U.S.: Celebrating Black Love Gentleman’s Ball Style

Married couple Gee Smalls and Juan Session host the Gentleman’s Ball, Atlanta’s black-tie event celebrating the black LGBTQ community.

by Christopher A. Daniel

Black love and relationships have been strictly heterosexual in society and pop culture. With the Patrik-Ian Polk-developed Logo dramedy Noah’s Arc, Grammy Award-nominated singer/songwriter Frank Ocean proclaiming same sex first love on Tumblr and the Kappa wedding in Kentucky going viral on YouTube, black male homosexuality is witnessing more visibility and a cultural makeover in recent years.

Then, there is Gee Smalls, a biracial Atlanta-based entrepreneur, who along with his husband of three years, Juan Session, owns and operates an event production agency, G.SPOT Productions. The freckle-faced, 35-year-old event planner with a precocious smile quickly addresses that marriage was fate. “Marriage chose us. We never put a whole lot of thought into it,” Smalls says.

The child of a white mother and black father in Charleston, SC, Smalls says he never really fit into society. At 22, he married his high school sweetheart. The two share an 11-year-old son. After six years, the marriage dissolved, but Smalls and his ex-wife remain great friends. Smalls came out to his son when he was six and remains very close to him. “I have a very good relationship with my son and his mother,” Smalls says. “I never considered it, but my ethnic struggles made it easier to come out.”

Smalls acknowledges that successful relationships are based on vulnerability and being open. The couple’s joint venture came as a result of Session, a former program producer, being laid off. Smalls, then a project manager for Philips, kept his corporate gig as his husband laid the foundation for their business. The couple also hosts an advice column, Love Works with Juan & Gee. “I’ve always been fascinated with event production,” Smalls says. “In school, I was always the life of the party. With us, we just realize that each of us are human. We don’t try to take anything personal.”

Gentleman’s Ball — the byproduct of Smalls’ and Session’s union — is a lavish production that affords Atlanta’s African American LGBTQ community the opportunity to attend a full service black tie affair. The prom-styled event breaks the monotony of campy nightclubs, PRIDE-centric events and awards ceremonies catering to the gay community. Gentleman’s Ball also raises funds and awareness for AID Atlanta’s Evolution Project, a community and fellowship safe haven for black gay and bisexual males ages 18 to 28. The space provides counseling, therapy, medical screenings and fun activities.

“I’m a philanthropist by nature,” Smalls says. “I want to help change the face of the black gay community. It’s all about having a passion for community service and uplifting people.”

Hosting its second annual event on January 26, Smalls says Gentleman’s Ball – entirely self-funded the first year — was successful in part to word of mouth. Elaborating on how expensive and time consuming an event of its caliber can be, he goes on to say the goals were to break even and to create a buzz for recurring years. “[Gentleman’s Ball] gives us the chance to get dressed, seated and celebrated with full service,” Smalls says. “Black gay men wear such shame. We are proud of who we are. When you walk away, I want you to be wowed, take away a sense of pride and feel a sense of energy in the room. Just be proud.”

Christopher A. Daniel is a pop cultural critic and music editor for The Burton Wire. He is also a contributing writer for Urban Lux Magazine and Blues & Soul Magazine. Follow Christopher @Journalistorian on Twitter.

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