Atlanta’s Gentlemen’s Ball is part of long-term vision for black gay love

Few couples have advocated for black gay love as fiercely as Juan and Gee Session-Smalls, the married Atlanta pair who run the blog LoveWorks. While encouraging black gay men to embark on modern love, Juan and Gee also hope to deliver past romantic milestones that many black gay men were denied.

“Chances are, a lot of us didn’t go to prom with who we really wanted to go with back then, so we wanted to do a second-chance prom,” Gee Session-Smalls says, describing how the couple came up with the idea of the Gentlemen’s Ball three years ago.

This year’s Gentlemen’s Ball takes place Dec. 7 at the Marriott Marquis in downtown Atlanta, and the black-tie affair adds a more grown-up and sexy feature to the usual social offerings.

“I think it’s amazing how every time we go out, or sometimes people will send us text messages saying, ‘I’m getting my suit together!'” says Juan Session-Smalls. “I feel like getting dressed up in your tuxedo, and having 300, 400, 500 people in the room creates such an awesome energy. The energy at the ball is like no other event I’ve been to.”

Gentlemen's Ball“In that aspect, it’s just like prom with how excited people are about their outfits,” Gee adds.

However, in many ways, the event itself has matured beyond being a chance to attain what was missed in high school.

“I would no longer call it a prom, but rather a gala, a celebration of the true gentleman, which we believe is someone who stands proud in their truth, they’re confident in themselves and they’re giving to their community,” Gee says. “We highlight a lot of those in our community who are making strides and helping to change the face of what mainstream society, and sometimes even within our own community, of what a minority LGBT person looks like.”

The evening starts with a red-carpet arrival and cocktail reception, followed by a three-course dinner and awards ceremony. Among those receiving honors are the Gentleman of Service, Holiday Simmons, Director of Community Education and Advocacy at Lambda Legal; the Gentleman of Excellence, Carlos King, a producer of reality TV shows such as “Hollywood Divas”; and the Gentlemen of Promise, David and TreDarrius Anderson, touted as the youngest married black gay couple in America and founder of the Guys With Pride campaign.

“As a minority gay community, we know how great we are,” Gee says. “We all know that there’s a lot of great people doing great things in our community, and we’re trying to get everyone to take notice. We’re here and we have a voice.”

The ball also serves as a fundraiser for the Gentlemen’s Foundation, a nonprofit formed earlier this year to raise awareness of black LGBT issues, support black gay students and establish a mentoring program titled “Impact,” which launches Jan. 15, 2015. With black gay men—and specifically black gay couples—being omitted from everything from pop culture to LGBT political organizing, Juan believes grassroots efforts will lead to greater visibility.

“We’re a big proponent of ‘be the change that you seek,’ and who better to do it than us?” Juan says. “If we have a desire, why not create the programs, create the organizations within our own community to do everything that we say we want other organizations to do.

“The wind is picking up, and through social media, we’re becoming more connected with people all over the world,” he adds. “We get inquiries from Africa and London, and it’s just amazing how the word is spreading and the movement is reaching over the seas.”

The Gentlemen’s Ball adds momentum to the couple’s efforts to rally behind black gay love, Gee says.

“We have our love and relationships blog where we talk about relationships in the community and how to navigate love, and the Gentlemen’s Ball is really about loving yourself, and that’s a direct link to what we promote,” Gee says.

The Third Annual Gentlemen’s Ball
Sunday, Dec. 7
7 p.m.
Atlanta Mariott Marquis