This past Tuesday, around lunch time, something truly important happened. ISES, The International Special Events Society, Chicago Chapter hosted a luncheon. This is not out of the ordinary, as they do this monthly, however at this session, the members decided to assemble a panel of wedding professionals who could speak to planning same sex weddings or as I like to call them, weddings. I was honored to be asked to be a part of the panel and excited to share my thoughts on this topic and answer questions my colleagues had! Two of those organizers were Barb Siska with The Chicago History Museum and Nicole Zenner with LK Events. I have to send them a BIG thank you for organizing the event!
Before we began, we had a beautiful lunch provided by The Berghoff Restaurant and were delighted to have these gorgeous centerpieces provided by Kloeckner’s Florist, menu cards by Accurate Printing and table linens by BBJ! We were able as a panel to sit and discuss some of our thoughts on the matter and shared a meal with Amanda Hein who also provided her photography services to capture the moments you see on the blog today!
The panel consisted of Missy Wright and William French with Blue Plate Catering, Waymon Hudson, a long time LGBTQ Activist and Journalist, Heather Vickery with Greatest Expectations, and myself. The fabulous Becca Kaufman, with the Becca Kaufman Orchestra was our moderate and did an excellent job keeping us moving!
Now that I have set up the scene for you and recognized everyone who made this amazing afternoon come together, I want to discuss what was talked about. I know that these conversations need to be had because they are important. They are important to have because some people just don’t know or are afraid to ask! There were several topics covered, but there were a few lessons that came from the session that I felt I had to share with you. Some of these lessons were, how to advertise to the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgender, Queer) Community? Some of the answers were watching the language you use on your website, such as Wedding Party, instead of a Bridal Party, Wedding Suite instead of Bridal Suite. Also, joining other organizations such as STAND UP for Equality, Human Rights Campaign and sharing those symbols on your website.
Some other topics of conversation included hearing from Wayman on his journey of being married. Him and his partner started off having a commitment ceremony, then into a Civil Union, and then married in California and having to be downgraded back to a Civil Union, and finally in a state now where he and his partner can be married. It was so interesting and made me think how much he and his now husband must truly love one another to go through all of that! Bravo to them!
It was also to interesting to hear William’s story about being a gay teen, living in Hawaii, and not seeing the marriage equality bill pass and 16 years later, in the Mid West, he is now able to marry! Also, fun to hear how William weighed in on how there are no traditions. We, as a culture, both LGBTQ Community and the Wedding Community are building these ideas and rewriting how to throw as wedding!
And hearing about Missy and her husband’s long time support for the community marching in rallies and showing up to help get the marriage equality bill passed in Illinois was incredible! Missy also discussed how she always reminds her couples that they are planning a marriage not a party. What she is finding is working with so many couples who are same sex couples who have been together for so many years, they already have the marriage down, now they are truly planning the party!
Learning from Heather, one of my colleagues, as a planner, never to assume that a couple wants anything that is expected. She said, you may have two brides that do not want to identify as brides. You have to ask! You may have two brides that wear suits and want to carry a bouquet instead of having a pin corsage or boutonniere. Never assume when working with your clients that they want anything. You have to ask and have open and honest conversations with them and you can next expect to think you know anything.
One of the moments that stands out in my mind was when a participant in the audience asked what our thoughts were on having a man come into a bridal salon and try on wedding dresses. She said, typically they would have these men come in after hours to make them feel comfortable and also to try and not offend any of their “other” customers. Now, this is an excellent question and in all honesty, her solution was a good one as it might make her male customer feel comfortable being in the store alone with his friends, drinking some champagne and so on. However, we are never going to see change or acceptance if we keep hiding.
The panel all answered with great comments and marks, however, the answers just did not sit right with me. I took the microphone and said to her, looking her in the eyes, something like, “What you need to do is welcome that young man into your store, during regular business hours, where he and his friends can come in, just like any other customer, and try on dresses. If this young man is going to wear a wedding gown at his wedding, I am sure he is going to be more than comfortable with himself and will wear that dress proudly!”
The point that I made during the event and even more in reflection is that we are in a new era. An era of equality. Times have changed and not everyone is on board. There are so many people working hard to try and have the rights given to us, taken away every day. If you are on board, in any industry, in any walk of life, with knowing and feeling that equality is right, then you have to be the brave one and stand up for what you believe in. Let that young man try on wedding gowns in your store during regular business hours. He deserves the same treatment as any “other” customer! It’s only then when we are really going to start to see change in the world. Rosa Parks is just one example of how it only takes one person to start a movement.
One of the greatest moments in my life, and I am sure he does not even know this was the night before we launched STAND UP. We were working late at Loft on Lake, and one of the Co-Founders of STAND UP and I were chatting. I remember saying something like, “You know, I don’t have a choice in putting myself out there. I am out there! I live my life as an openly gay man. You do have a choice. You can choose to not be public with voicing your support for marriage equality. I mean, you might loose some of your friends or colleagues.”
He leaned over and put his hand on my shoulder and said to me, “F**k ’em. If they don’t believe what I believe, then I don’t need them.” Hearing that from a friend and colleague really made an impact. I felt that I mattered, that someone cared, and that I was no different than anyone else. That I deserve the rights, liberties and freedom as everyone else. Every time I think of that story, a can’t help but tear up just a little.
To my wedding peeps, if you want to market to the growing same sex audience, yes, there are some strategies that you need to put in place to position you to the audience. But the main thing you have to do is if you want to service this market, as that is what we do in the service industry, believe in your whole heart that you are helping create the foundation to all couples being able to be married. You may have to find a little courage to help create the change in our evolving world but when you look back on it, you’ll remember how you were there, in the mix with everyone else, paving the path for all couples to share this special day.
Remember to be excited, and come to the table with an open heart because the fun is just getting started and I know that I can not wait to keep planning weddings….aka parties that celebrate two people in LOVE!
#LoveIsLove #LoveIsEquality #LoveIsLivenItUp