Last month, the bloggers and cyber world were afire with the release of an open letter published by Juan & Gee Session-Smalls, to the community at large. For those unaware, Juan & Gee are the owners of G.Spot Productions which also produce the iconic Gentlemen’s Ball ATL. Over a couple of years, the Gentlemen’s Ball has become one of the premier annual events that attracts the sexy, sophisticated, cultured and upwardly mobile. Some may argue what also appears to be the affluent and accomplished members of the LGBT community from coast-to-coast. “It’s an evening of grandeur, where sophistication and class collide in an unparalleled experience that celebrates the true gentleman for being generous in his giving, confident in himself and proud to stand tall in his truth.” If you review the media coverage and photos of past events, you will soon realize you are viewing some of the most beautiful men and women of community. This aforementioned letter released from Juan & Gee’s camp (it’s posted below) caused many to shiver because the reality of the 3rd annual function for 2014 was very much placed in question. Considering the rumors around the mass exodus of vested stakeholders within the Chicago promotional community when the industry increased it standards and required more financial stability to remain a player, I became concerned that perhaps this was not a regional trend. I reached out to Juan and he was more than forthcoming about the state and future of the Gentlemen’s Ball ATL.
Where is the SUPPORT for the BLACK GAY COMMUNITY?” – An OPEN LETTER to YOU. Everyone keeps asking us, “What’s the date of the next Gentlemen’s Ball?” and in the interest of being totally transparent with you, the honest answer is simple: We don’t know. We are elated to hear that so many of you are looking forward to the 2014 festivities, but harbor an equal amount of anxiety about it as well. As you may or may not know, The Gentlemen’s Ball is an extremely expensive event to produce and ticket sales only cover about half of the total cost so what it really boils down to is the need for increased monetary support. Let’s play the numbers game. The first year it cost us about $50k to produce the ball. We received about $25k in ticket sales and sponsorships and $25k was our own investment (which we expected). The second year we upped the ante; it cost us approximately $65k. We received about $50k in ticket sales and sponsorships and $15k was our personal investment (although our goal was to just breakeven). Based on the numbers, we experienced tremendous growth over the course of the year but ultimately ended up in the RED. Unfortunately, that can’t happen again. The Gentlemen’s Ball’s mission is to raise awareness and most importantly, MONEY, for various non-profit organizations that support the LGBT Youth who continue to endure the physical violence, mental anguish and gut wrenching shame that the overwhelming majority of us experienced while growing up and continue to battle. We also aim to celebrate the outstanding men in the black LGBT community who have overcome those adverse odds and can now stand tall in their truth. This event is one that is very near and dear to our hearts. In fact, it is more than an event, it is a MOVEMENT! We are very proud of the work that we have done over the course of the last two years and endeavor to continue that work with more dynamic initiatives in the future. We can’t end this letter without addressing the lack of support in our very own community. Atlanta is BLACK AND GAY AS HELL! We SHOULD NOT face these types of challenges with such a strong presence. Why don’t we support each other? Don Lemon, Mayor Kasim Reed, Congressman John Lewis, to name a few, have all been asked to support The Gentlemen’s Ball by JUST SHOWING UP, but they have all declined. We even tried to PAY Don Lemon to host one year but our request fell on deaf ears. What are they all afraid of? Why won’t they support US but will run to similar events held in the White gay community? Are we not good enough for them? We are perplexed. This is where we need your help. Many have suggested we setup a GoFundMe account or something of the like, but we say no. We believe our tickets are priced appropriately and that payment constitutes your monetary contribution as an attendee. It’s time for the businesses and corporations in our own backyard like Coca-Cola, Home Depot, Delta, and Suntrust Bank to support the black LGBT community on a larger scale just as they support our white counterparts. It’s also time that our community leaders stand up and recognize us! If you share our passion, believe in our movement and demand the respect and support from mainstream society, share this post, forward it to potential sponsors, tweet about it, talk about it, send it to a friend that could help. All that we ask is for you to simply do anything you can to get the word out. We are determined to bring you The Gentlemen’s Ball in 2014 and beyond, but we NEED your help to do so. Are you with us? Sincerely, Juan & Gee
FL– What is the current status of The Gentlemen’s Ball ATL 2014?
Juan– We are currently working on securing Sponsorships in order to begin production. All the parts are put into place and as soon as we secure enough funding, execution will begin.
FL– The Gentlemen’s Ball ATL has become iconic in its own right. What has been the most difficult hurdle to cross in its implementation?
Juan– Getting Corporate and Mainstream society support.
FL– Since its inception, what has been the greatest accomplishment of The Gentlemen’s Ball?
Juan– The biggest accomplishment would have to be reaching hundreds of black gay men & women that share the same passion we have for changing the image society currently has of us as well as raising awareness for some amazing non-profit organizations.
FL– Using five adjectives, how would you describe The Gentlemen’s Ball?
Juan– Purposeful, Elegant, Necessary, Fun, Amazing
FL– You recently penned an open letter to the community in which you clearly expressed your frustrations in hosting such a prestigious event. What would you say is the biggest frustration?
Juan– Getting Corporate and Mainstream society support.
FL– I must admit, I was a bit shocked and disappointed when you stated luminaries such as Don Lemon and the Mayor of Atlanta failed to respond to the invites extended to host/attend the event. As a team, what was your take-away from this situation and how did this change your view of the individuals?
Juan- Que sera, sera. What will be, will be. We don’t hold any ill feelings towards those that decline to participate of fail to acknowledge the invitation.
FL– As a social figure, I must also admit, The Gentlemen’s Ball of ATL has become a brilliant entity that now garners national attention yearly. Is there any plans to franchise the business line to other major cities? Why or why not?
Juan– Definitely. The goal is to do 4 a year across the nation. We have been building some great relationships across the U.S. that is preparing us for a nationwide launch.
FL– It’s rumored among insiders that the open letter was a strategy invoked by the team to publicly gain sympathy and drop the ball when the deliverables to manifest such an event became unbearable. What is your response to this claim?
Juan– There was no strategy to the letter honestly. And if there was one, sympathy is definitely not something we need. We decided to pen the letter to answer the often asked question, “When is the next Gentleman’s Ball?” We felt we owed it to our supporters to be 100% transparent about what was going on behind the scenes. Many thought it was a bad “business” move to do so, but The Ball has been nothing but 100% passion for us and that is the place from which we spoke.
FL– In our community, it’s almost unheard of to present a product that successfully brings together the upwardly mobile of both men & women for an event. The sheer number of attendees is even more impressive. What has been your strategy of success?
Juan– The strategy has simply been to do things from the heart and align with people that shares the same passion as we do. This event is much bigger than just us, and the right people have always fell into place. This includes each and every one of our attendees.
FL– If you could enhance one area of event production within our community, what would it be and why?
Juan– To be honest, there is a lane in this business for everyone and we believe that each company has a right to practice business the way they see fit to best service their respective market.
FL– You and your partner form the team that produces this event. What has been the biggest obstacle working with your partner?
Juan– We sometimes have a difference of opinion regarding management styles and execution of certain aspects of event production. One of the biggest hurdles is blending the two opposing views – compromise is key.
FL– What is the biggest misconception regarding event producers in our community?
Juan– That we are all the same.
FL– In the years that The Gentlemen’s Ball has been in existence, what has your entity brought to the community of ATL?
Juan– We believe actions speak louder than words therefore we won’t ramble off a list of accomplishments. What we will say is that we do our best to operate from an authentic, passionate space and always work to represent the black LGBT community as best we can.
FL– What are some entities that you feel should be more actively engaged and fiscally responsible to events and constituents of our community?
Juan– All the major corporations that we support on a daily basis should return the favor by investing in our community.
FL– Considering your time and experience in the industry, what would you consider your biggest lesson learned?
Juan– Be true to yourself.
FL– Chicago!!!! What are your thoughts on perhaps bringing The Gentlemen’s ball to the Windy City?
Juan– WE WOULD LOVE TO!
FL– Last words you would like to leave the reader
Juan- We sincerely thank you all for the support over the past couple of years. Without it, there would be no Gentlemen’s Ball. Remember to be generous in your giving, confident in yourself, and proud to stand tall in your truth. Visit www.juanandgee.com to learn more about us and our endeavors. For more info about The Gentlemen’s Ball please visit www.TheGentlemensBall.org and www.facebook.com/GentlemensBallAtl
Take Away– Regardless of the rumors, opinions, whispers and gossip; what I know as factual is that we filter large sums of money into prevention and testing. While this strategy will always be a fundamental need for our community, it’s time we begin to diversify our investments in hopes of truly ending the epidemic and taking an effective and efficient approach in nurturing, educating and promoting our constituents. Regardless of status, for many in our community these type of events are not viewed as mere parties to wear fancy clothes. These type of events are a saving grace for those who wish to remain socially active but desperately desire an alternative to the other facets within our community that are oftentimes viewed as unhealthy, dangerous, predatory and unfulfilling. I reflect back to my mid-twenties when I began to transition into the Chicago social scene. I realize how these types of events rescued me from a destructive & irresponsible lifestyle and set me on a path towards upward mobility. Regardless of your current situation in life, these events expose you to experiences and people who begin to have a profound impact on the trajectory of your life. For the first time, you begin to feel organically proud of who you are and realize your sexuality does not mitigate the responsibility you have to be successful men and women of society. It’s imperative that we exhaust due-diligence to keep these institutions of culture active and in good standing. A health diagnosis does not end your life. But the ability to make appropriate decisions and surround yourself in an environment conducive to meeting the challenges of the real world is most important in post diagnosis quality of life. At these events, relationships are built and the attendee is exposed to a sea of peers, much like themselves, who are now doing amazing things in life and living comfortably and fulfilling. This, alone serves as mechanism of change in many people lives. It’s also imperative for host to understand that when you take on the responsibility of anchoring this business line, you also have to be prepared to be fully vested even if alone. The end product of a successful event is most important. I hope everything works out and I look forward to covering the event through its fruition. Good Luck gentlemen…Deo