Same-Sex Weddings: How to Establish Yourself in the LGBTQ Market—Part 1
QC tutor Heather Vickery is the Owner and Event Director of Greatest Expectations Special Events and Weddings, one of Chicago’s most celebrated event planning and design firms. All photos in this post are from events produced by Greatest Expectations.
“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family.” —Justice Anthony Kennedy
On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in favor of marriage equality nationwide. In many cases, the United States was catching up with other countries and sadly, in some cases the United States is still way ahead. In either case, marriage equality is here and same-sex couples are now free to get married in their home state.
Photography: Jennifer Shaffer Photography
While marriage is legal in all states, it does not mean couples feel safe and welcome to marry in all states. Let’s face it: a wedding is not just a wedding. There is a lot more to it than that and if you want to book more same-sex couples, there are several things you’ll need to do.
I would like to start by saying it is not good business to be exclusive. As we fought (and continue to fight) for equality, we work for inclusion. Can you be an expert in same-sex weddings? Absolutely. Should you have a company that only does same-sex weddings? I would not suggest it. Being singled out, for any reason, makes a person feel “other” and the goal here is to make every couple you meet feel amazing and part of something established, special and “big”.
Below are three important areas to consider if you want to establish a strong same-sex wedding base.
Photography: Steve Koo Photography
Marketing is always a little difficult to figure out. First, you need to identify who your ideal client really is, and then you need to be visible in the places where they research wedding vendors.
It is not enough to say “same-sex couples are my target client”. Think about it: if you said “straight couples are my target client” that would be ridiculous, right? Really take the time to figure out who your ideal client is and then be where they are. For my company, Greatest Expectations, our ideal clients are professionals who enjoy the finer things in life and value and respect fantastic customer service. They believe having us onboard will make the planning process easier and more enjoyable while still allow them to manage their lives/careers without wedding planning taking over.
In addition, make sure your website is inclusive and features photos of diverse couples. If you have not done a same-sex wedding yet, then ensure you have some gender-neutral photos on your site and that you use inclusive language.
Establishing your expertise
Photography: Alex Maldonado
The first thing I would suggest is getting educated. Bernadette Smith, owner of the Gay Wedding Institute, wrote a fantastic book called The Business of Gay Weddings: A Guide for Wedding Professionals. This book is an intensive, practical guide designed to help you understand the LGBTQ wedding market, sharing best practices from hundreds of gay and lesbian weddings. While this book was written before the Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality, it is still chock full of fantastic information.
Why does education matter? It matters because in order to ensure your clients feel safe, you need to know what questions to ask, how to ask them and how to advocate for each and every client.
It’s important because, as Bernadette says, “same-sex couples want to know who they can trust. It’s critical that you send them a signal that they can trust you. Whether it’s inclusive language, a statement about your support of marriage equality, or images of same-sex weddings, it’s important that couples know, without a doubt, when they reach out to you that you are LGBTQ friendly.”
This can be tricky because when it comes to LGBTQ clients, how they self-identify is very important and needs to be honored and respected. This can be a complicated area but it really goes back to not making assumptions. It is not okay, if you have two men getting married, to ask if one of them is the bride. On the flip side, if you have two women getting married it is not safe to assume they both want to be referred to as a bride. The best way to approach this is simply to ask the clients how they want to be addressed. If you are thoughtful in your approach, no one will be offended by this question.
Photography: Jennifer Shaffer Photography
Make every effort to be gender neutral in all communication. Remove the word “bride” from everything (really, everything … your website, advertising, social media and conversation) unless you are referring to a specific bride. Simple changes like saying “couple” or “client” instead of “bride” will go a long way. Referring to your clients as “brides and grooms” will also work as this leaves the door open for any combination of genders. Say “wedding party” instead of “bridal party” and “wedding suite” instead of “bridal suite”.
This is also extremely important in your forms, timelines and checklists. I highly encourage you to have one gender neutral form for all clients. Things get messy and mistakes happen when you have one form for straight couples and one for same-sex couples. And remember, the goal is inclusion! If you are unsure of how to reword your checklists, timelines and forms, you can download templates to help you.