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“Yes, I’m that b**ch,” is a phrase you wouldn’t expect to hear in a Student Senate meeting. Especially not uttered by the undergraduate student body president, Isaac Smitherman. But it fits perfectly into a conversation about voguing, ballroom culture and the LGBTQ Center’s Bearcat Vogue Ball, planned for Feb. 17, from 7-10 p.m. 

Smitherman was using the phrase to describe the themes of ballroom culture, much of which revolves around “being confident in yourself.” The University of Cincinnati (UC) Undergraduate Student Government (SG) met Wednesday to approve a bill utilizing $1,050 from the group’s treasury to fund the ball. The bill passed unanimously, with a vote of 24-0.

The vote extended beyond merely transferring money and became a discussion about “celebrating Black queer culture on campus,” as Smitherman said when the segment began.

Smitherman is helping organize the event and thought it was “only fair” that SG try to help. Categories for the ball include “face,” “runway” and “vogue,” with winners in each category receiving a different prize, which range from a pair of $300 Gucci sunglasses to $250 Airpods to tickets to the musical “Hadestown,” worth the same amount.

According to Smitherman, the event was planned in coordination with faculty members and “community members who are part of the ballroom scene.” Although Cincinnati “has a ballroom culture,” Smitherman noted it “isn’t a large one” and thought the Bearcat Vogue Ball would be an excellent opportunity to make people “more comfortable in expressing their queerness.”

Though drag pageants have existed for decades, “ballroom culture” is a distinctly Black and Latino phenomenon. Discriminated against and ostracized in the predominantly white drag pageants, Black and Latino queer performers began creating their own pageants – an environment most famously documented in the groundbreaking 1968 documentary “The Queen.”

These gatherings spawned a subculture that, once known only to niche corners of the LGBTQ community in places like New York and Los Angeles, is now the cornerstone of gay life in the United States. Famous drag queens like RuPaul started out in the ballroom circuit and TV shows like “Pose” and “Legendary” are dedicated to exposing this community to wider audiences.

All of which were touched upon by Smitherman. After being asked by Senator Chaz Stump about ballroom culture's history, Smitherman replied it gave “a lot of Black queens their first opportunity to express themselves."

During a fun pageant, Smitherman also emphasized the educational value of the ball, stating they would be “showing the documentary ‘Paris is Burning’” and talking with attendees about the impact of the ballroom. There will be “a lot of education,” Smitherman said.

The Bearcat Vogue Ball wasn't SG’s only opportunity to engage in discourse on race. Only hours after the meeting ended, SG posted a “Statement of Support for Tokyo Foods and Condemnation of Race-Based Hate.”

Tokyo Foods is an Asian grocery store in Evendale, which was decimated after a white gunman showered it with gunfire on Jan. 22. In the statement, SG asks Cincinnati to “stand united to show its support of Tokyo Foods and send a message that we do not tolerate hate.”

“These crimes are on the surge,” said Speaker Aaskha Raval in the meeting. All the more reason, she said, they should make their position clear, because the Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) community is “going through a huge, fundamental, crisis right now.”

News Reporter

Zurie Pope is a sophomore at the University of Cincinnati majoring in journalism with a minor in political science. His work has appeared in The Nation Magazine, Youth Journalism International, and Unpublished Magazine.