The House of LaBeija “walked” onto the scene in 1960, when black drag queens started holding their own events in Harlem, where they would mix fashion and dance dubbing it “walking.”Ball culture, as this phenomenon soon became known, provided the underground LGBT community a place to gather, and find protection from a disapproving society; a place to truly let there hair down, and let the makeup fly.
Many of the members of this culture belonged to houses, also called families, which were banded together under a respected “house mother,” in many cases a drag queen, transgendered individual, or even a house father. The House of LaBeija, one of the more notable houses, was run by the ever eccentric Pepper LaBeija. Pepper, born William Jackson, was an American drag queen and fashion designer. While there is little history on him, he was featured in documentary film maker Jennie Livingston’s iconic documentary Paris is Burning. The film explores the elaborate underground competitions, with most of the footage alternating between the balls and interviews with members of the houses. While much of the ball culture still exists today, our society has popularized the term voguing to better describe it.
Pepper LaBeija died on 2003 of heart failure.
by Bryan A Counts, Nonprofit Management degree candidate at the New School for Public Engagement