshop at El Casino in Caracas.
House of Fantasy members pose on the stage during a voguing workshop at El Casino in Caracas.
People practice their runway walk as Rwal, left, and Mulan, right, coach them.
People practice their runway walk as Rwal, left, and Mulan, right, coach them.
Mulan puts on makeup during a lingerie shoot in El Casino in Caracas.
Mulan puts on makeup during a lingerie shoot in El Casino in Caracas.
Rwal takes a selfie during a lingerie shoot at El Casino in Caracas.
Rwal takes a selfie during a lingerie shoot at El Casino in Caracas.
House of Fantasy members take turns poses for an indie clothing brand at El Casino in Caracas.
House of Fantasy members take turns poses for an indie clothing brand at El Casino in Caracas.
House of Fantasy members take a break during a shoot for a trans rights video campaign in Caracas. They prepared posters and invited trans activists to be highlighted in the video.
House of Fantasy members take a break during a shoot for a trans rights video campaign in Caracas. They prepared posters and invited trans activists to be highlighted in the video.
House of Fantasy members dance during a shoot for the trans rights video campaign in Caracas.
House of Fantasy members dance during a shoot for the trans rights video campaign in Caracas.
House of Fantasy members prep for the trans rights video campaign in Caracas.
House of Fantasy members prep for the trans rights video campaign in Caracas.
House of Fantasy members dance through a plaza during a shoot for the trans rights video campaign in Caracas.
House of Fantasy members dance through a plaza during a shoot for the trans rights video campaign in Caracas.
Rwal walks down a staircase at El Casino in Caracas.
Rwal walks down a staircase at El Casino in Caracas.
People walk in the "Navi-Dark" ball, hosted by House of Fantasy at El Casino in Caracas.
People walk in the “Navi-Dark” ball, hosted by House of Fantasy at El Casino in Caracas.
People walk in the "realness" category during a ball hosted at a queer club in downtown Caracas. Venezuelans from the diaspora returned to Caracas to act as judges at the event.
People walk in the “realness” category during a ball hosted at a queer club in downtown Caracas. Venezuelans from the diaspora returned to Caracas to act as judges at the event.
A performer lip-syncs during a ball hosted in downtown Caracas.
A performer lip-syncs during a ball hosted in downtown Caracas.
Rwal and another performer participate in a lip-sync battle during a ball hosted at a queer club in downtown Caracas.
Rwal and another performer participate in a lip-sync battle during a ball hosted at a queer club in downtown Caracas.
People from the drag, trans and voguing community cheer on the performers in a ball hosted at a queer club in downtown Caracas.
People from the drag, trans and voguing community cheer on the performers in a ball hosted at a queer club in downtown Caracas.


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