Early in my career as a wedding planner, I worked with couples to assist them with commitment ceremonies and civil union. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine I would see same sex weddings being legalized across all fifty states!
Mark, Mark, I’m Mark!
As a middle aged, openly gay man, whose branding included a bright website, red dress shirts and vintage heart pins, I was very open to working with same sex couples. I made sure my business collateral showed that intent. I deliberately made sure to use inclusive language and I included content that communicated my welcoming, such as a wedding where a brides’ honor attendant was her brother and a featured wedding with a transgender groom. We didn't single them out to call any special attention to them, but merely mixed them in with other images and wedding features showing couples of every size, color and religion. I wanted to make all couples feel comfortable and see themselves reflected in the work we showcased.
That was the easy part; the harder part came when it was time to refer wedding professionals. I had pre-screened everyone we referred business to for price, product and personality. Somehow though, it never occurred to me that I would have to consider screening them for LGBTQ acceptance. I knew they accepted me. They worked with me and, with some, I had referred a great deal of business to over the years. As it turned out, not only were there houses of worship who were not okay with marrying same sex couples but a few of the wedding pros I knew had some issues, too. Several serious conversations with wedding pros were had, letting them know that if they weren't okay signing and working with LGBTQ couples, then they were not okay working with me. That included straight couples who hired me, too. It was the right decision for me and I made it with integrity and intent. I had to be okay with any business repercussions.
Rejection Is Hard
For some wedding professionals, the challenges can run deeper. I was openly gay. Potential clients could love me or leave me. I never met them and they never confronted me. I attracted like-minded clients. I've seen a number of straight colleagues who stepped out with intent to welcome all couples. Unfortunately, they experienced repercussions of the hardest kind. Couples they were working with left because their beliefs did not align with their open business practices. When stepping out with intent to welcome LGBTQ clients, it's important to understand and accept the possible ramifications. An equally important step is the deep dive into your processes, your messaging and every lead, client and vendor partner touch point. This includes your website and social media, your intake forms and email templates, and even your documents. Intentionally communicating your openness to working with LGBTQ clients requires a thorough review of both brand and business.
Even with all of my experience, knowledge, hard work and intention, I still made mistakes. I accidentally sent an email - a template, admittedly - reading 'bride and groom' to two brides. Understandably, they ghosted me. Building a business with intention means making decisions and following through. All. The. Way. Even if that means forcing yourself to be vulnerable and asking for help. Don't be afraid to ask colleagues and friends for guidance. Likewise, never be afraid to ask your clients and vendor partners what pronoun they use or how they would like to be addressed. The rewards of stepping out to be inclusive will always outweigh the pains of any learning curve or challenges you may face along the way.
Hero photo courtesy The Happy Bloom