Vendor Guide for LGBT Weddings
The guide for wedding vendors who want to better serve the LGBTQIA+ Community
If you’re here, it’s because you’re looking for a vendor guide for LGBT weddings, right? Well, buckle up, we have some information to sift through!
In the decade I’ve been doing photography, I’ve watched my beloved industries morph and change rapidly, photography and weddings alike. When I first started, a bright-eyed optimistic young buck, I had so much hope for the future. I would work eighty hours a week gleefully (much to the chagrin of exes). Long before I realized I’m a part of the LGBT community, I was the OG “love whoever the hell you want” person. Gay, black, brown, straight, pineapple pizza eater, I didn’t care. Who am I to tell you what is right? I am a mere speck of energy in this great swirling chaos we call a Universe. I only wish to make an impact while I’m here, however brief it might be.
Now, both the photography and wedding industries have changed as the laws have progressed, sort of. Even with bi-racial or POC weddings, representation has been sparse. It’s a sea of white blondes in perfect size zero dresses out there, drowning out the other valid experiences of others. It’s infuriating, more often than not. I was in the military when Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was repealed. They sat all of us down for numerous training on the subject. I remember going, “what the hell???” when I realized the Defense of Marriage Act still actively discriminated against LGBT spouses. Can you imagine finally being allowed to be Out, but your spouse is still a second-class citizen? It drove me crazy and I’m glad I got out of the military before I was exposed to further bigotry.
When LGBT weddings were finally legal, straight people just straight up (get it?) felt like something was being stolen from them. Hell, even now, years later, some straight folks still feel threatened. It’s as if their marriage is somehow invalid, simply because someone else is loving another. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard, “well, they can love whoever they want, but why do they need marriage? It’s an insult to marriage,” or some variation therein. Bigots find ways to live in the crevices of what’s right, like little bigot beetles, stealing nutrients off the existence of others.
When the Defense of Marriage Act was destroyed, LGBT people could commit to one another in peace. Sort of. See, there are a few letters in that acronym (that is even longer than four letters) that are missing from this new language, especially T = transgender. Suddenly, “same-sex” was everywhere. Same-sex marriages. Same-sex couples. Same-sex rights. Same, same, same, same. Gross. Do you know what all of that sameness destroys? The individuals that understand gender and sex are two completely different things. Now, I’m not going to dive into that particular topic because well, it isn’t a safe discussion for various reasons and it can get convoluted rather rapidly. HOWEVER, the term “same-sex” can completely alienate those that have transitioned but have not had sex reassignment surgery. So many never have that surgery, which is a-okay, but can you imagine how they might feel about the term “same-sex”? The term “same-sex” is still binary and still rooted in language cisgender people find comfortable. Now, I think “same-sex” had a place, for that general transition time period. The word “gay” was too triggering for some. I speak in-depth here on why same-sex is outdated if you want to learn more. Instead, I would like to focus on what we, as an industry, can do to change the way we speak to others. It’s time we focus on actual inclusivity and not just what makes us comfortable. That’s why I wrote this vendor guide for LGBT weddings, so we can all serve our clients more effectively.
If you’re gettin’ hitched and lookin’ for a website that is lush with inclusive wedding deets, check out Offbeat Bride. I swear the blog is far more inclusive than “bride.”
Talk about a hot button issue. He, she, they, ze? How do you decide what to use? What do you do when someone tells you their pronoun? What do you do when they don’t tell you at all??! My advice? Ask. I mean, when you don’t know someone’s name, you ask them, right? Especially if they haven’t proffered it first. What if someone changes their pronoun but I’ve known them as XX for years? A good example would be what if your friend Robert decides he wants to be Bob. To you, he has been Robert for well over a decade! But Robert really wants to be Bob, he really feels like the name Bob is more in line with his life. So you adjust. You’re going to forget sometimes, right? It’s only normal to slip up because you’ve known him for years as Robert but you just apologize to Bob and move on. A common question is What if I forget? We’re all only human, mistakes happen. Just know that when you mess up, you upset that person, so it’s important to apologize and try harder. Just think of it as a permanent nickname. If, say, in six months, you’re still calling your friend Robert…you should evaluate that. Why are you insisting on something that doesn’t even actually affect you? Are people not allowed to change?
Another way to approach pronouns in the wedding industry is to offer yours first. In your email signatures, put your pronouns in parentheses. On your contact page, have a section where they can provide their pronoun. It’s so small, but a wonderful signal to others that you accept their differences. In my opinion, you can’t say you support the entire LGBT community and not offer your pronouns first. If you feel uncomfortable with this, worried you might lose business, you might want to evaluate what you find to be important to you. Is the comfort of others important or is money?
A safe pronoun is “they” if you aren’t sure.
“They are getting married in December to their partner John.”
“They said they weren’t sure if they wanted tulle or chiffon on their dress.”
“They said they would like chocolate, but they have to talk to their partner, Becky.”
It’s an adjustment. Trust me, I’m very aware. I’ve gone through not only society rapidly changing and my own gender exploration/dealing with dysphoria but also having a step-kid that changes their pronouns every few weeks and doesn’t let you know. hah!
For me, personally, I HATE being called a woman or lady. I spent a year reminding people and frankly, no one seemed to give a shit. Do you know what it did? It made me finally give up and hide my irritation because it’s not like people were willing to change anyway. The question is, do you want current or future clients to feel this way about you and your company? Just try practicing. It’s a process and it won’t happen overnight, but the point is to try, right?
The Word Partner:
It is vital for heteronormative habits to fall to the wayside. Our world is still so heteronormative, it’s kind of, sorta, definitely gross. Asking a five-year-old boy if he has a girlfriend yet (don’t get me started on ring bearers and those “I’m single, ladies” signs). Assuming a bride contacting you has a groom. Wanting to know when someone is going to have kids. All of these inquiries and forced identities stress people out! The word partner can mean a lot of things, but who cares? It’s called “asking clarifying questions.” You know what words have lots of meanings too? Wife. Husband. Marriage. Think of all the heavy biases you have towards those words. You just assume “wife” means someone who works, cooks dinner, or has kids, or maybe even all the above. Hundreds of years of connotations are applied to these words, without us being cognizant, because that how “normativity” works. What about the word marriage? Some people think it means a lifetime romantic partnership. For others, it’s an agreement to trade abilities, i.e. I provide food and you give me babies. And for some, it’s a tax break. The word marriage isn’t simple. It is as complex as the word “partner.” The term “partner” is far less offensive though because it shows the other person you are willing for them to fill in those blanks for you. Is “partner” a business friend? A romantic partner? A running partner? A zombie apocalypse survival partner? You ask the question and you’ll receive the answer. It doesn’t make sense for you to decide the answer ahead of time.
For Josh and I, we have never called one another boyfriend and girlfriend. The terms make me nauseous because to me, they don’t match the level of dedication and intimacy we have together. Neither of us wants to get married right now either and even if we did, I doubt he would ever call me “wife.” We both hate it when people refer to us as boyfriend and girlfriend because it also doesn’t fit into my gender identity. I’m not a girl. I am not just a friend. I am a partner, in every sense of the word.
When you assign a label to a relationship to a client before they provide one, you’re already pigeon-holing them. You are telling them that you live in a box and they belong in this box with you. Do you want your current and future clients to feel this way about you and your company?
Contract and Website Verbiage:
This is VERY important if you want to cater to LGBT clients. Does your website mention only bride and groom everywhere? Now, of course, some vendors can’t vary too much. For instance, makeup services are less likely to be a male investment. The same goes for suits or wedding dresses, respectively. However, if you’re a venue, a photographer, a llama owner, even a cater, what does your contract and website say? Is it only “bride” and “groom”? Just like I said about the words “wife,” “husband,” and “marriage,” these words hold heavy biases as well. For some people, a bride is a fairy tale existence. Some don’t even like the word, even if they are hetero. For others, the word bride induces stress attacks and heart palpitations.
What is a better alternative? Good question! Client. Couple. Friends. The term “client” is as neutral as one can get. Client 1 and Client 2 (or 3). Partner 1 and Partner 2 (or 3).
Again, if you aim to cater to LGBT people, truly, you need to keep trans individuals in mind, including gender non-binary people who would most likely loathe being called a bride, even if they’re wearing a dress on their big day. I love dresses, but don’t call me a bride.
When you look at your portfolio of clients, what do you see? Is it a proverbial ocean of cis-hetero mayonnaise, with the occasional smattering of brunette or redhead? For example, this recent surge in finally giving a shit about black people and other people of color in the wedding industry is driving me insane. Suddenly, brands that only wanted to show white people now have BIPOC on their social media (your BIPOC clients notice). The same goes for LGBT people, especially during Pride Month. Some brands won’t even post LGBT clients because they “might lose followers.” Again, do you care about the people or the money? What does your portfolio tell your prospective client about themselves? That’s right, I said about themselves. Can they see themselves in your portfolio? Will curvy brides feel comfortable? Will BIPOC feel safe around you (if you’re white, the answer is usually an automatic ‘no,’ trust me)? Do you even tell people on your website you support LGBT people?? Which brings me to my next point…
Offering Service Loud and Proud:
LGBT people struggle and I mean, struggle, to find vendors that aren’t bigots. Companies will straight up cancel on a couple if they find out they are gay or trans. Some even sit there on the phone, spouting off Bible quotes, trying to justify their bigotry. I promise you, this happens. It is TERRIFYING for LGBT people trying to get married, because who the hell wants to be rejected for who they love?? Putting on your website, “I LOVE LGBT EVERYTHING” is a fantastic signal that will immediately make them feel safe. Even a small rainbow flag on your contact page will set people at ease.
If you’re afraid that a loud proclamation will make you lose business, you have to wonder…do others matter to you, or is it just about the money?
How to Move Forward:
Where do we go from here? Well, considering LGBT people might not even be able to adopt soon, we have a looong way to go. Trans people aren’t even allowed in the military anymore. Trump just made it legal to discriminate against Transgender folx in the medical field. It’s sad how corporations profit off the rainbow in June but are silent in other parts of the year. We need to hold companies and people responsible for their wishy-washy bullshit behavior. Individuals and groups have FAR more power than the government will ever let on, if they can help it. Just be a part of that change. Adjust your brand and verbiage to make others feel at least welcome, if not safe. Our industry stands for love, in all forms. Don’t be That Guy and hope others do the heavy lifting. Go do some mental bench presses and get to work! And of course, please share this vendor guide for LGBT weddings to your friends, so we can make our industry as inviting as possible!