The Dishman Art Museum will be filled with candlelight, smooth jazz and decadently-dressed partygoers for the Beaumont Pride 2015 Coming Out Ball, April 18.
Fourteen LGBTQIA debutantes will be presented.
The ball is a chance for Golden Triangle residents and visitors to get dressed up and enjoy local cuisine and an open bar, and the musical stylings of the Blue Tones Jazz Quartet, Jenny Carson, and DJ collective, Son of Hot Damn.
The event begins at 7:30 p.m., and money raised will fund the second annual Pride Festival, scheduled for June 13.
“I am really excited,” Christi Alli, a local restaurant manager, said, adding that she bought her and her husband’s tickets and an outfit as soon as the tickets went on sale.
“I can’t wait to see what the debs are wearing,” she said. “It is going to be a night of fun — music, dancing, fun.”
Tickets are $50 and may be purchesed at www.beau mont-pride.org.
“Beaumont is extremely supportive of its LGBTQIA community,” Chance Henson, Pride marketing and public relations chair, said. “So we expect to sell all 200 tickets rather quickly.”
People in the community recognize that it is incredibly difficult for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex and Asexual people to come out of the closet, Henson said.
“It takes a huge amount of courage,” he said. “Often, we are met with extreme prejudice and rejection from our friends and families. I think Southeast Texas is on board with giving these debutantes the coming out experience that all queer people deserve — patrons will be supporting the annual Pride celebration in the process.”
Debutante Jacob Wills agrees.
The Nederland native said he had an “interesting” coming out in high school.
“My last year in high school, my grandparents found a note in my room from my then boyfriend,” Wills said. “So I was actually forced out to my family.”
Wills said he wasn’t ready to have the conversation.
“I was totally caught off guard — it wasn’t the most pleasant experience,” he said. “I think that in coming out, you want it to be on your terms and when you are ready — and that was not the case.”
Wills said he thinks the community is supportive, which hasn’t always been the case.
“There have been instances where my partner and I have had food thrown at us,” he said. “We have had vulgar things screamed across the parking lot at us and we weren’t even holding hands or standing close to one another — so I am excited to see Beaumont do something that is so affirming and welcoming.”
Wills said the community as a whole is moving in the right direction.
“I feel like there hasn’t always been a community that has supported each other and I think we are getting to that place,” Wills said. “Supporting each other is the only way we can achieve the goals that we all collectively have.”
Alli said that although her brother is gay, her husband doesn’t have any family who identifies as queer. The couple say they want to support the community as a whole.
“You don’t have to be a part of the LGBTQIA community to support it,” Alli said.
Debutante balls are not a new idea. They are a tradition that dates back centuries.
They originated in the 16th century, as Queen Elizabeth I began presenting the ladies of the court. Until this time, girls were usually hidden from the public until the age of 18. Queen Victoria followed suit and added a formal presentation of the young women adding the traditional wearing of a white gown and the official bow called a “curtsey.”
According to Jennifer Edson Escalas’ 1993 article, “The Consumption of Insignificant Rituals: a Look At Debutante Balls”, the debs’ presentation to society meant that they were formally allowed to begin courtship.
This tradition continued after England settled North America. It fell out of fashion in the mid-20th Century, but returned in the 1980s.
Helen Peiler, a 25-year-old debutante from Beaumont who identifies as asexual, participated in the Neches River Festival when she was in high school.
She said all the debs in the Neches River Festival had to wear white, making it difficult to distinguish one girl from the next.
Peiler agreed to participate in the NRF with a friend and thought, “Oh, this will be fun — we can be princesses in high school.”
Her friend dropped out and Peiler had to participate alone; restrictions included her choice in escort, which had to be a boy in her grade and from her school.
“The only person I knew who fit into that category ended up being a friend’s boyfriend, and that led to a little bit of trouble,” she said. “Even though we were friends, we just didn’t know how to talk to each other without other people around.”
Peiler said the Coming Out Ball gives her a chance to make the debutante experience more personal — including the freedom to choose her escort.
“I have asked my best friend, Julianna Babington, to be my escort,” Peiler said. “We have been friends since I was 13 and she was 12 — we met at a Bible camp.”
The color scheme for the ball reflects the rainbow flag traditionally associated with queer causes.
“We get to pick whichever color we like and fits in,” Peiler said. “So we get to add a little bit more personality in this one.”
The term “coming out” originated from the queer debutante balls of the early 20th Century.
In the 1994 book, “Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World,” historian George Chauncey writes, “Gay people in the prewar years did not speak of coming out of what we now call the ‘gay closet’ but rather of coming out into what they called ‘homosexual society’ or the ‘gay world,’ a world neither so small, nor so isolated, nor, often, so hidden as ‘closet’ implies.
“Like much of campy gay terminology, ‘coming out’ was an arch play on the language of women’s culture — in this case the expression used to refer to the ritual of a debutante’s being formally introduced to, or ‘coming out’ into the society of her cultural peers.”
According to Chauncey, gay male culture was integrated into straight society and it wasn’t until after prohibition that new social norms restructured gay culture.
“To use the modern idiom,” he writes, “the state built a closet in the 1930s and forced gay people to hide in it.”
Peiler said even though she came out as asexual in high school, and in the past few years made it “Facebook official,” some people still ask when she is going to get a boyfriend.
“Some just aren’t on Facebook, so they didn’t get that memo,” she said. “I have told (some friends and family) but they just sort of blew it off. And then I tried to give them material to read and they blew that off, too.
“With the ball, and with other members of the family supporting me, I think it is finally starting to click that this is real.”
Besides being a life-affirming celebration for debs, and an opportunity to mingle with a varied social circle, the ball is an important fundraiser for Pride, the area’s biggest queer event.
“Approximately 3,000 people attended last year’s festival, and we are expecting thousands more in 2015,” Henson said. “It is typical for Pride events to nearly double in size each year, and events like that cost money.”
Beaumont Pride is a nonprofit organization.
“We rely on sponsorship, donations and fundraising to put on events like Pride that educate the public and make our community a safer place,” Henson said. “It is wonderful that it is growing and we can do things like this formal event.”
For more information, visit the website or email BeaumontPride@gmail.com.
The Dishman Art Museum is located at 1030 E. Lavaca St. on the Lamar University campus.