The Cotillion Ball is a time honored Southern tradition of presenting young women to the upper crust of society, but a group of gay men continue to turn tradition on its ear by becoming “debutantes” themselves to raise funds to fight HIV and AIDS.
Over the past decade, the Atlanta Cotillion has raised more than $750,000 for AID Atlanta by playfully mocking tradition. Men dressed as women — but this is too formal an event to call it drag — compete for the title of Queen by raising funds.
Even though this is a rough financial year, Cotillion chairperson Darrell Burke hopes to raise $125,000, one of the larger amounts ever donated by a Cotillion.
“We’ve always hovered between a $100,000 and a $128,000, so $125,000 is up there, but wouldn’t be our record,” Burke said. “We’re also looking to surpass the 400 guest mark. We traditionally have been between 360 and 380 and we think we can realistically meet or exceed 400.”
While the event will again take place at The Foundry at Puritan Mill, there will be a number of changes to this year’s format. Bert Weiss from the Bert Show on Q100 will be co-host of the event with a series of presenters, including Randy Roberts, Bubba D. Licious and Jeffery Powell.
“We are going to be doing things different in terms of the ball itself,” Burke said. “The cocktail hour has traditionally just been a cocktail hour, but this year we will be having live music; we will have a gown walk where anyone whose is wearing a gown can have the catwalk and have their name read like a real debutante.”
Part of the Cotillion’s unique flavor is that it encourages the attendees to not only wear formal wear, but consider cross-dressing as well. The dress code is formal and has different prices for different dresses. A “Gown Seat” will cost $75 this year while a “Tuxedo Seat” will run $150. Heavy hors d’oeuvres will be offered during the event and Svedka Vodka is sponsoring an open bar.
In order to boost their fundraising efforts Burke said there will be “challenge donations” during the event.
“We’ve never really accepted donations during the ball, in part because we never thought of it, but we never had the technology either,” he said.
This year the Cotillion will utilize a smart phone with a credit card swipe application to take instant donations. For example, Burke said he might make a donation, and after recording it have their announcer, affectionately nicknamed “The Voice of God,” announce, “Darrell Burke has donated $20 and challenges his friends to match him.”
All the funds raised go to AID Atlanta’s general fund. AID Atlanta has a $6.5 million budget to help support those living with HIV and AIDS as well as provide free, anonymous HIV testing. Well over $5 million of the agency’s budget comes from government grants to provide specific services. While the grants cover the cost of the programs, they often don’t include funds for essential needs.
“(We donate) unrestricted funds, and that becomes very important to an organization like AID Atlanta that is funded by government grants, and those grants have certain stipulations that they have to maintain,” Burke said. “But those grants don’t include money for things like electricity.”
The Cotillion is the second largest contributor of unrestricted funds to AID Atlanta, following only the AIDS Walk in total money donated.
This year’s debutantes are John Ford (Chardonnay Chenine d’Asti), Tim Hobby (Lotta Pusse’), JD Kellum (Jacqueline D’Bouvier VonSeco), Jesse Rhodes (Gabriella Sofia “Sophie” Isabel), Ric Sosa (Sofia Santana “Gigi” de la Gorgonzola-Gonzalez) and John Weathers (McCray Iona “Mona” Fitzjohn).
Top photo: Last year’s Cotillion Queen was Ava Von Seco (Joshua Bettis), who raised the most funds for AID Atlanta. (by Rence Corcoran / RNZ Photography)