Founded in 1997, Atlanta Cotillion has raised more than $650,000 for AID Atlanta, says Bryon Brown, Cotillion co-chair, known at the event as debutante Lauren Elizabeth “Bess” Eatenton. Last year’s event raised $115,000, with only $36,000 in expenses.
“Since becoming a debutante in 2005, and also working on the AIDS Walk staff for two years, I’ve learned so much more about the work AID Atlanta does and about this horrible epidemic — where we’ve come from and how far we still have to go,” Brown says. “The last few years, I have realized that basic awareness has become just as important as fundraising and that we need to educate, educate and educate. The younger generation just doesn’t seem to get it.”
Debutantes do their own fundraising throughout the summer by hosting events and seeking donations. The debutante season culminates with the Cotillion Ball, a Sept. 18 gala at the Foundry at Puritan Mill during where the deb who raised the most money will be crowned Cotillion queen.
“I think our model is different than any other fundraiser,” Brown says. “Having the individual debutantes that host and produce the individual fundraisers throughout the season bring something new and different each and every year.”
Those, male or female, who want to wear tuxedoes pay $150 to attend, while those joining in female attire pay $75 for their tickets. Not to be confused with your ordinary drag show, the ball requires those who choose to attend in “formal female attire” to take their dress code seriously — no campy beards and make-up allowed.
We surveyed this year’s six debutantes with a variety of questions, some serious, some fun, befitting the tone of the Cotillion Ball. Here are some of their best answers.
Real name: Sam Peng Age: 30 Occupation: Management
What made you want to be a debutante? The fact that it’s for a good cause and how it has the ability to change people’s lives.
Forget boxers or briefs. Corsets or petticoats, and why? Well, I thought being a man was hard enough, but, wow, being a woman is 10 times tougher than that. I couldn’t believe the amount of work that goes into the transformation from man to woman. Wearing those tight panties and breathless corsets really gave me a brand new look about women is general in that I have a huge profound respect for them. Thank you, girls!
If there was a reality show made of your life, what would it be called? “Lotus Blossom: A Black Woman in a Gay Asian Man’s Body”
Why is it important for debutantes like yourself to help in the fight against HIV? HIV is extremely misunderstood. It’s like what Blanche told Rose, “AIDS is not a bad person’s disease, Rose!” There are millions of ways to educate people about fighting against HIV such as being responsible. But, to me, the most important thing about HIV is that people need to be not afraid of others who have HIV.
Elena Isabella Zubia Ward
Real name: Julio Leyva Age: 26 Occupation: Part-time Student at Kennesaw State. Work: Front Desk at Helmet Hairworx and Gravity Fitness
How did you choose your debutante name? Elena is my mother’s middle name, who is the most influential person in my life. Isabella is the name of one of my aunts, whose best friend Sergio passed away from AIDS. Her love for her best friend and her support in my coming out process has influenced me and my relationship with my family. Zubia is a family name that links my heritage to my Latin American descent and just fit well. Ward is the last name of my partner’s best friend who passed away from AIDS.
What is your next upcoming fundraiser? On June 6, I’m planning a Sunday Afternoon Tea Party sponsored by Pure Romance by Sunny. … This will be my kick-off fundraiser with many more on the way.
As a debutante, what do you think is the most important lesson for proper young ladies to learn? Always cross your legs. You never know what’ll try and get in there.
Why is it important for debutantes like yourself to help in the fight against HIV? I believe that it is imperative to create awareness in the community about all the wonderful benefits that AID Atlanta provides and how every little bit of help makes a huge difference in the lives of so many. I’m only a small piece in the overall puzzle.
Real name: Joshua Bettis Age: 27
What made you want to be a debutante? Too many people in the community and my life have been affected by HIV/AIDS, I wanted to give back in a fun way.
What is your next upcoming? June 27: Pool party at Daddy Bud’s (my grandmother in the Atlanta Cotillion family)
As a debutante, what do you think is the most important lesson for proper young ladies to learn? Always chew with your mouth closed and don’t forget to tape!
Forget boxers or briefs. Corsets or petticoats, and why? Corsets, of course! Petticoats are just too hot in the summer heat and who doesn’t like to look a little thinner!
Why is it important for debutantes like yourself to help in the fight against HIV? It’s still an issue that affects everyone and new infections are on the rise. The presentation of a young lady is a very public event and I intend to use this season to bring awareness to the cause while raising money to help those living with, affected by or at-risk for HIV/AIDS.
Brandy Abigail “Nuts” Von Nutterhorne
Real name: Nathan Atkins Age: 33 Occupation: Student
How did you choose your debutante name? I cannot drink, but if I could, I would like to try Brandy. Abigail is a classic Southern name. VonNutterhorne sounds unique, exemplifies my creativity, and allows friends and others to call me “nuts.”
What made you want to be a debutante? My close friend, Ryan Vila, suggested it to me in a pizza parlor. I said I would think about it. I wrote down the question of whether or not I wanted to do it right before I went to bed a week later. After a fairly convincing dream I signed up.
Forget boxers or briefs. Corsets or petticoats, and why? Corsets. I think they make a woman simply delicious. From experience they are fun to undo. They are fun to help others put on.
Why is it important for debutantes like yourself to help in the fight against HIV? It is a situation that frankly does not receive the press it should. It certainly does not receive the funding it should. If I can help in a minuscule way then I have helped. I believe in it strongly enough to have left my comfort zone way, way, way behind me.
Caterina Modica Davenport
Real name: Maximillian Corwell Age: 21 Occupation: Entrepreneur
What made you want to be a debutante? The chance to bring HIV awareness to youth aged 13-24, who have the highest new infection rate.
What is your most successful fundraiser to date? My Virginia Highlands dine-out, in which hundreds came out to eat, drink, and save lives.
What is your next upcoming fundraiser? There are so many! The next official one is June 26, and it’s a luau! We have many more in the works.
Why is it important for debutantes like yourself to help in the fight against HIV? The community has suffered unimaginable amounts of damage at the hands of this disease. If I can bring awareness to a few things, it would be that first, youth (13-24) are not immune to HIV, and that second, this isn’t just a “gay” disease. People need to know the facts, and if they can’t speak about HIV without being knowledgeable, then they aren’t ready for sex.
Jessica Lynn Palmer
Real name: Mathew Palmer Age: 30 Occupation: Flight Attendant, Delta Air Lines
How did you choose your debutante name? I was always enamored by Jessica Rabbit. My mother always thought it was hilarious that I’d walk down the hall, pretending to be in high heels and switching like Jessica. Of course, my stepfather was a bigot (and still is) and would absolutely writhe in contempt.
What made you want to be a debutante? It truly isn’t about the dress but why you wear it. I’ve never done drag, even at Halloween. It’s a different feeling for certain, one even my sister, the first person I “came out” to questions, yet a decision I feel certain can make a difference.
Why is it important for debutantes like yourself to help in the fight against HIV? Until recently, I thought I knew no one who was HIV-positive. In the last couple of weeks several friends have found the courage to confide in me their status. It is for them and those who’ll face that same reality that I fight against HIV. Further, it is also important that we take self-control over our actions of promiscuity, unsafe sex and drug and alcohol abuse to curtail this disease. Again, it’s preventable. As gay men, we’ve received the message over-and-over. It is up to us to heed it and spread the word.
Top photo: Michael Lammons, a.k.a. Lady Michel’le VonSeco, was crowned 2009 Cotillion queen after raising $18,000 for AID Atlanta. He is crowned by Jeffrey Hopper, a.k.a. Jacqueline-Jayne Dior Daniels, 2008 queen. (courtesy AID Atlanta)