Juan & Gee Smalls
The Distinguished Gentlemen from Atlanta
By Clarence J. Fluker
Photo: BSIDE FOTOS
Styling: Sieje for Steel Sharpen Steel
Wardrobe: Miguel Wilson Collection
Change is constant. Juan and Gee Smalls know this for themselves. Continual change and evolution has been a hallmark of their lives. They are a Black gay married couple, living in Atlanta, Georgia with their son from Gee’s first marriage to a woman.
Their lives were once very different – separate and apart -and at critical moments they chose change and to create new paths where there weren’t any. When hundreds of LGBT people of color descend upon Atlanta for the 2017 Gentlemen’s Ball (September 29th – October 1st) and surrounding activities they will be walking into the manifestation of a change that Juan and Gee felt inspired to create.
After getting to know each other for a little over a year, Juan and Gee married in 2009. The two found in each other the help mate, partner and lover that they’d always really desired. Their openness about their relationship and energy made them visible. Soon after tying the knot they were approached by a magazine to start writing a joint monthly column about building and maintaining positive relationships. There was a need from single people and those already in relationships to hear from voices that resembled their own who had found love and were putting in the work to keep it. Readers enjoyed the column and started reaching out to them for more advice via emails, social media and just whenever they saw them out and about in Atlanta. In response Juan and Gee started posting YouTube videos to answer questions and thus started to build an even larger following online.
Organically, this would later evolve into Juan and Gee becoming certified relationship, dating and life coaches specializing in empowering GBT men of color to live their best lives however they choose to define it for themselves. As a married couple, Juan and Gee are able to provide a unique tag team approach to coaching in a community that some say often lacks high visibility of married couples. Their company, LoveWorks, offers short and long term coaching sessions designed to help clients feel empowered, remove barriers and position themselves to meet their goals in life and in love. They use LoveWorks to help others to create their life story while still putting in the work to write their own.
Juan and Gee both have backgrounds in event production and had been kicking around the idea of producing a party with a purpose for several years. When life presented a rare window in 2011 when Juan had a calendar that wasn’t so full of work and other obligations, they decided it was time to make it happen. The idea was to produce a second chance prom for the Black GBT community. A second chance prom is a exactly what it sounds like, an opportunity to dawn tuxedos and relive your favorite night from high school, or for some to finally experience the occasion in their own way in a safe space if they weren’t able to do so the first time around. Juan and Gee would plan and produce the social event donating proceeds from the night to a local nonprofit organization.
The idea for the event was easy and so was coming up with the name for the evening. They called it The Gentlemen’s Ball. After months of preparation the night was a rousing success. So successful that they knew instantly that they’d have to make it an annual event. But because change is constant, they decided it wouldn’t be a second chance prom again, it would move forward simply as what it is known as today, The Gentlemen’s Ball. Other elements of the night were added and production has grown over time. Juan and Gee added an awards presentation to recognize significant contributions of GBT gentlemen. The Gentlemen’s Ball has become a premiere black tie event with an increasing number of ticket buyers and sponsors. Each year there is something special and magnetic drawing men from the Atlanta metropolitan area and other parts of the country to gather for this night of celebrating and validating each other.
In 2014, Juan and Gee decided to take the next step in what they believe is their calling, to empower others, and founded The Gentlemen’s Foundation, an independent nonprofit organization that would not only act as the producer of the Gentlemen’s Ball for one night, but to provide a number of programs and services to Black GBT men throughout the year and provide more resources to their community.
Today, Juan and Gee work with a board of directors alongside nearly 50 volunteers to bring the Gentlemen’s Foundation work to fruition. The Gentlemen’s Foundation mission is to promote the holistic development – mental, physical, emotional, social, and spiritual growth – of Gay, Bisexual and Transgender men of color. Through active programming, the Gentlemen’s Foundation works rigorously in pursuit of accomplishing that goal.
Through their Circle of Trust program they offer weekly group discussions, quarterly webinars, advocacy, peer motivation and themed conference calls providing a safe and affirming space for men to speak without restrictions about life challenges and the process of overcoming them. Men Personifying, Affirming + Celebrating Their Truth (mPact2), is the Gentlemen’s Foundation’s youth-centric initiative for GBT men of color ages of 18-25. It includes a holistic mentoring program providing mentors charged with helping young men to build self-esteem, self-worth and self-awareness. In addition, the Foundation also publishes the GENTS Mag + Blog that highlights the lives and style of many of their base supporters. It further provides an outlet for storytelling and raising visibility of the accomplishments of GBT men of color. The money raised at the Gentlemen’s Ball goes directly to support these important initiatives that fill voids that Juan and Gee observed were going unfilled just a few years ago.
At this year’s Gentlemen’s Ball, they’ll also be giving out $10,000 in scholarships awards, one $5,000 award and five for $1,000 to GBT students of color enrolled in a two or four year institution in the Atlanta area. This was another void that Juan, Gee and the board of directors saw that needed to be filled. They are committed to being the change they want to see.
Bigger and better, the 2017 Gentlemen’s Ball is flanked by a full weekend of social, educational and networking events. Friday evening, September 28th, there will be a career fair and panel discussing LGBT diversity in the workplace. The following day kicks off with a health and wellness fair for families, an exercise boot camp for adults and a series of panels and workshops on mental health, financial planning and spirituality. Later all attention turns to the main event that features a VIP reception, red carpet, cocktail hour, the Gentlemen’s Ball and an after party to dance the night away. A farewell brunch is held on Sunday and all candidates in the heated race to be the next mayor of Atlanta have been invited to attend as a way to get to know members of the community. Voter registration information will also be available onsite for local residents.
A change in this year’s awards program is that for the first time The Gentlemen’s Foundation will also be recognizing women in each of the award categories. This year also marks the first time that there will be a special recognition of the Ballroom community for their contributions to the social and cultural cloth of the African American LGBT community. The legendary Jack Mizrahi will be receiving the Gentleman of Excellence Award.
The Gentlemen’s Ball has come a long way since 2011 and with strong support from committed volunteers and partners, Juan and Gee are aiming toward greater impact in years to come. Their vision is to hire fulltime staff for the Gentlemen’s Foundation to carry out and strengthen their current programs and services. Long term the goal is to open a youth drop in center, award more education scholarships, offer additional large grants and be even more of a resource to nonprofit organizations and social service providers that serve LGBT people of color.
As a couple and as businessmen, Juan and Gee are still very much dedicated to their marriage and continuing to coach others. They’ve launched a monthly web series also called LoveWorks that can be seen on their YouTube channel. The shows focus on love and relationships, often featuring interviews with well-known GBT men of color opening up about their trials and triumphs in love.
Mr. and Mr. Smalls define a true gentleman as a man who is confident in himself, generous in his giving and proud to stand tall in his truth. They meet all of those qualifications and with all of their creations and evolution, for them that will never change.