Five Things to Know About Planning Same-Sex Weddings
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.
Now that marriage equality is the standard throughout much of North America, wedding planners across the nation and indeed across the world are working with more and more lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) clients. While those of us that have been working with LGBT clients for a long time are familiar with what makes same-sex weddings unique, it is uncharted territory for many people. It’s pretty exciting, right?
Many of us want to say a wedding is just a wedding, and in a lot of aspects, it is. But, in many ways, it isn’t.
It’s important to realize that if you want to be an expert in any particular field, you have to really know what you are talking about. If you claim to be an expert in Indian weddings, you better know the right rituals and customs for an Indian wedding. The same rings true for every other type of wedding, including Christian weddings, Jewish weddings, Persian weddings and same-sex weddings.
Here are five quick things that you can do right now to prepare yourself for being the best wedding planner possible for your LGBT clients.
1. Throw away the rules
That’s right—same-sex weddings all over the world are breaking traditional wedding rules. I tell all of my clients that I only have one wedding planning rule: there are no rules! With same-sex weddings, we, as planners, are writing new customs and traditions each day. We are creating new paths and structures to make our clients and their loved ones valued and safe and to honor them as a unique couple. When it comes to wedding planning, there is nothing you “have to” do; there are, in fact, no rules.
2. Don’t make assumptions
This is perhaps the most important piece of information I can share with you. Assumptions are dangerous. If you have two men coming in, for instance, you should never assume that one of them is “the bride.” Conversely, if you have two women come in, don’t assume that they both want to be referred to as a bride. By removing assumptions you approach your clients from a more open, welcoming, and understanding perspective. This alone will help you build trusting relationship with your clients.
Just like with many clients these days, you never know who is paying for the wedding, and traditional gender roles do not come into play here. Since you don’t know if your clients have the loving support of their family members or what their personal and family histories are, by asking open-ended questions you can avoid some extremely uncomfortable situations. It’s okay to not know the answer to everything. Open-ended questions prove to clients you are respectful. You’re there to listen and make their wedding dreams come true. Each wedding will be a unique process for your couples and their loved ones.
3. Remove the word “bride”
If you are working with all couples in love, then there is a good chance you have couples where there is not a bride. With this in mind, the word “bride” should be removed from your conversations, marketing materials, worksheets, and your contact form. Unless you are talking about a specific bride or a bridal salon, remove the word bride! This is important!
Instead, make sure that everything your client sees is gender-neutral. Use terms like “brides and grooms”, “all couples in love” or simply “couples.” Making everything and everyone that comes into contact with your clients gender-neutral is a really easy and simple process, but it does take a little re-training. The wedding industry has been so bride-focused for so long.
If this thought overwhelms you or you are not sure how to really get started, contact an expert such as the Gay Wedding Institute. There are many resources that will help you clean up your marketing and make sure that you are advocating for your clients at the same time.
4. Prove you are trustworthy
Wedding planning for same-sex couples can be a very vulnerable experience. Your same-sex clients want to know they can trust you. How are you communicating that to them? Does your website show photos of couples like them? Do you mention a commitment to honoring the love of all couples? Are your wedding planning marketing materials gender-neutral and welcoming to everyone? When you answer the phone are you assuming their fiancé/e is of the opposite sex or are asking enough open-ended questions to uncover the information you need?
There will be many opportunities and ways to show same-sex couples that you are trustworthy but you must really look at your marketing materials and ensure that you are sending the correct message.
5. Be comfortable with what you don’t know
It is okay not to know everything. In fact, it is an important reminder for all client meetings. When you ask open-ended questions instead of making assumptions, you remove any possibility of an uncomfortable situation. Imagine asking a female client what song she wants to dance with her dad to, only to discover he has passed away or they have a terrible relationship. These guidelines are well applied to each and every client, not just your same-sex clients.
As long as you ask open-ended questions in a respectful manner it’s okay to admit you simply don’t know the answer to something. Will the clients have special parent dances? Will they have a cake cutting? Do they want to see each other before the ceremony or maybe even get ready together? These are things that are often fluid and changing with same-sex weddings. Each couple will have different desires and needs. Remember, there are no traditional rules! We are writing new traditions daily and creating unique and exceptional events that represent our clients, their personalities and their journey as a couple.
With each new couple you meet, simply ask what they want and what works best for them. Same-sex clients will not be upset if you are honest about not knowing something. But they may be very upset if you make assumptions that do not fit their needs. Same-sex clients are just as like any other client. You must manage expectations, advocate for their rights, support them, put in hard work for them, and be dedicated to the details.
Your clients depend on you to advocate for them and to make their wedding planning process, and their big day, enjoyable and fun. I hope your planning firm is blessed with a lot of new business and creative wedding planning for many same-sex couples. It really is a wonderful experience to be part of. Happy planning!
Check out some more of Heather’s work with her same-sex wedding clients!