Self-proclaimed “butchest of all queens,” dancer and performer Savion Ashford, a.k.a. Savion Garcon of the House of Garcon, shined on HBO Max’s Legendary. In 2020, Ashford made it onto the second season of the ballroom competition show along with his fellow house members. The team ended up the underdogs of the season, making it to the semi-finals. Ashford made news again the following year when he spoke out about living with HIV, exactly 14 years after first being diagnosed. Ashford, a barber and makeup artist in Atlanta, said on Twitter that he’s “living happily and healthy with HIV,” and recently spoke to Plus about his announcement, the ball scene, and what’s next.
Tell us about why you wanted to come out about your status now.
After 14 years of living with HIV and taking the time to unlearn what society had taught me and ridding myself of the toxic hysteria that surrounds not just being diagnosed, but labeled with having this virus, I felt it was time I shared my journey with others like me. I’ve come across so many people along my journey I felt I could’ve been of better value to and hope to be now. But ultimately, I needed to do it because I owed myself this amount of courage and transparency for what I hope to accomplish, not just in my lifetime but as a legacy I someday hope to leave behind.
What reaction did you receive after talking about living with HIV?
Before making my status public, I told a friend I thought it was time and he expressed how much it would help others, but I didn’t understand just how much [it would]. Once “it” was out, I received an overwhelming amount of positive support and love extending from family and friends as well as complete strangers. From people that were newly diagnosed and needed direction to receive care to people who’d been affected much longer than I have. However, I didn’t know how much any of it meant to me until my mom called, and before saying hello, said “Savion, my child, I am proud of you and happy for you.”
You're from North Carolina and now live in Atlanta. Why do you think the South suffers from disproportionately high HIV numbers?
Being a North Carolinian, I’ve been able to see firsthand how damaged our communities are due to miseducation and the lack of re-educating! There are far too many false narratives still being taught and, in large part, the blame is lack of resources in rural areas that are hit much harder than more populated areas. We can also closely examine the culture in the rural conservative South that still doesn’t stand behind our LGBTQIA+ community in the capacity necessary to end youth homelessness, bullying, and suicides in our subculture. Even to people I closely know and even some I call family, it would’ve been better for me to become a convicted felon than to live publicly as a Black gay man with HIV.
What is the relationship between the ballroom scene and HIV?
Ballroom was built on the oppressive nature of society. Many nonprofit organizations and support systems actually center and exist around [and] in ballroom. They exist due to the need of erasing the stigma that surrounds ballroom, sex work, health, mental health, and economic status, and many of those organizations offer help, care, and guidance. Where no one accepts us in society — or due to the hardships of what we call life — we are made into stars, statements, legends, and icons in ballroom. If it had not been for ballroom, I would’ve never gained the courage to get to this point in my life.
What was it like competing on a TV show like Legendary?
I hate to sound cliché but being on TV and filming season 2 of Legendary changed my life.It was important for me to show the world what a butch queen is and to represent ballroom and my talent in a way that would make my community proud. I’ve never been pushed physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually to a place of awakening to what I am capable of achieving — and for that I’m grateful! Being around so many beautiful and talented people from my community motivated me to live and thrive in transparency without fear of rejection or acceptance. Two of my favorite people, Nicco Annan and Taraji P. Henson, were guest judges on the show and their messages were nearly identical in expressing, “You are enough.”
What’s next for you? I’m still figuring out what’s next, but I do know I hope to work with various nonprofit organizations to educate, advocate, and represent the LGBTQIA+ population and, through doing so, save lives as mine was.