Pioneer and Icon Kevin UltraOmni is the Overall Father of the House of Ultra Omni. In this interview Kevin UltraOmni discusses his iconic ballroom career spanning from 1975-Today.
Victor Ultra Omni: I know, right? It’s always the question. Okay. All right. My recorder is now on. So, I’ll just re-ask the question of when did you first get involved in the House/Ball Community in New York City?
Kevin Omni: Okay. Well, let’s see. It’s a two-way answer. One, I went to my first ball in 1975. I was a junior in high school and we didn’t have the house structured as we know now, ball themes. I would say the house structure … Well, the house structure ball scene was in effect, but it was more in 1975, it was just drag queen. There was no male categories. The male categories came along … We had one in 1977. And, it was called, Butch Queens but I didn’t walk it. I was only like 19, 20 years old, or whatever. I was a spectator.
Kevin Omni: But then, I started the House of Omni in 1979. As a matter, of fact, January 21st, 1979. This year coming up January, we’ll be 39 years old. And, what’s important about knowing about the House structured ball themes … Well, let me see. I do know a few things. Like, in 1972, the first house, was the House of LaBeija. But again, it was all drag queens. You know, during that time.
Kevin Omni: But, I went to my first in ’75. I started the House of Omni January 21st, 1979. And, by 1980, we had more male categories. So, more males became interested in the ball scene. You had more categories for the butches. Back then, it was called Drag Queen categories, butch queen categories and butch categories.
Kevin Omni: Now today, the names have changed. Instead of “drag queens,” they call them “fem queens.” That they live their lives every day in women’s attire or they’re going through the transition or they are what’s considered to transgender. Back then, drag queens were just, put on an outfit for the night and come out of it and remain a man, you know?
Kevin Omni: So, that house structured theme basically got really started … Well, you had the House of LaBeija 1972. You had the House of the Plenty, I believe was 1974, and so on. The House of Dupree 1975, to House of Christian 1977, we had the House of Princess 1978, and even Avis Pendavis one of the more notable pioneers, started the House of Pendavis, basically in 1979-80, because she was just an entity within herself, you know, before members became in her house. She was just noted as Avis Pendavis.
Kevin Omni: Then you have the House of Corey. They were like around maybe ’73, with Dorian. Then, you had the House of Ebony, Omni and Chanel 1979. No, ’78 for Chanel, ’79 for Omni and Ebony. They’re from Brooklyn Houses along the way they came and are no longer in existence today.
Kevin Omni: But, I basically can say I came on the scene when I started the House of Omni in ’79, even though I went to a ball in ’75. And, I went to a ball in ’77. But, I believe the first ball that I stayed at that showed me any type of entrance, was the 1978 … It was a ball called … It was given by Paris Dupree, before the Paris is Burning series started and she named that ball in 1978. It was called April in Paris.
Kevin Omni: And, that’s what got me an ongoing interest of the ball room. And, they were easy to attend because they were in the confines of New York City. And, we had one ball like every two … Well, you had maybe seven balls a year in the early 70s or the mid 70s, rather. And then, it went from seven balls a year to nine balls a year. And now, it’s all over the world. Okay. Is there anything more in depth that you need?
Victor Ultra Omni: Yeah. Definitely. Thank you so much for giving me all that. What motivated you to start your house?
Kevin Omni: Well, to be honest with you, I kinda got thrown into it, a friend of mine, God Bless the Dead. And, I’m going to tell you an ironic story. There were two … He was a co-founder. His name was Thomas “Dimples” Baker. And, he sat in my living room and he said, “We’re gonna start a house.” And, I looked at him like he was out of his mind.
Kevin Omni: And, the weird part about it, he was so dedicated … He went in the dictionary and picked out the word “omni,” because it meant all. We brought it out to the balls, because he was like, basically a party friend of mine and we just started going and the next thing you know I was competing.
Kevin Omni: The categories were really, really something. It’s a lot. I think it takes away the … Well, it doesn’t take away the importance, but some people put too much emphasis on the categories. I walked multiple categories. I walked “Face,” “Face Over 25,” “Face Over 30,” “Legendary Face,” now “Iconic Face Over 50.” And, I’ve won throughout the year, but believe it or not, even though I won many a face trophy, that never was my category.
Kevin Omni: My category was “High Fashion Executive,” and “Traveling Executive,” because … And then, I became “Legendary Executive,” because I had a job in Wall Street, from 9-5, I worked as a data communications technician, so I would invest in buying expensive suits, because I could wear them to work every day.
Kevin Omni: It worked for me, but that was my category. But, I also won “Butch Queen Up in Drag.” I also won “Butch Queen Realness” at the very first House of Ebony Ball in 1982.
Kevin Omni: The reason why that’s kind of … is because the House of Ebony is known for realness. So, for me to have one realness, that’d be a very first ball. It’s more than an honor.
Kevin Omni: I’m trying to think … Also, I’ve walked “Shopping Down 5th Avenue.” I’ve walked and competed in “Summer Sportswear.”
Kevin Omni: To day, besides the many categories, I did say “Butch Queen in Drag,” right? First time. Yeah. There were so many categories … “Shopping Night.” Like I said, there were so many different categories. A lot of people may come and say balls and walk one category forever, but when I first started out, I was walking everything.
Kevin Omni: So, most times I was coming to ball and walking two and three categories. I’m just trying to think of what else I can tell you about when I started. It was good, because the categories for the guys were only like five categories. But now, we have 20-something categories for the guys. You understand?
Kevin Omni: It progressed along the way. But basically, it was easy because we were confined to New York. The first time we had a ball outside of New York, was Jersey, but that was like once a year. And, I believe that was like around ’80 … maybe possibly as early as ’83.
Kevin Omni: And then, I know that the balls started in Philadelphia around 1988. But, they weren’t the second city. The second city was New Jersey. Then, the third was Washington DC. They had their first ball in 1986. And then, Chicago started their house structure ball scene in 1986, but they didn’t give their first ball until, I believe, the year was even ’92.
Victor Ultra Omni: Okay.
Kevin Omni: So then, it kept going and going and going. Once it went to the Midwest, Detroit came after Chicago. Then, Ohio, then you had Milwaukee, then St. Louis. And, I believe it happened in that order. Then, you had Kentucky, and then you had the twin cities, Minnesota. And then, New Orleans. I think Texas started right around that time as well. I can’t give you the real time, but it was all after Chicago.
Kevin Omni: And, we’re talking about maybe Milwaukee started in the early 90s, St. Louis the early 90s, and I believe, Ohio started I the early 90s. And, Detroit. Yeah. So, around that time frame, the early 90s for the Midwest.
Kevin Omni: And then, the West Coast came along, I believe, in 1997. Go ahead.
Victor Ultra Omni: I was going to say, thank you so much. And, I guess what I’m focusing on is New York City and the 80s. And so, I wanted to ask you how do you feel like artists like Keith Haring and Jennifer Livingston, and then folks who are outside of the ballroom communities became aware of them and the … When do you start noticing folks from outside the scene at balls?
Kevin Omni: Well, Paris is Burning … This is just my personal … And, I want it to be stated that it’s my personal opinion on how I feel. Nothing else. Jennie Livingston came into the balls as early as 1985. She would come and back then … You know, it was kind of sad in one state and then it is what it is. Like, I always was just proud of the fact that when I came into the ball room, I had a college education and I was working.
Kevin Omni: And, many of the ball room children were not working or house or … farther than when they … of the particular houses. So, a lot of them were kind of like … How can you put this? In a situation where like if they wanted to give a ball, they wouldn’t mind if there were some kind of sponsorship. And, the sponsorship back then was Jennie Livingston coming to the balls in ’85, but she would go to particular balls and pay the producer of that ball, maybe $250. That was a lot of money back in the 80s. Just so that she could film. She kind of … She didn’t “kind of,” she … in My opinion. She mislead everyone because she said it was supposed to be a thesis for her college. Nobody knew it was going to turn into a multi million dollar movie.
Kevin Omni: And, needless to say, that when she was giving out the so called papers to sign release forms, that’s what they were. Giving up their rights. So, everybody that was in Paris is Burning, was tricked to be in that movie, because … Let me just go straight for the jugular.
Kevin Omni: She received, I believe … If I’m not mistaken, Jennie Livingston received 3.5 million dollars for Paris is Burning, when she sold the rights to Miramax Films, which I believe to this date may be … I guess you can Google it, I have no clue. But, I would say they’ve made at least … Maybe $200,000,000.
Victor Ultra Omni: Wow.
Kevin Omni: Off the film. And, how about the 12 or so people in the film, all the key players, walked away with maybe $1200 each. I think there was like $12,000 divided by 12 people, so that might be even $1000. I can’t say the exact figure because nobody wanted to talk about how much money they got, but they were all hoodwinked.
Kevin Omni: The bad part about it is that … And, that part that I detest, is that she only showed on side of the ball room. She showed people stealing from Roy Rogers, you know, sort of like ghetto. And, she kind of stigmatized the balls, like even with her drag queens, you know they only cared about their breasts and running on the beach. And, things of that nature.
Kevin Omni: And, it’s really ironic that this was the height of the AIDS epidemic and nothing about HIV or AIDS is mentioned in the film. So, to me, do I care for the film? No. Does it open up a door for people to know about the ball culture? Yes it did. However, that’s not what we wanted to be known for. You know, she excluded the fact that I had a college education and that I worked in Wall Street and I was bonded and I worked for the best brokerage and security firm.
Kevin Omni: When she brought me the paper, I didn’t sign it, but she had so much footage on me. I’m one of the people that read the fine line and knew that I would be giving up my rights, especially when I presented it to my family. I have a sister who just retired from her law firm after 50 years. I have a brother who worked at his law firm for 36 years. And, I have a young sister that’s two years younger than me, who worked as a billing director for her law firm for 26 years.
Kevin Omni: So, I have a lot of legal minds around that I could go and ask. And, I wouldn’t sign that, so I was excluded from the film Paris is Burning. And, to be honest with you, I was very proud of not being included in that film, because that’s not what I represented.
Kevin Omni: Needless to say that nothing positive was included like the people in the film that had college educations and people that had 9-5 jobs and that did not come from broken homes. My mother was at my first ball in 1983, I gave my first major ball, and I was … I’m going to explain to you something and I will clarify something.
Kevin Omni: Why I have the name “Pioneer,” is because Pioneer … I started calling people “pioneers” of the ball room within the last five years, because there’s a status problem going on in the community.
Kevin Omni: When we were walking balls … When I say, “we,” I’m talking about the people in the early 80s. You know, people know who you were. Like, if I hit the floor, they knew that I was coming on. If I moved to California or when to anywhere outside of New York, they knew I was Kevin Omni. Well, two things worked in my favor. One, because I was a ball room notable, but two, because I hosted all the major parties in New York City.
Kevin Omni: But, even when you heard Avis’ name, you knew who she was. You knew who Dorian was. You knew who Paris Dupree was. You knew these names because other names superseded us because of our grandiose, carrying on in the categories, our perspective categories.
Kevin Omni: And, it wasn’t until, I remember, 1984 God Bless the Day, William Dupree said to me over the microphone, when he was calling me out of his ball, he said, “He has to be legendary, because anybody that will win over me is legendary.”
Kevin Omni: So, that’s the first time, in 1984, that I was being a “legend.” But, there wasn’t yet set up rules or principles of legends. You just felt it was a compliment. And, the very first time I used legendary was in 1989.
Kevin Omni: On the fly, I gave a ball at [inaudible 00:20:16], New York on 19th Street in 1989. And, I put the legendary Kevin Omni, prior to that, we knew the legends and icons and even pioneers. We didn’t use any of that.
Kevin Omni: But now, it’s got out of hand because everybody who treats you somebody or rubs elbows with the people that didn’t know, or are overnight successes. They didn’t have to put in the work.
Kevin Omni: And, it’s caused a lot of problems, so what I did was within the last five years, I said, “Well, you know what? I’m just gonna be the pioneer, Kevin Omni, “Pioneer Icon Kevin Omni.”
Kevin Omni: And, the reason why I feel I’m a pioneer, is for a few reasons. Number one, 1982 we had a ball maybe every two month. Before there was a ball coming up we’d all have ball fever.
Kevin Omni: So, what I decided to do in October, how ironic that it is my birthday weekend, which is my birthday is October 8th. And, I’ll be 59, the last of the 50s.
Victor Ultra Omni: Congratulations.
Kevin Omni: Well, in 1982, I decided to give something called a “mini-ball.” I created the word. I said, “It’s gonna be a mini-ball.” I never knew that that one ball that I started, called a mini-ball, is all over the place now. But, I pioneered the mini-ball. The balls were up in Harlem and somewhere given in Brooklyn. And, I was the first to give a Midtown ball in 1983. October the 8th. It was East 86th Street. So, I [inaudible 00:22:02] the move from Harlem to Midtown. [inaudible 00:22:07] pioneered a move from Harlem to Midtown, I pioneered the time change.
Kevin Omni: The balls used to … Doors open up at 4:00 a.m., 5:00 a.m. in the morning. I was the first to ever give a ball at 10:00 p.m. And, what that did in 1983, was it brought in a new audience. It brought it people from [Barbizon 00:22:29] School of Modeling, Ford Models. We’ve had these barbershops called [inaudible 00:22:35] Barbershops in Brooklyn, it was a chain of them.
Kevin Omni: Different people came to the balls, meaning heterosexual people and business people. [inaudible 00:22:46] brought a whole new audience once the balls came to Midtown. And, I was the second one to give the second ball in Midtown in 1984, which was at the Hotel Diplomat on 43rd Street between 5th and 6th.
Kevin Omni: Again, the first downtown ball was in 1983, it was E. 86th Street, between 2nd and 3rd. So, I’m proud to say that I brought the balls downtown. Then you had … So, I pioneered that.
Kevin Omni: I pioneered the term “legends, statements and stars,” by my first ball at [inaudible 00:23:23] in 1989, which was on 19th Street in New York City.
Kevin Omni: So, after … Because, it became important that everybody started who was legendary. You know? So, I put a ball together called “Legends, Statements and Stars Part 1.” And, that was in 1989, and I went through a 10 series of “Legends, Statements and Stars Part 10.” Part 10 was my 20th Omni anniversary, which was held in 2000. And, that was held at a club called “The Clubhouse,” which was very popular for many balls, many weekly mini-balls.
Kevin Omni: I retired from the ball community last year, October 9th, after my status fall. Well, what happened was [inaudible 00:24:17] I brought that up so could remember. So, I went with the Legends, Statements and Stars Part 1-10 from 1989 to 2000. And then, I started “Lifetime Achievers, Icons, Legends, Statements and Stars, Status Ball Part 1” in 2003.
Kevin Omni: And, I ended it in October of … It was “Lifetime Achievers, Status Ball” on October 9th, 2016, where I retired from the ball room community. I felt that after having 306 trophies and awards, and after having given 21 major balls and 22 mini-balls, I think that I’ve done more than I could possibly do.
Kevin Omni: I mean, my status became “Icon” in 1997, I believe. I was a “Lifetime Achiever” by 2001. I was in the Hall of Fame, was back in 1984, the first “Legends” ball in New York City in August of 1984, given by [inaudible 00:25:30], Christian and [inaudible 00:25:32] Dupree, may she rest in peace.
Kevin Omni: But, that was the first “Legends” ball, and I was in the Hall of Fame … No, not at that ball, but I was inducted in the Hall of Fame by Richard Ebony in 1982. He gave awards out at his ball called “The Hall of Fame.”
Kevin Omni: So, by 1982, I was already a hall of famer, and then when they started the awards balls in New York in 1993, I was in the Hall of Fame in New York and 1994.
Kevin Omni: Also, in the Hall of Fame on the West Coast Hall of Fame as well, but it’s been a journey. Am I giving you too much?
Victor Ultra Omni: Oh, no. Absolutely not. I am so thankful. Thank you so … I don’t want to interrupt, but thank you. Thank you so much for all of …
Kevin Omni: Yeah. So, I wanted to explain that why … what I call “pioneers,” I call the ones who took the risk. Because, I give debates with these kids, because they’re so status-crazy now, that they cause nothing but confusion and chaos. And, the breakdown of the interest of being involved, it’s like I left, but I left because I didn’t want to leave like others that died or look sickly or they were chased away. I wanted to leave on my own terms. This is why I retired October 9th, 2016.
Kevin Omni: And, don’t get me wrong. They annoyed me so bad to come to the House of Ebony’s 35th Anniversary, this year February 2017, which was February 18th. Boy, my memory, I’m surprised I can even think. And, I actually won a trophy for “[inaudible 00:27:24] Icon Face” this year.
Kevin Omni: And, I think the biggest thrill that I get from that is, my first “face” trophy win, was the 1981 and I’m still winning in 2017.
Victor Ultra Omni: Wow.
Kevin Omni: And, this is after my retirement. I only walked because I was supposed to be a judge. They wanted me to … put me on the second half. And, I decided I didn’t want to wait at that ball all night long, so I decided to walk the category “Icon Face” versus “Legendary Face” and you know, the [inaudible 00:27:55], I forgot his name, on “Legendary.”
Kevin Omni: Anyway, let me get back to pioneers. So, pioneers to me are the ones like Avis and Paris and Dorian myself, which at Ebony … Larry Ebony is still alive. Or, Chanel. We’re the ones who took the risk. What I mean, was to keep the balls going, because back then you had people like … you know, without me … Look, I might as well just … you know, I really don’t wanna tell everybody’s story, but many of the ball room pioneers at the beginning of giving these balls, did not have 9-5 jobs.
Kevin Omni: So, they did what Ebony had to do, to give a ball. You know? Including, whatever. All right? So, the struggles like … I’ll give you an example. One person who was a pioneer, who is no longer with us, and you know, pioneer, icon, call it what you want, used to not pay her rent for two months, so that she could afford to pay for a venue.
Kevin Omni: So, she took a risk of being evicted, because of her love for balls. Okay? So, a lot of these kids today that want to walk around and call themselves … now trying it with the title “Pioneer” because some people came in the 90s and they were a pioneer for a category, but that’s not what an overall pioneer is.
Kevin Omni: What I deemed to be pioneer was a compliment and a blessing and an honor for those who took the risks to keep the balls going. And, to help the balls grow in New York. You know, because some of them, like I said, faced eviction. Because, they didn’t pay their rent but that was the only way they were gonna be able to get money to pay for venues and trophies and things like that.
Victor Ultra Omni: Yeah.
Kevin Omni: You know? So, we took a lot of risks so that’s what pioneering means to me, the beginning of an entity and taking risks to continue to help the ball community grow.
Victor Ultra Omni: Thank you [crosstalk 00:30:10].
Kevin Omni: So, I totally try to have to explain to these kids today, because they battle with me. They go in groups and they argue and debate. And, I don’t no longer debate with them, because now I have no energy for it. Either you understand what I’m saying or you just don’t. And, you know what? This is your world now, but the problem is, is we don’t have enough Indians. Everybody’s a Chief.
Kevin Omni: You know? And, there’s people from the pioneering years that I don’t consider real pioneers. Let me see if I can explain this.
Kevin Omni: This is something that I think is very important. Again, I repeat. I’ve given 21 balls. Major balls. And, 22 mini-balls. And, I’ve pioneered the time change and I’ve pioneered the balls from uptown to Midtown. And, I pioneered and gave the very first mini-ball. What else did I pioneer? I pioneered the term “Legends, Statements and Stars” in 1989. I pioneered the term “Lifetime Achievers, Icons, Legends, Statements, and Stars” status in 2003.
Kevin Omni: And then, the second status ball I gave, and the only ball that was given by Willi Ninja was me, in 2005. So, I had the honor of giving the only ball that Willi Ninja ever gave, which was “Lifetime Achievement, Icons, Legends, Statements and Stars Status Ball Part 2.”
Kevin Omni: It was held in Harlem in 2005. And then, I gave Part 3 and Part 4, which is 2007 and 2009 in Chicago, with the pioneer who started the ball room scene, in the Midwest in 1986, which was [inaudible 00:32:05] and the very first house of Chicago, the House of [inaudible 00:32:10].
Kevin Omni: So, that was “Status Ball Part 3” and 4, in Chicago in 2007 and 2009. And then, my last ball was last year, “Lifetime Achievement, Icons, Legends, Statements and Stars Status Ball Part 5.”
Victor Ultra Omni: Wow.
Kevin Omni: Since I brought back to New York City. So, just like “Legends, Statements and Stars Part 1 – Part 10,” was similar to Paris is Burning. Back then, we had themes in the 80s. Like, Richard’s first ball was … Richard Ebony, the founder of Ebony, him and Larry, co-founder. Therefore, we called the “Ebony Scandal Part 1.” So, yeah, “Ebony’s Scandal” 1982, September; 1983 “Ebony’s Scandal Part 2.” And, so on.
Kevin Omni: And then, mine was in ’83, Kevin Omni Presents,” was my birthday ball, October 8th, 1983. Then you had “Kevin Omni Presents” 1984. And then, I started my series of “Legends, Statements and Stars Part 1” in 1989, all the way to 2000.
Kevin Omni: And then, you have Paris Du pree, who had a ball April in Paris, in 1978, but started the “Paris is Burning” sequels in 1980. You have “Paris is Burning Part 1” all the way, if I’m not mistaken, to “Paris is Burning Part 12.”
Victor Ultra Omni: Thank you so much.
Kevin Omni: And then, you have a series “Harlem Fantasy” balls, where Pepper LeBeija and [inaudible 00:33:48] and I believe they went from Part 1 to about Part 10.
Kevin Omni: So, what [inaudible 00:33:58] had, we’ve had [inaudible 00:34:01] things, we had little satin [inaudible 00:34:03]. You know, like I said, my moving the balls from Harlem to Midtown were to … I worked in Wall Street, so I wanted … My friends were not gonna come to no ball at 4:00 a.m. in the morning.
Kevin Omni: And, they were [inaudible 00:34:16] and people from Barbizon and all these schools of modeling. And Ford Models. And, even Chip ‘n’ Dale models have come to the ball. And, they wouldn’t come to no ball at 4:00 in the morning.
Kevin Omni: You know, so once the time change took place at my very first ball in 1983, it was opening up to a wider audience of professional people to come and get involved. And, back then, you gotta remember too, that we did not have … I mean, HIV was at it’s beginning. So, prior to, I would say, the real epidemic getting on its way and it was stigmatized and people that were game with HIV and AIDS, by 1985 a lot of that having effects of people kind of fell off.
Kevin Omni: Well, we had a bigger amount of heterosexual people that were present at balls in the early 80s prior to the HIV/AIDS epidemic getting on its way. They want to be connected or attached to gay people. And, that’s when the 1985, I believe a lot of the gay bashing started.
Kevin Omni: Unfortunately, now there’s a lot of terms [gender murdered 00:35:37]. You know, so it’s the world we live in, but I don’t want to get off track, I just wanted to keep the understanding of what a pioneer is and how the balls took place. And see, one of the other struggles that we had to do in the early 80s was we had to support each other, whether we liked one another or not was a different story.
Kevin Omni: But, in order for to keep the balls growing, you know, like you still have to go to their balls to make sure that they had a ball. You know, in other words, a lot of the people that weren’t working, counted on the money coming through the door. I was blessed to not have to deal with that, because I had a 9-5 and I made pretty good money.
Kevin Omni: And, my House of Omni had all babies in it, so I couldn’t collect dues, because half of my members were in school or not … you know, or just working a part-time job or something, they’re young.
Kevin Omni: So, when I came into the balls, I paid for my own venue, I bought my own trophies, and I brought my cash through the door, because that’s why I always had that strong dominant attitude where I didn’t care, but where I didn’t have to kiss nobody’s behind, because I stood on my own merit.
Kevin Omni: And, you know, a lot of people didn’t like that. There are a lot of people that jealousy is another thing that comes along with the balls and you got people that just … you know, rather than do something positive for themselves they’d rather sit back and hate you, because you’re doing what you need to do. You know what I’m saying? Like, go to work. Or, get an education.
Kevin Omni: So, one thing about Omni, is I’ve always instilled in Omni are … There’s three things. Working, going to school and having a personality. That’s what makes an Omni member. Those are the criteria. Some people say you gotta have two and three trophies, but I always believed in quality over quantity.
Kevin Omni: So, if I have five good members that were turning it, that was fine. I mean, my house has grown to … I don’t even know how many members we have totally now, because of … we’re in Brazil, we’re Japan, we’re Russia, we’re Amsterdam, we’re Paris, we’re London, we’re Texas, we’re Chicago, we’re Atlanta, we’re New York … You understand what I’m saying?
Kevin Omni: But then, I had sometimes in New York, sometimes I had 15 members, sometimes we went up to 60 members. Then we went down to 20 members. I always had to keep my attitude like, people feel like, oh well, I could go to another house. And, my attitude was always, go.
Kevin Omni: But, I believed that I attracted those who are similar to what I was doing in life, which was working and trying to get ahead and go further in life. So, all the numbers that I had were basically … You know, like some people used to call us by each other’s names because we all had a similarity.
Kevin Omni: Like, I’ve had members … okay, what? I’m going to be 59 years old January 21st. And, I’m going to go back to a story.
Kevin Omni: I had two members in the house. One was the co-founder that made me get involved in this, that said we were gonna start a house, and we got a number called Fila Omni who was so dedicated to Omni. Let me tell you, him and Tom as were so dedicated to Omni, that they named their dogs, their cats Omni. And, you couldn’t talk about Omni there, because they want to psychically fight. You know what I’m saying?
Kevin Omni: Their loyalty was unreal. Now, would you believe that again, I told you that I started the house with Thomas January 21st, 1979. Would you believe Thomas, the co-founder died January 21st, 1999.
Victor Ultra Omni: Okay.
Kevin Omni: And, on that day. And, then the next year, Fila Omni, who was another dedicated … Can we talk about Omni, died January 21st, 2000. Isn’t that eerie?
Victor Ultra Omni: Yeah. That’s really … that’s wow.
Kevin Omni: Oh, in 2001, January 21st came, I stayed in the house. Of course, I was so depressed after they died, and I was scared because I couldn’t believe it’s months and days … Like, I was the founder of Omni, but they [inaudible 00:40:25] and lived Omni more than I ever could.
Kevin Omni: I’m talking about belt buckles. I’m talking about jackets, leather jackets. And, just doing Omni crazy. I wasn’t that crazy. I mean, I had my little sweat shirts with Omni on it, stuff like that. But, never did I reach their level of obsession. And, both of them passed away on the Omni anniversary.
Kevin Omni: So, I always remember, you know? And, they were close to me. I’m just giving you these little tidbits, because we basically are a family. Like, right now, even though I’m retired, I have all my soldiers in place. I have Sydney Omni, is the New York City father, Sydney [inaudible 00:41:13] Omni. Sydney just graduated last December. She’s transitioning to be a man, so she’s a trans man.
Kevin Omni: She graduated December with her Master’s and now she’s currently … I keep calling her she, but he’s currently in Philadelphia going to Penn U. Or, UPENN for his PhD.
Victor Ultra Omni: Wow.
Kevin Omni: Which brings you back to … Okay, so that’s Sydney. Let me not jump the gun. Then, you’ve got overall European mother Marina, who’s in charge of all the different countries, well cities, or whatever, from the Netherlands, Russia and all of that. Then, you have fathers and mothers like Surge Omni and Alan Omni in charge of Russia. And, I’ve got Oz, who’s in charge of Brazil and Texas.
Kevin Omni: Then, I have Danny Wang, a famous DJ, who’s in Japan. You know, so I have all my soldiers in place and I can sit back and be relaxed and happy that I know that they’ll take my legacy. And, the biggest legacy that I have is young Desmond, who came to me in June of this year, and walked runway at the Brooklyn Museum at Sydney Omni’s Brooklyn Museum Ball.
Kevin Omni: Sydney was living in London when he got his Master’s and moved to the United States this year. So, Desmond is 10 years old, who just recently was on RuPaul’s DragCon, was able to cut the ribbon and everything, and [inaudible 00:43:01].
Kevin Omni: Tore up the runway category in battle with all the legendary children and got his 10 when he didn’t win. And, I called him back up on stage and I had received a medal and a beautiful plaque from the Brooklyn Museum, and I gave my medal and I placed it on his neck. And, there were 400 people there. I didn’t even know people were crying.
Victor Ultra Omni: Oh, my gosh.
Kevin Omni: But, I told him, I put my arm around him, he was nine years old, because he turned 10 June 23rd. I put my arm around him and I said, “Don’t you ever, never, ever give up.”
Kevin Omni: I thought he was a little girl. But, he was a little boy. And, he served the runway. Now, if you go on my Facebook page and go down, you’ll see … You have to search for it, Desmond is up there. I’ve been promoting him and highlighting him. And, I already told him … He came to my house Labor Day weekend for [inaudible 00:43:59] Bayridge Queen … Well, not Bayridge. She lives in … That’s Brooklyn, Bayridge or Bensonhurst.
Kevin Omni: But anyway, he came out here with his mother for dinner. His mother and father support his being transgender, but then when I asked him on the little video, I said, “Well, what do I call you, transgender?” He says, “I’m a gay man.”
Kevin Omni: And, he’s taken a lot of flack at the age of 10. And, I told him that we’re grooming him to take over the House of Omni in the next 30 years.
Victor Ultra Omni: That is so beautiful.
Kevin Omni: And, even the month before June, May, there was a ball, a “Clubhouse Anniversary Ball,” because we used to have all these mini-balls at the clubhouse, where this new house came out and I gave them my medal, because I was gagging because I thought they were all boys but they were all women. They were all trans men. They called the house of [inaudible 00:44:53].
Kevin Omni: So, what I’ve been doing is I’ve been giving back, giving my awards away and everything. You know? I feel good about that. I’ve been really involved in loving this community to the point where I thought of the Kevin Omni Burial Fund.
Victor Ultra Omni: I saw that.
Kevin Omni: 2012. And, you know, I need donations and I believe out of … Let’s just say we have 3000 ball room [inaudible 00:45:22] across the United States.
Kevin Omni: I believe I received a total of … Don’t [inaudible 00:45:29] out. $300 in donations from all the ball room trophies. There’s something missing within this community. And, right now, they have little cliques.
Kevin Omni: You know, you’ve got people that try to erase history to suit them, to make themselves look more important. I even had people sending messages recently. “Kevin, I can’t wait for you to beat me on icon.” And, my thing is, I don’t even remember you.
Kevin Omni: So, why would I do anything so foolish? But, you know what, rather than insult them, I just say, “Well, I’m retired, baby. I don’t know when that could possibly be. Maybe someone else that knows your history” … because, I didn’t want to tell them, “I don’t even know your history. I don’t even remember seeing you.”
Kevin Omni: And, I remember everybody. But, then again, if you [inaudible 00:46:30] that impact on me, I don’t remember you. So, what other questions do you have? Because, I’m like, oh, oh, oh, oh. So, I wanted to say … It was something in connection with Paris is Burning.
Kevin Omni: Well, you know I saw this … Me and Wolfgang decided to do the film, How Do I Look, which was the … Not, Part 2 of Paris is Burning, but the part where you could see people that are talented, or people talking about HIV and things that’s going on in the community, and stuff like that, so people can get a more professional understanding. Because, in my opinion, I felt that Paris is Burning was a piece of … And, you can fill in the blank.
Victor Ultra Omni: Yeah.
Kevin Omni: And, you know, I did some protesting. I don’t just complain or talk about things. I did a few lectures here and there, but I let people know how I felt about it. All my friends died penniless and homeless in that film.
Kevin Omni: And, another thing that a lot of people didn’t know was, one of the people … I believe her name … Oh, God. I can’t … Why am I getting all freeze. She was an [inaudible 00:47:48], was stabbed to death. And, her mother, before the film came out, her mother didn’t know her own son was stabbed to death until after the film came out.
Victor Ultra Omni: Wow.
Kevin Omni: And, I just felt like there was just so many negative things. And, how about the fact that Jennie Livingston made all that money and she never came back to the community until maybe within the last, I think two years. I think in 2015, she made an appearance somewhere, out in Queens. They were having some kind of whatever about Paris is Burning, but you never came back to the community and never did any … You didn’t have no more for the community after you got your money. And, you didn’t do anything like … Even right now, you … I think that since I have the burial fund, why she can’t offer a couple thousand dollars toward the burial fund, if she was so interested in the community?
Victor Ultra Omni: Definitely. Yeah.
Kevin Omni: You know? And, never did explain how your thesis turned into a film that netted you 3.5 million dollars.
Victor Ultra Omni: Exactly.
Kevin Omni: Okay. So, do I have any kind of joy and love for [inaudible 00:49:03]? Some people have said, “Well, if the balls to the high light and into the limelight.” But, at what cost? You’d rather hear people hanging out on 42nd Street and you just got the scum of the Earth, and everybody is like … think it’s cute that some of the guys ran in Roy Rogers steal food and scare white people, I mean really?
Kevin Omni: You know? I’m just like, I think Dorian did an okay job. I think Pepper did an okay job, but she didn’t put nothing in there that even remotely reflected the fact that I worked in Wall Street all my life, when I got out of high school. You couldn’t talk about anything positive like that. Or, the fact that some of us do have college educations.
Kevin Omni: And, some of us do have loving families and [inaudible 00:50:00] that all [inaudible 00:50:02] involved in the balls don’t come from broken homes. My mother and my grandmother was at my first ball. So was my brother and my sister. And, they’ve been to several of my balls. My grandmother passed away at the age of 98 in 1987. But, she came to my first two balls in ’83 and ’84. And, my mother was there and my mother is 88 years old and still living now. And, if she could … Well, she has Alzheimer’s … If I was still giving balls, she would still be coming.
Kevin Omni: I mean, yeah, Richard Ebony went as glam mother who was his caregiver in the end, but was also his … because his mother … I don’t know where his mother was, but his grandmother had custody of him. And, his grandmother [inaudible 00:50:50] Ebony Ball supporting him.
Kevin Omni: So, there are people that have … And, his brothers who [inaudible 00:50:57]. So, we have people that do not fit the Paris is Burning … Oh, they come from broken homes, that’s why they want to join houses. I didn’t come from any broken home to join the house.
Kevin Omni: That’s already a contradiction. And, my family to this day … There’s nothing they … I told my mother I was gay when I was … I told her at the age of 17. I told my youngest sister when I was 14. So, I’ve received nothing but love. I didn’t get thrown out of the house. I didn’t get turned away. My mother even went to [inaudible 00:51:39] with me, which was a famous club in the 80s and the 70s in New York City. My mother went to the Paradise Garage once. And, she didn’t really care to see men kissing then, but she had no comment. It didn’t bother her. She was there because she loved me.
Kevin Omni: My sisters have been to the gay clubs and I’ve gotten a lot of support. I’m very blessed. And, I know not all have that blessing, but whatever I have, I share my family, because I mean, I have an aunt that’s 97 right now, one that’s 93, one that’s 91. And, my mother’s the baby at 88. And, I just lost my uncles Fred and John. One was 92 and one was 95.
Victor Ultra Omni: I’m sorry.
Kevin Omni: And, my grandmother. No, I mean, 92 and 95 for a black man.
Victor Ultra Omni: [inaudible 00:52:40].
Kevin Omni: That’s a miracle. And, my grandmother to be 98 before she passed, and I got a 97 living aunt right now, a 93-year-old and a 91-year-old, and my mother at 88. My oldest sister’s 70 years old. I am more than blessed. I think I [inaudible 00:53:01] for the each and every second of each and every day that I’m blessed by my family, that I have this family. And, the same nurturing I receive from all of them, because my whole family is close, is the same love that I put into the House of Omni’s members.
Kevin Omni: And, that’s what kept us strong and kept us going. And, you know, it’s just a lot of dealing with all that I had to come through, because again, it was a lot of jealousy, a lot of animosity because the kids that were writing checks or doing whatever illegal, whatever they had to do, you know, I guess they felt like I thought I was full of myself, or whatever. But, I was. I was always proud to have the job. [inaudible 00:53:52] executive, I would pull out my high fashion exec, not only would I open my briefcase and pull out my resume, but I would bring my company phone book with my name highlighted in it.
Kevin Omni: When I worked for [inaudible 00:54:07] E.L. Putnam Goldman Sachs, and BLJ Lund, and then all these prestigious firms in New York. And, I worked for Chemical Bank, and I worked for Chase Manhattan Bank.
Kevin Omni: But, what I did at these jobs was I worked in beta communications. I was a trouble shooter for System. So, I had a very prestigious position. And, I got that through just being blessed to get off my behind and push. You know? I mean, I was young, living with my mother, no kids. And, I had about 15 credit cards. You couldn’t tell Kevin on me, he wasn’t the be all to the end all.
Kevin Omni: And, the beauty was that I didn’t have to worry about whether I was gonna be arrested, because I was wearing some high fashion [inaudible 00:54:54].
Victor Ultra Omni: Yeah.
Kevin Omni: And, then when you came with a Louis Vuitton briefcase, you knew you paid for it because they had to go behind the case and open it up with a key. That’s before they started selling knock-offs at Chinese stands. You know? And, I’m gonna tell you back then, I remember the briefcase back in ’83, 1983 when I [inaudible 00:55:22] by $900.
Kevin Omni: So, I would go charge it, and of course, bring it back to the store the next day. But, whatever I did, I did it legally. And, I still could because my name was on my credit card, so my name was worth me. Having carried that attache case. You understand what I’m saying?
Victor Ultra Omni: I do. Yeah.
Kevin Omni: You know, and I used to tell people, I used to say … They would, some of the kids would say, “Oh, you just jealous of me because I have a fur coat on.” And, I would say, “Well, how are you wearing a $35,000 fur coat and your mom’s living in that nasty apartment where you gotta step over urine to get on the first step?”
Kevin Omni: If I had a $35,000 fur coat, I would cash that bad boy in and make sure my sisters’ kids had some [inaudible 00:56:14]. You understand?
Victor Ultra Omni: Yeah.
Kevin Omni: Or, how about this? I can’t [inaudible 00:56:21] because if I’m not jealous of the mannequins in the store windows with the furs on, then why would I be jealous of you? The only different between that dummy and you, you talk and that dummy doesn’t.
Kevin Omni: I’ve always had a little dig for these kids. And then, one time, I won the category “Shopping on Fifth Avenue,” because the person that competed against me went and borrowed a fur coat of the person that was a friend of theirs that was sitting next to them. So, when we got up in front of the judges, I had like four Mastercards … Well, two Mastercards, two Visas. I said, “I wanna buy that coat.
Kevin Omni: And, I [inaudible 00:57:09] go get a cash advance and pay for that coat. Of course, you couldn’t sell it to me, because it wasn’t your coat. Okay. So, it’s just a lot of little things I’ve done and I remember … You know me, always pulling out my American Express, and my Visa, this and that, and my ID when I worked executive.
Kevin Omni: So, there was someone that wanted to compete against me and they came and they pulled out their credit cards, and everything too. I called that my TRW report and said, “How much money can you spend on each card?”
Kevin Omni: I always had a secret weapon. So, that’s Kevin Omni. But now, what other questions do you need to know?
Victor Ultra Omni: Well, thank you so much for all of that. This has been, by far, one of the most helpful interviews by a long shot. I appreciate it. I guess my questions are pretty open ended. I think you touched on some of them, but why don’t I [crosstalk 00:58:08]?
Kevin Omni: If you’re … You know you’re going to have to get a better phone, because this phone is going in and out and it’s like … It just sounds a little distorted.
Victor Ultra Omni: I’m so sorry. You’re not the first person to tell me that, for sure. I guess, is this a little bit better?
Kevin Omni: Yes. A little bit. Okay.
Victor Ultra Omni: So, my question was what best practices of survival can you see happening in the 80s within houses. Like, how did people come together to negotiate survival?
Kevin Omni: Well, I’m gonna tell you something. The one thing that I said earlier, holds true. Survival was … you know, like I didn’t have to … There were certain people that I did not care for at all. But, I didn’t have to kiss their behinds, because I was always standing on my own merit and I could afford to be that way.
Kevin Omni: Hold on one second. Let me just … Okay, could you give me a minute?
Victor Ultra Omni: Yes.
Kevin Omni: Hello?
Victor Ultra Omni: Hi. Yeah.
Kevin Omni: Hold on a minute. Okay?
Victor Ultra Omni: Okay.
Kevin Omni: I didn’t answer your call? What are you talking about? No, I was … I’m doing an interview on [inaudible 00:59:33]. What do you mean, I didn’t answer your call? Oh, recently? Oh. I’m on the phone doing an interview. [inaudible 00:59:59]. No, I’m on the other line doing the interview, but I’m and the house. I’m going to make some [inaudible 01:00:06]. I wish I could have called you earlier and told you to buy some more [inaudible 01:00:12] fish. Yeah, [inaudible 01:00:17] fish. Don’t get smart with me, little boy. Will I see you soon? All right. Talk to you later. Bye.
Kevin Omni: I’m sorry. That was my partner.
Victor Ultra Omni: No worries. No worries at all.
Kevin Omni: I didn’t want to … I didn’t feel like … I got turkey wings, but I’d rather … And, don’t get me wrong, I do them real good in the pressure cooker, but I had something earlier this week. I’m feeling very for some [inaudible 01:00:50] fried fish.
Victor Ultra Omni: [crosstalk 01:00:54]?
Kevin Omni: Yeah. So anyway, what [inaudible 01:00:58]?
Victor Ultra Omni: So, yeah. The question was, what was the best practices of survival. And, you’re talking about how there are people that you didn’t care for, but …
Kevin Omni: Okay, so there was people that I did not care for at all. But, in the 80s, we knew that if we didn’t go support every ball and support each other, the ball would be unsuccessful. So, let’s just say out of … Let’s just say out of nine mothers or fathers, okay, of the houses, back in the 80s, let’s say maybe one, two … Wow. This is fierce.
Kevin Omni: Maybe four people worked. Four mothers or fathers worked, out of 10. [inaudible 01:02:04] and six didn’t. So, you gotta think about they needed every dime that came through that door in order to give away any kind of cash prizes, which back then, we didn’t have many. Maybe one category had a little extra [inaudible 01:02:24] in it, or whatever. But, there was just one glam prize, which worked well because we could afford to possibly give away the amounts of cash that they’ve given away in … nowadays, in the 21st century.
Kevin Omni: And, that comes from the cost of living, because I mean, we went to balls, they were like $12 at the door and $10 in advance. You know what I mean?
Victor Ultra Omni: Yeah.
Kevin Omni: [inaudible 01:02:51] major balls. And, glam prizes started at $150. Now, $150 is a joke. That’s like a regular [inaudible 01:03:00] now, but we had to support one another whether we liked the person, whether we had arguments with that person, whether we literally wanted to fight that person. We had to be there for one another and that’s the big difference, because we needed each other to survive. And, to keep things going.
Kevin Omni: If you boycotted a ball, which something it happened, therefore was a flop, and people just did not get … have the money to do their payout, or whatever. Or, people really made sacrifices. When they went to a trophy store and bought trophies for a ball and paid for a venue. This is like, you’re on pins and needles hoping you’re going to get your money back.
Kevin Omni: And, there’s people that basically don’t have real jobs. And then, you think about it like … My attitude was like, okay. My attitude was like this. When I gave out my [inaudible 01:04:11], in 1983 for my first ball, some people said, “Well, you’re so shady, I don’t think I’m coming.” And, I would tell them … I can’t use that language, but that’s what I would tell them.
Kevin Omni: Because, I didn’t care because I didn’t need them, because I worked for a living. So, I wasn’t counting on their money for my event to be successful. They ought to have been different.
Kevin Omni: So, we had to survive by being very supportive of one another. Much more supportive of each other in the 80s to keep it going and to keep it growing, than they are today. Today you just have to be in a certain clique, and the next thing you know, you’re getting all these accolades that you ain’t even deserve or work for.
Kevin Omni: So, here was one thing that I wanted to say too. There’s even pioneers … Say for example, I gave 21 major balls. I gave 22 mini-balls. I’ve done all these things from creating a burial fund to … I was involved in the first AIDS fundraiser and this, that and the other. I’ve been an activist. I’ve been going and doing screenings around the country with How Do I Look and Question and Answer Doctor, which is more turning into lecture. I’ve done all that.
Kevin Omni: So, how do I stand on stage … This is a good question, next to another pioneer who’s been around, let’s say 30 or 40 years. And, I have 310 or 306 trophies and awards and they have 10. And, I’ve given 21 balls, and they may have given one.
Kevin Omni: Or, basically that’s it. How do you measure that? You know, because some people have sat around like furniture. And then, you’ve got people, then they come to me and they ask me, “Oh, could you [inaudible 01:06:23] me?”
Kevin Omni: But, I don’t remember you doing anything. So, we survived by just being supportive of one another. And, I think before the status started, the balls were so much more interesting, because everybody just put forth their best.
Kevin Omni: And, they didn’t worry about whether they had to compete against [election 01:06:51] or [inaudible 01:06:53] or this, that. They just competed. Some people, they said, “Oh, she bought everything but” … Like, with Avis Pendavis. She bought everything but the kitchen sink.
Kevin Omni: I’d say, “Look over there. They’re gonna get [inaudible 01:07:06]. You know. So, did I answer your question?
Victor Ultra Omni: Yeah. I just wanted … In what way does survival take place in the houses? Like, helping each other survive?
Kevin Omni: Well, again, I can’t speak on everybody because I can only tell you in my opinion, the House of Omni, my members were going to school and they had to go to school. They couldn’t just do nothing. That would be to go to school and they had to have a job.
Kevin Omni: And, they had to have a personality. So, that’s what helped us survive, being a good leader, me being a good leader, and instilling the importance of education 24/7.
Kevin Omni: You know, I was blessed to be … grew up in the Brooklyn’s schools. My elementary school, I was in a class called IGC. In the 4th, 5th and 6th grade. And, that was intellectually gifted children, which basically mean that my math score and my reading score was five grades higher than the grade I was in.
Kevin Omni: Then, in junior high school, it was SP, Special progress. So, I was in 7 SP, 8 SP, 9 SP. And, in high school I went to Clara Barton for health professions. We had honors, English honors, math and honors History. And, I was in all that from [inaudible 01:08:56].
Kevin Omni: And then, I graduated in the top … I was like number 26, or something, out of all these graduates we had. I think it was like a class of 400, or whatever.
Victor Ultra Omni: Wow.
Kevin Omni: So, look. That’s nothing compared to my [inaudible 01:09:16], and my sister. They were like in the top 5%. Okay? But, the bottom line is, being academically inclined, you’re able to … Well, I was able to let my members know that this is what a family … We’re there to help one another even if it’s all something dealing with academics.
Kevin Omni: If I can help, I will do it, whether it was algebra, or whatever. We’ve just been there for one another and then we’ve had our members that had real situations going on and it’s just like any family. Like I said, basically my nurturing to the members of the House of Omni came from my own nurturing. Having all of my uncle in their 90s and my mother’s sisters in their 90s.
Kevin Omni: I had great mentors. You know, my grandmother was mentoring me and when she passed away at 98, I was 30 years old. So, now you figure, I’m 59 this Sunday, and I got my mother … I have had my mother for 59 years. She’s still here.
Kevin Omni: I have my aunt for 59 years, the one that’s 97. I had the one that’s 93 and 91 for 59 years. So, I’ve had a lot of nurturing on what family values are. Because, my mother and her sisters, they’re extremely close. They’re like my … All of them, my second and third mothers.
Kevin Omni: And, I have two sisters. My sister who’s 70 and my sister who’s two years younger than me … Well, she’s going to be … She’s 56. They’re like my second and third mothers too.
Kevin Omni: So, I can do nothing but be proud and honored and blessed, that I take all the nurturing that I received all of my entire life, and give it to my Omni members. And, that’s how we survive.
Victor Ultra Omni: Well, thank you. Yeah. So, I have two more questions. Thank you so much for giving me so much information. I wanted to ask, what role … I know that language has changed so much … It’s even come up in this interview already, but what role do you think that trans women played in the 80s in house and ball culture?
Kevin Omni: Well, there’s a difference. Now, you’re talking about the 80s?
Victor Ultra Omni: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Kevin Omni: You’re trying to [inaudible 01:12:02] the 80s. [crosstalk 01:12:04]. Well, we had like Dorian Cory and Pepepr LaBeija and Avis Pendavis. They were like the pioneers of the ball scene. And then, you have one name, the DuchessLawong who is still alive, who’s been there since … to the ball scene since the early 70s.
Kevin Omni: Now, I’m trying to get … Their role as mother, was [inaudible 01:12:48] because they were good role models. Avis and Dorian and Pepper, they designed and created and they were the ones who … a lot of the firsts.
Kevin Omni: Like, everything now is a watered down version of things they want to [inaudible 01:13:07]. And so, they were the original, they were unique. And, a lot of people looked up to them, and they were loving. That was the main point. They were very loving. They were competitive, but they were more like the people of the 60s and the 70s were.
Kevin Omni: You know, which [inaudible 01:13:38]. You had more family values. You had more of respect. Well, these kids don’t respect the elder generation. Half the time, I get so many nasty kids coming on YouTube, telling me, “Oh, he’s old. He needs to sit down.” And, this, that and the other, et cetera. And, they call me old. And, I’m like, “You know what? You better hope and pray you get to be my age,” because I’ve lost a lot of friends that didn’t make it out of their 20s.
Kevin Omni: I’ve lost a lot of friends that didn’t make it to 30s, 40s and 50s. Please. I can’t begin to say how many people I lost. That didn’t make it to 50. I’ve lost, personally, over 600 friends, ball room and club kids. People that I used to break bread with were friends with, called, talked every day, now. So, I’ve seen a lot in this epidemic.
Kevin Omni: And now, I’m seeing murders and people dying from cancer. Cancer seems to be taking over more than AIDS. You know, so did I answer your question?
Victor Ultra Omni: Oh, yeah. Definitely. I just wanted just view some of your thoughts around the … And then, the next question was, so something that … What my paper is actually called, is it’s called, “Chain and Survival.” So, it’s focusing a lot on how folks were able to … You know, there was a lot … I don’t need to tell you this, but there was a lot happening in the 80s in terms of the police, you know, they’re like cracking down on black and brown communities. You know, bashing from within our own community. People relying on sex work.
Victor Ultra Omni: But, a question I have is, around the AIDS crisis and how by 1990, there was a Latex Ball that, you know, the gay men’s heath crisis was working on. I know a lot of the mothers and fathers were really instrumental in making that project a success, or making the ball happen.
Victor Ultra Omni: So, I just wanted to ask, what ways did you see the health [inaudible 01:15:58]?
Kevin Omni: [crosstalk 01:15:58] you wanted the thoughts and trouble, that’s what you wanna do. Because, now you’re gonna … And, I hope that your recording is nice and clear. And, I’m gonna go with Paris is Burning, I’m gonna go with my opinion.
Kevin Omni: I loved [Arbit 01:16:19] Latex when he thought of the House of Latex. Arbit’s son [Samuel 01:16:25]. I loved him as a person.
Kevin Omni: I’ve been an activist for a very long time and my activist work started because of the Latex Ball. They actually honored me in 1997, [inaudible 01:16:47], ball room.
Kevin Omni: I didn’t know. I went up to [GMHC 01:16:51]. They did it an interview on me and I didn’t know they were honoring me with “legendary” status, even though … yeah. That was 1997. And, I actually had been a legend. Well, they didn’t deem me, they just honored me as a “legend.”
Kevin Omni: So, I did this interview. I had no idea that at that Latex Ball in 1997, which I would love to get the footage, but of course, I can’t get a copy of anything.
Kevin Omni: I came to the ball and when I got to [inaudible 01:17:29] ballroom, people were coming outside. I guess they were coming out to smoke, or whatever. And, they said, “Kevin, we were just watching you.” And, I’m like, “What are you talking about?”
Kevin Omni: They had honored me and I hadn’t even been there yet. I didn’t get there yet. They had a big screen on TV. I mean, a big screen on the stage, and they showed my interview. And, they showed me and David Ultima, David Padilla. And, I was … Like, you know, when I came in, and he heard that I was in the [inaudible 01:18:07] like 3000, 4000 people.
Kevin Omni: See, back when they first started in 1993 with the Latex Ball, number one, it was free. Number two, it had in attendance, close to 4-5000 people.
Kevin Omni: I personally, in my opinion, have no really been a fan of the Latex Ball, ever since they started charging people and serving liquor.
Kevin Omni: Now, let’s put it like this. If you read the policy of GMAC, one of their things in their policy is none of their events … all their events are free, unless they changed the policy. Okay. To get the heat off of them. And, okay. Let me try to speed it up. My attitude is, you are spending close to $25,000 on the Latex Ball. Couldn’t that $25,000 go somewhere else? Couldn’t it go to something like creating a GED program for the kids? Couldn’t it went towards creating job training for the kids?
Kevin Omni: And, how about maybe some vouchers for those who sleep on the peer? And, then the homeless. Instead of paying $25,000 for a ball.
Kevin Omni: Now, not only are you charging the kids against your own policy, you are serving alcohol to compensate on some of the finances. So, if you’re an AIDS organization teaching safe sex, but serving alcohol.
Kevin Omni: I told her, they said. “Well, that’s only because we only serve to those who are old enough to drink.” That doesn’t matter. You want him to drink and drink alcohol and have unprotected sex? Because, that’s what I’m getting from it.
Kevin Omni: Or, why don’t you, since you need money to do that, why don’t you just tell them to come, serve them some cocaine too.
Kevin Omni: So, in my opinion, I think that the money for the Latex Ball could be much better spent, especially within the last … I would say, seven years. Seven years, you’re charging people. Where’s that money going?
Kevin Omni: And then, me and Wolfgang Bush, the Director … I’m the Assistant Director. How do I look? We protested. We went up there and argued with them. We asked them questions. They were supposed to see us like a follow-up meeting. They never would. And anyway, right after we started really carrying on, Dr. Marjorie Hill resigned, because she got fired. Now, she’s making $250,000 a year. The Executive Director of the GMAC, Marjorie Hill, who is an African American woman, who did not even know that … I hate to say it, but let it be said on record. Maybe somebody might want to really crucify me, but I’ve been saying it for years and I haven’t had nobody really come out and debate me. If you go to the GMAC, I would say 70% are Caucasian. And, 20 that work there. And 20 are Hispanic and 10% are black.
Kevin Omni: Go figure. And, why, when my friends who got sick and died just like the ones that died homeless and penniless, no thanks to Jennie Livingston and them receiving $1200 or $2000 at the most from the film.
Kevin Omni: When they needed help, GMAC couldn’t give them any help, so what was the sense in GMAC being there when they HIV and AIDS and they wind up on Social Security/SSI and public welfare.
Kevin Omni: So, my thing is … and GMAC, we need you again for what? Because I’m wondering why more of my friends are dying on welfare and homeless and penniless. But, you got money to spend $25,000 on giving a free ball. And now, you’re charging people for the ball, but you’re not even doing safe sex surveys like they did at the beginning in ’93, ’94, ’95, ’96, ’97. You’re not even doing that any more.
Kevin Omni: And then, you have catagories such as, ie, “Who’s Zooming Who,” where you got guys up there feeling on each other, rubbing on each other. They ain’t nobody pulling out a [inaudible 01:23:27]. Okay, I rest my case.
Victor Ultra Omni: Thank you so much for that. How do you feel … In the 80s, the ball room community reacted to AIDS, and do you feel they reacted to AIDS or worked together …
Kevin Omni: Well, do you know something? Only a few … Okay, there’s two ways we could go on this. 1989 was the first fund raiser for HIV and AIDS, and I was a part of it. It was called the Love Ball. It was given by Susanne Bartsch, a club debutant. And, [inaudible 01:24:15] who was Jackie 16th [inaudible 01:24:20] Street, Chelsea area, who also had a magazine called “Verbal Abuse,” or a book called “Verbal Abuse,” which I was also interviewed in that.
Kevin Omni: I’m trying not to lose my [inaudible 01:24:38]. And so, we did the first fund raiser for HIV and AIDS. And, because it was the Design Industry Foundation for AIDS called DIFA for short, the Design Industry Foundation for AIDS. And, it involved a lot of designers, and it involved all the Fifth Avenue stores.
Kevin Omni: We had B. Altman’s back then, Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord & Taylor’s, Bergdorf Goodman, and then 3rd Avenue store Bloomingdale’s. All of them were a part of this event called the Love Ball Part 1 1989. And, it was May 10th, 1989. How about that? Low glam ball room [inaudible 01:25:28] in New York City.
Kevin Omni: And, between Love Ball 1 and Love Ball 2, was Love Ball 2, was 1991. And, that was Love Ball 2 at [inaudible 01:25:40] land and the same people. We had Madonna, Queen Latifa. We had Carla Fendi, one of the Fendi sisters. We had Bob Mackie, the one that designs Dianna Ross’s gowns. We had Cindy Crawford, the model, Cyndi Lauper, the singer, Pee Wee Herman. We honored Keith Haring. We did a lot.
Kevin Omni: The reason why only certain houses were involved was because you had real designers a part of this. Cartier was a part of it. Tom Ford. You have all these … So, houses that had designer names were not included, because what happened during this time in ’89, was they only wanted houses like [inaudible 01:26:25], Extravaganza, Omni. Names that couldn’t be sued for using a cologne name, or whatever. All right?
Kevin Omni: And so, the ones that did, LeBeija, [inaudible 01:26:43], Omni. You know, Extravaganza. Us who got involved were very helpful to one another. We worked toward … Like, both balls together netted, if I’m not mistaken,1.5 million dollars, or 2.5 million dollars, [inaudible 01:27:06] now, which some of the money went to buying apartment buildings in Harlem for homeless people with HIV and AIDS.
Kevin Omni: And, it was revolved around the ball room community. The Harlem structured balls that they were doing things like … Let me give an example. Lord & Taylor’s came out and five women came out in these extravagant, extravagant gowns, and all of them had a telephone. And, one of the phones would ring, and they would go, “Hello?” You know, if different languages.
Kevin Omni: But they represented a category of “From the Balls” and I forgot whether it was ethnic effect, because … Yeah, I believe it was ethnic effect, because I believe all their … It was Lord & Taylor’s, but all of their gowns were from different places, like Italy, Paris, stuff like that.
Kevin Omni: So, the took a lot of the themes, because the HIV … The ballroom community was the hardest hit with HIV and AIDS, when it first came out. And, it was really, really like we were losing friends left and right. And, that was 1989 when Love Ball 1 and 1991 with Love Ball 2, and the same people Susanne Bartsch and the Design Industry Foundation for AIDS and [inaudible 01:28:31] and Johnny [inaudible 01:28:33] and you know, the Chelsea crew, brought us all together.
Kevin Omni: But, all the houses, even though we competed for catagories at the ball … Like, the first year was “Royal Wedding” and the second year … The extravaganzas won, and the second year, the House of Omni won and we did a futuristic wedding.
Kevin Omni: But that was the theme of the House of Omni anyway. At my first two or three, four balls, grand prize was always futuristic or space age illusion.
Kevin Omni: And, we did pretty good with that futuristic wedding. We also had a designer in the house Brian Omni and Derek Omni who created a mask for this particular event in 1991, for the second Love Ball, where it was sold at auction at [Dianson 01:29:33] Gallery, down in Soho. And, it took us about … I think, $21 to make the mask. And, we were the first mask to be sold at the auction and vows were involved too.
Kevin Omni: Those houses were LeBeija Princess, Christian … That was it that I remember. Oh, Pendavis and … But anyway, long story short. We paid what? $21 to have the mask made and we called it the “Futuristic Warrior” And, it sold for $500.
Kevin Omni: So, from $21, we were there to help the cause of HIV and AIDS. So, then in 1990, Spike Lee did something at a club called the Palladium on 14th Street, which the House of Omni and a few other houses were involved with.
Kevin Omni: So, right when the HIV/AIDS epidemic really was like at it’s peak, and the first time that we were able to have any kind of fund raiser or benefit, I was involved. And so, I can say I worked well with my House of Omni, giving support, the House of Extravaganza, the House of Pendavis, the House of LeBeija.
Kevin Omni: You know, we did pretty good. And, with 4000 people and then you had tables at these events that were $500 per seat. Like, if they … I forgot whether they called them “diamond” tables, “silver,” whatever, “bronze.” Whatever. But, we raised a total of 1.5 million for both Love Ball 1 and 2.
Kevin Omni: I don’t [inaudible 01:31:25] what we raised for the fund raiser, which by [inaudible 01:31:32] was called the “Grandest Grand March Ever.”
Kevin Omni: I’m just trying to think. You know, because I started losing friends as early as the first person I saw was 1981. It was only one person in the ball community that … You know, back then you couldn’t tell whether … because people were emaciated because there was only one drug, which was AVP.
Kevin Omni: And, AVP was too toxic. It killed good cells as well as bad cells. And, most people that got HIV and AIDS in the 80s were destined to die. They didn’t need a cocktail until the 90s. Then, of course now they have really good drugs, but still there are side effects and things of that nature.
Kevin Omni: Like I said, I’ve lost over 600 people that were my friends. And, I remember when it was only a thing in New York. And then, I started knowing people that were dying in Chicago and dying here and dying … You know, it’s just been never-ending.
Kevin Omni: And now, lately within the gay community, or let me say the ball community, is cancer. Cancer’s taking out a lot of their children. And, between cancer and transgender murders … And, that goes for male to female, female to male.
Kevin Omni: It’s very, very devastating. And then, when I look at me every day, it’s my birthday. And, technically, turning 59, you know what? I never, ever thought I would live to see 59. You know, because I was so scared of looking at everybody else.
Kevin Omni: So, I know that the Lord has me here for a reason. And, this is why I’ve done those fund raisers and I’ve always been involved. And now, even like I said, created a burial fund for the ball room community. I’m hoping that will be my legacy when I’m no longer here and I’m hoping that someone … because even the agencies … You can’t go to no agency and get any burial help.
Victor Ultra Omni: That’s true.
Kevin Omni: And then, these kids. Listen. I have video tape of me reading to children, seriously, over the microphone. And, I tell them that I’m so glad that, heaven forbid, knock on wood, when I pass away, my plot is already paid for, I have my insurance, I know where I’m going to be buried. And, my family will not have to ask none of you so and so and so and so for a so and so dying. Okay.
Kevin Omni: And, not even the House of Omni. You know, because you need to learn how to take care of business while you’re here. You don’t have forever. And, these little things that’s not important to you, they become a problem. You know how many fund raisers I had to do for people that died with no insurance? Sad.
Kevin Omni: And then, it became a thing where it’s not my responsibility. But because, of the “humanitarian” in me … And, by the way, the GMAC with all my fighting against them, gave me an award called “The John Harington Humanitarian Award.” It was like them petting me on the head, like could you shut up and leave us alone.
Kevin Omni: Basically, that’s how I look at it. And, I was like, “Thank you for the award, but I’m not shutting up.”
Kevin Omni: I’ve always had to be an activist. I’ve always had to fight. I’ve always had to deal with a lot of people that really need love and guidance. I find that some of the problems early on with illiteracy, and the fact that people just didn’t have skills or work. And, I feel like these agencies, like I said, rather than giving a Latex Ball and giving a free ball, or a ball that you even charge in, which is not helping the community as far as I’m concerned. And, the same [inaudible 01:36:11], now we have to have [inaudible 01:36:12] Ball.
Kevin Omni: So, [inaudible 01:36:13] balls, from agencies that step in and just help us, like the Heritage Ball is free because it’s black pride, but I’m like, where are all the programs that really, really help people? It must be unheard of that these children out here, or these kids … You know, the drug problem is bad. They need therapy. They need mental therapy. They need counseling. They need drug prevention. They need a lot of things, other than a ball.
Kevin Omni: All the kids wanna do now, is vogue and dip. And, there’s more to life than that. What happens when you turn around and you can no longer mooch off of this friend or that friend, and you need to stand on your own and learn how to pay a rent or pay a bill, like a light bill, or even buy some food.
Kevin Omni: And, you’d be surprised how many people in their just roaming aimlessly around the streets in the village, sleeping in side streets, sleeping in doorways, and everything else.
Kevin Omni: But, we tend to overlook that and ignored that. You know, it’s society. Maybe it biblical. I don’t want to get into that, but I’m looking at everything as being a mess now.
Kevin Omni: But, back in the 80s, one thing I can say … Like I said, we needed each other in order to make the balls stay alive and to keep them growing. And, we did the best we could and we did a good job, because like it’s more wide now. And now, so many people that, like I said, want to take credit for having done nothing.
Kevin Omni: You just have to know the right questions to ask people. Well, how many balls have you given? Or, how many trophies have you had? Can you even name your trophy? You know what I mean?
Kevin Omni: Yeah, so. And, when it comes to that word you mentioned, “shade.” The definition of shade to me, in my opinion, is the word means the truth. That’s what shade is. Shade is the truth. Well, that’s how I throw shade, with the [inaudible 01:38:42]. I don’t need to sit up here and tell somebody … How can I put it? You look fierce. Well, if I’m saying you look fierce and you find that to be an insult, why don’t you look in the mirror? That mascara you got on is all wrong. That lipstick color doesn’t work. Do you look fierce? I’m throwing shade, but I’m telling the truth.
Kevin Omni: You know? Or, I don’t understand what you just said. That makes no sense. You didn’t even put a semi-colon in there. Now, I’m gonna give you this and this is one of my … It’s on YouTube. But, this is my read. I wrote reading when I read you, I’ll put you in the center, and if I want to move you around and change you backwards into objects of form, and leave you as a question. Or, do I want parenthesis around you and move you out of the sentence, or move you down to the bottom of the page and explain you in a footnote?
Kevin Omni: When you back to the sentence, whence you, in italicized words, or end you with a period. That’s reading. College is knowledge. So, I just … And, of course, it’s on YouTube, and all the children, they love the play. “You know, Kevin Omni, when I read you,” that’s right.
Kevin Omni: I even had to tell the people, a lot of them were, “You best be glad I didn’t call you a dangling [inaudible 01:40:24].” Okay?
Kevin Omni: But, you can relay the pronouns, or whatever it is you chose it to be.[inaudible 01:40:33] always I’ve been an educator and I’m also a historian, and now I’m satisfied with what I did and what I could do. But unfortunately, I had health issues come about. I had a heart attack in 2014 and I have congestive heart failure [inaudible 01:40:56] and I have an implant defibrillator in my chest.
Kevin Omni: So, my reality is what it is. I [inaudible 01:41:05] day like it’s [inaudible 01:41:08], but all the [inaudible 01:41:08] that come up because of it, and there are many, but I had to do a 360 degree change with no salt and learn how to flavor my food a different way. I don’t eat red meat as much as I used to, because you couldn’t take me away from a pork chop or ribs. But, I don’t eat any of that. I don’t even eat Chinese food. I haven’t had Chinese food in about two years. You know, just stopped.
Kevin Omni: So, I eat healthy. Like I said, turkey wings. The only thing I don’t eat as often, but … and it’s not good for you, but I don’t eat it that often, so I can have it, is like my fried [inaudible 01:41:46]. You know, with some fried pork or something. And then, once a year, because I have cholesterol issues, as much as I love shrimp, I stay away from it until my birthday. So, this Sunday, we have [inaudible 01:42:04] having lobster, dungeness crab, shrimp scallops, mussels. I got all out on my birthday for seafood.
Victor Ultra Omni: I’m happy your birthday’s coming up. That’s awesome.
Kevin Omni: Yeah. So, that’s that. Now, is there anything else you need, or did I answer that what you asked fully?
Victor Ultra Omni: No. I mean, I think you’ve given me so much. I just thank you. You know, just ask someone in the [inaudible 01:42:31], so much to you and the other pioneers, but I really appreciate your time and you being willing to talk to me. And, if you want to …
Kevin Omni: If you have any other questions, you can always call me. If I don’t answer, you know what? It’s not … Text me. It’s better.
Victor Ultra Omni: Okay.
Kevin Omni: Text me is better. You can always text me, tell me to give you a call, or what have you. And, I guess when I saw the 781 number, if I saw it, it’s like, I’m not used to a 781. I’ve never been to Massachusetts. I’ve never been to Boston.
Victor Ultra Omni: Okay.
Kevin Omni: Yeah. I’ve never been there. I mean, I was asked to come there one time and judge, but I don’t think they really cared for my opinion, or attitude, because I told them that in order for you to get Kevin Omni at your ball, of two jobs you will have to pay me, because I’ve judged like 70 balls. I judged the balls when I saw the original. I’ve seen the copy cat. I’ve seen those that passed away, and the new children that come and do it. And, the children after them that passed away come and do it. You know, you can’t get me to sit on no board with no panel now with all of this. You know, I could … Let me tell you something. The last 10 balls that I’ve judged, I told them I was going to the bathroom …
Victor Ultra Omni: Oh, no.
Kevin Omni: And, I went right on out the door, because it’s no longer exciting to me in that manner. I love the children for the energy that they have, and what have you, but it’s just not the same. It’s not the same. The balls of yesteryear will be just that. They’ll be a memory.
Kevin Omni: But, the balls of today are so political and so rubbing elbows until it’s just sickening. And, everybody’s so worried about being a legend, or an icon, they’ve taken all the fun out of it. It’s like there just was a time where people just wanted to come and turn it on the floor and [inaudible 01:44:32].
Kevin Omni: But now, we’ve got people that just … I don’t know. I just don’t know. What time is it anyway?
Victor Ultra Omni: Well, it is about 7:00 where you are.
Kevin Omni: [inaudible 01:44:57] It’s 7:00?
Victor Ultra Omni: It’s about 6:47.
Kevin Omni: I wonder why my friend just called me at that later time, from … He was … Well anyway, you know, I have to stay on top of him too.
Kevin Omni: But anyway, like I said, you can always call me and … You know what? I forgot what your name is.
Victor Ultra Omni: Oh, yeah. My name is [inaudible 01:45:23].
Kevin Omni: [inaudible 01:45:28]?
Victor Ultra Omni: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Kevin Omni: Victor? I’m gonna write that down so I can put your number in.
Victor Ultra Omni: Thank you so much.
Kevin Omni: No problem. So, like I said, if you have any more questions … And, don’t feel like you can’t call me. Call me.
Victor Ultra Omni: All right. Thank you so much. All right. I appreciate it. Have a great day, and if I don’t talk to you before then, enjoy your first day.
Kevin Omni: Thank you and I’m so lucky [crosstalk 01:45:50].