The Business of Gay Weddings

Business-of-Gay-Weddings-Cover-332x500Overview: The cultural issue of Marriage Equality is a rapidly evolving topic in the United States, and the world. This post is a review of the book, The Business of Gay Weddings by Bernadette Coveney-Smith. 

About the author: Bernadette is founder and president of 14 Stories and the Gay Wedding Institute and author of two other books on same-sex weddings. 14 Stories has offices in Boston and New York, since 2004, has produced hundreds of gay and lesbian weddings at top venues with couples from around the world.

Reviewer perspective: Growing up in the 60’s, heading into college in the 70’s was an interesting time. I ran smack into the civil rights movement and the war in Vietnam. And then, on June 28, 1969, The Stonewall Riots took place; in my home town of New York City.

“The Stonewall riots were a series of spontaneous, violent demonstrations by members of the gay community against apolice raid that took place in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York City. They are widely considered to represent the single most important event leading to the gay liberation movement and the modern fight for gay and lesbian rights in the United States

Read the full entry in Wikipedia

Americans live in a big country, and sometimes proximity to social unrest and news events are inexorably tied to geography. After attending college in Arizona, I moved to San Francisco. Less than two years after the move to the Bay Area, Mayor George Moscone and Board of Supervisor Member, Harvey Milk, were assassinated in San Francisco City Hall by former Board of Supervisor Member, Dan White.

In the context of the San Francisco assassinations, it became immediately clear to me that political and social climate had been electrified by events, just as in The Stonewall Riots.

And in my fledgling mobile disc jockey business, I would soon become more fully acquainted with all corners of our diverse community. Thought it is only recently California fully embraced marriage equality, my outlook was shaped in the mid to late 70’s, and stands today.

A 25-year residency in Greater San Francisco afforded me many experiences,  and some perspective, but does not qualify me in the cultural and social nuances of LGBTQ weddings. For that, we have Bernadette’s book.

Educating the Wedding Professional

Bernadette Smith
Bernadette Smith

As an educator, I often find people looking for THE ANSWER.  You won’t find simple answers, here. What you will read from Bernadette is well-thought-out, organized, and neatly presented guidelines, recommendations, customs, and suggestions on handling simple situations, complex ones, and everything in-between.

For example, there are many examples of dialogues between a wedding planner and an engaged couple. Through these well crafted examples, both good and bad, it becomes easy to see what approach is likely to be well-received, and how another is certain to offend. And, of course, with all the permutations of people and personalities, the most important skill is listening, because not all reactions will be the same.

Statistics are Changing, Rapidly

Though just published in 2013, even foundation statistics have been quickly eclipsed. A statement such as: What states have approved same-sex marriages? is significantly different than when New York State approved its same-sex marriage bill, June 24, 2011. 

Bernadette gives the statistical information as it was, upon the book’s publication date. Wikipedia shall pick up the slack on the numbers.

It’s About Protocol, People and their Feelings

In painstaking detail, Chapter 2 presents us with a glossary of familiar words, defined precisely. This section is supplemented by a discussion of subcultures and a discussion of stereotypes. More exactly, the danger of assuming stereotypes.

On Page 42, Bernadette narrates six stages of Cultural Competency in the arena of gay marriage; ranging from the unfamiliar to ‘Cultural Proficiency.’ It’s a variation on the 4 Stages of Learning; something I learned in formal sales training. Both these sequences start with awkward or incompetent, and end with proficiency that becomes reflexive, over time. Knowing what to do, and doing it, become inseparable after enough improvements and repetition.

Marketing to Same-Sex Couples

Chapter 9 addresses a range of issues, framed as: Marketing: The Key To Everything. The guidance offered, provides superb guidelines. But, take each step carefully, and with considered thought.

===

In current news

Friday, Wisconsin was the latest state to strike down laws limited or prohibiting same-sex marriage.

In a coincidence of good timing, today, a good friend of mine, KC Kokoruz, a bridal show producer, was hosting The Badger State Bridal Expo in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. And the media came out… three TV crews, no less. They spoke with exhibitors, brides, and their entourages. But it was KC who had the mic, before the assembled crowd. He cited a line spoken by Pink, quoted in Bernadette’s book. Paraphrasing….

“It will a be great day when we no longer refer to a gay or lesbian wedding, but simply as a wedding.” … and those in attendance erupted in cheers and applause.

Pink

The Business of Gay Weddings is a must-have, not simply for Wedding Planners, but required reading for every employee of every company with plans to serve the LGBTQ communities. It’s both foundation and nuances. It’s both practical and tender.

Let’s face it… ‘We don’t know, what we don’t know.’ and understanding, not just reading, is an important step in reaching the level of Cultural Proficiency, necessary, to produce a wedding without bursting any bubbles along the way.

The Business of Gay Weddings: A Guide for Wedding Professionals (Amazon Books)

 

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Andy Ebon
The Wedding Marketing Authority
The Wedding Marketing Blog

Same-Sex Weddings

News, Analysis, Opinion – The Wedding Marketing Blog

lesbian-beach-weddingGlobally, the first laws enabling same-sex marriages passed in The Netherlands, on April 1, 2001. Since then, country after country, state after state (in the United States) have followed suit.  Each country, state, province, and locale has its own history, tradition, acceptance, and tendencies.

Business Observations

In the last couple of years, wedding industry professionals have begun to talk more openly about the opportunities, challenges, and cultural confusion in the new world of same-sex (and LGBT, generally) weddings.

It’s not as simple as posting a rainbow

Whether a business is gay-owned or gay-friendly, an announcement that one is accepting to same-sex weddings is no guarantee of acceptance or automatic riches. Whether the goal of serving a newly-minted niche is pure of heart, a financial  opportunity, or both, in many cases, there hurdles to jump.

Pent-Up Demand

Understandably, gay couples who have been together for extended periods of time will feel blue skies have appeared. However, choosing not to wait for legalization, many same-sex couples elected not to wait, and chose to have commitment ceremonies and celebrations. Others, feel urgency to get married, quickly, before a legal skirmish turns the clock back.

Whether or not an emotional response to legalization will result in full-scale weddings and receptions or private weddings, with a few close friends and family, is still to early to predict. It’s an evolutionary process.

What Same-Sex Couples Want

In the main, I’ve observed some consistent desires.

  • To be treated without grand distinction from their heterosexual friends, by family, friends, and wedding professionals.
  • To feel comfortable with wedding professionals and vice versa.

gay-men-wedding-holding-handsVendors Must Embrace A Cultural Shift

  • A business owner may have the right background and experiences to embrace same-sex weddings, now. That does not mean their employees have the appropriate context to work with the new customers.
  • Gay-friendly businesses and gay-owned businesses, alike, may not receive universal praise for enlarging their customer base. A few gay wedding planners have explained to me their ‘straight’ clientele, while comfortable with them (as individuals), was not as comfortable with their new-found clientele.

How big is the LGBT population in the U.S.?

In the United States, according to exit polling on 2008 Election Day for the 2008 presidential election, 4% of the national electorate self-identified as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, the same percentage as in 2004.[133] According to the 2000 United States Census there were about 601,209 same-sex unmarried partner households.[134]

Source: Wikipedia

Marketing Questions

With a market or less than 5% of the United States population, marketing to this specific community is challenging.

  • Do businesses market to LGBT couples through traditional bridal shows, websites, publication, and media?
  • There have already been alternative shows, websites, publications and other media come into the marketplace. Will there be  large enough LGBT demand to make, and keep, those businesses viable?
  • Will individual websites be able to navigate marketing to both straight and LGBT audiences, concurrently?

Lack of Tradition

Straight couples have experienced endless wedding traditions… with variances by region, religion, and other factors. Ceremonies and celebrations of couples of different religions and/or races have found ways to enjoy their love celebration, through evolutionary acceptance. Sadly, it’s still not unusual for traditionalists within their own families to resist participation in the wedding or reception, sometimes rejecting the future spouse or couple, entirely.

The LGBT community does not have a legacy of wedding traditions. Only now, is it developing. In my opinion, this is both good and challenging. To a great degree, couples can write their own rules, without the same peer or family pressure to do things a certain way.

When people spend a lifetime, feeling somewhat different, or being treated differently than others, the new era of wedding tradition and comfort levels is not a direct path. It’s evolutionary, at best, and unpredictable, at its most challenging.

Andy Ebon

Your experiences and comments are important

I am curious to know what early experiences you have had… good, bad, interesting, enlightening, etc, If you would  be kind enough to take a few minutes and contribute a story,  it would be of great service. Please attribute your geographic area, and share what you have learned,

Indeed, this is a wedding marketing blog. And part of marketing is understanding how we communicate outwardly, business to business, and business to consumer.  I’m not expecting any magic answers, but am hoping for insights as laws, traditions, and fellow human beings continue in their development of new norms.

Thank you in advance for participating in sharing…

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Andy Ebon
The Wedding Marketing Authority
The Wedding Marketing Blog

Same-Sex Weddings Landscape Changes with Supreme Court Rulings

News, Analysis, & Opinion by Andy Ebon, The Wedding Marketing Blog

same-sex weddingsJune 16, 2013 was a landmark day for equal treatment under United States Federal Law. While not a ruling that trumps the law in all states, the United States Supreme Court set fresh guidelines that cover the rights of LGBT couples in 12 states and the District of Columbia, reflecting 40% of the American population.

The momentum of change had picked up steam over the last couple of years, and the court’s ruling should accelerate the process, even more. It continues to be paradoxical that a legal marriage in one state, may not be recognized in another state, while simultaneously in-synch, universally, with federal law

Same-Sex Weddings Business Bump

Just over a year ago, I wrote An Essay on Same-Sex Marriage and other United States Liberties. It felt good to reread it, today. It was stunning to realize how slowly the country moved forward on LGBT rights, as of last spring. And this year, progress is picking up steam.

Almost immediately, wedding industry business began the marketing process of promoting to gay couples. Yesterday, The Knot unveiled a 94-page digital magazine on Gay Weddings. As laws continue to change, in step with public sentiment, there should be an explosion in LGBT-specific wedding media, and promotion to LGBT couples through traditional wedding media. (Full disclosure: Andy Ebon is a Regular Contributor for The Knot B2B)

Advice and Opinion

For business having no previous experience in same-sex events, up to now, I suggest patience, education, and employee orientation. The culture and customs will be unfamiliar, and even the most sincere intentions can be fraught with missteps.

There are marketing, awareness, and sensitivity issues. Your business can explode with success, or implode, just as easily, if you get it wrong.

There are some experts in this field, even now. There are far more beginners. If you’re one of the beginners, take your time in adding LGBT brides and grooms to your marketing plan. And should you move ahead, on that path, enjoy the joy of couples who have waited, sometimes, decades, to marry. A custom that many of us, take for granted.

Andy Ebon - wedding marketing expert

Andy Ebon
Wedding Marketing Expert
The Wedding Marketing Blog

An Essay on Same-Sex Marriage and other United States Liberties

gay-marriage-button“I rarely offer opinions in this blog that might be construed as political, in nature. However, today’s post is the occasional exception. The recent North Carolina ballot initiative, and the voting outcome, has made me sick-to-my-stomach.

I have found the entire public discourse disgusting and distracting, Therefore, I’ve chosen to share a series of personal thoughts and observations, based on many life experiences.

Some people will agree with my points of view. Others might revile them. Yet others may be moved to think in greater depth about same-sex marriage and other issues of personal liberty. Regardless of where you fall on the issues, I simply hope you’ll consider these words.

Should you find this commentary worthy, you are welcome to link to this post.”

Andy Ebon

I grew up in a relatively sheltered, but free-thinking environment. My parents saw the sorry state of public schools in New York City and invest in a private school education for me. First, at Fieldston School (an Ethical Culture School); then at Riverdale Country School (grades 4-12).

Both schools offered an analytical view of the world around us, and nurtured critical thinking for its students, beginning at an age that others might find astounding.

On race and interracial marriage

As a child of the 1960’s, I grew up smack in the middle of the civil rights movement, Vietnam war, the cold war, the space race, recreational drugs, and more. In third grade the issue of interracial marriage presented itself to me.

One Monday morning, my class mate, Mary, told a story about a weekend outing with her parents. Their destination was a public fair. At the gate, security would admit Mary and her mother, but not her daddy. I came to understand that her mom was white; her father, black. It still didn’t make sense to me.

I sought out my mother for this confusing matter. She put it in terms any third-grader could understand. Ice Cream!! Flavors of Ice Cream. She explained that people, like ice cream, came in many flavors. These flavors were different from each other, but no flavor was better than another. Sometimes flavors are blended, in ice cream, and in people.

She explained that some people in the world were not quite as enlightened as I now was. I should treat all people, in all flavors, as wondrous individuals, and variations were part of their beauty. That bit of coaching has held me in good stead, all these years later.

Awareness Of Homosexuality

For me, it probably started in high school with observations of certain teachers. Mannerisms, speech patterns and such, stood out as different, but were unclear to me.

Again, my parents came to me with plain-English explanations of same-sex and heterosexual, attraction. They explained that this was part of the natural order of things and should be viewed and understood in that context. Homosexuality was nothing evil or something that should be, or could be, corrected. Again, I should appreciate it as part of the variety of human kind.

Homosexuality in the Adult World

My life as a nightclub and mobile disc jockey put me in settings rubbing shoulders with large segments of the LGBT community. Spending 26 years in San Francisco, both culturally, and in business, gave me endless opportunities to know, and work with people, who happened to be gay.

Since my 20’s, it has been quite obvious to me that people do not choose to be gay or lesbian. It is a matter of biology, not a lifestyle choice. The notion that significant segments of the population still believe the contrarian view, in their bubble, is both amazing and disturbing to me.

It’s hard enough to be a teenager in any fashion. To understand one’s homosexuality and deal with feeling, and being perceived, as different, must be an incredible burden and pressure… to say the least.

The Wheels of Acceptance Move Slowly

And that brings me to the current climate. It seems, as a country, we talk individual liberty, reasonably well. However, we tend to try to legislate the behavior, and limit the rights of other people.

In related matters, Jessica and I have lived together for about eight years, but because we are not married, we cannot buy health insurance as a couple. Nevada (as opposed to some others) grants different rights to people who cohabit, rather than marry. Why this should vary from state to state is baffling.

And leaves us with the legality of same-sex marriage and the incredible variance in law, from state to state.

Over decades, and reinforced, this week, I have come to a very simple view:

“If two people want to get married, in the eyes of the world and the law, there appears to be no rational reason, to me, why they shouldn’t be allowed to wed. The world will not crumble, anymore than it has from a high divorce rate among heterosexuals. People should be able to choose their acquaintances, relationships, and life-partners. I suppose, as a straight man, it would be easy to ignore the issue as ‘not my problem.’ However, I think the kind of shortsightedness on this issue disturbs me no end and I refuse to remain silent.”

Lest there be any confusion, since this is a wedding marketing blog, my key point has nothing to do with commerce. The notion of ‘this would be good for business’ may be other people’s point. It’s not my point.

My point is:

“Enabling two human beings to become legally married is the right thing to do. Nothing more, nothing less.”

I have seen many improvements in equality and personal liberty during my lifetime. In some cases, though, the progress has been painfully slow.

It would please me if issues of equality and individual rights would be seen by more people, using an open mind, rather than projecting and pushing their personal preferences onto others, via legislation.

As the button says: If you don’t support gay marriage, don’t get one.

Or as I like to describe Libertarianism, in its simplest form:

“Everyone should be able to swing their fist in any direction, as long as they don’t connect with another person’s nose.”

When you boil the fat out of it, I believe that’s what we have here.

It’s will a long, political season, this year. Think things through, be rational, take a stand, and have civil discussions.

With every best wish,

Andy Ebon
The Wedding Marketing Authority
The Wedding Marketing Blog