Bernadette Smith is the founder and president of 14 Stories and the Gay Wedding Institute (GWI), and award-winning author of three books, including The Business of Gay Weddings: A Guide for Wedding Professionals. Through the GWI, Bernadette has trained thousands of wedding and hospitality professionals on sales and marketing best practices to same-sex couples. Bernadette’s expertise has been sought after by the Today Show, National Public Radio, the BBC, the New York Times, CNN, among many others.
In general, I think it’s dangerous to generalize and foolish to put people in boxes. That said, there are some striking differences in the wedding planning activities of gay men versus lesbians. I’ve seen this over time in my wedding planning career, and in your role as a wedding professional I think it’s important to be aware of some of these differences/trends in order to best serve your clients.
Lesbians are female, and most of them identify as brides, are therefore much more “bridal” – and they are also more traditional as a result. If you think about it, since a very young age, many girls have been indoctrinated into the idea of having a wedding; their fairytale princess fantasy. It’s just been something that’s been expected of young girls for decades – lesbian girls included!
Gay men, on the other hand, were unlikely to have been raised dreaming about their wedding. It’s just not something that parents talk to sons much about during their childhood, the way those same parents might talk to their daughters about it. As a result of this, plus the wedding industry’s focus on “the bride”, and the gender roles that play a part in most wedding traditions, gay men are far less traditional on their wedding days.
The survey of contemporary couples that my company conducted with WeddingWire, GayWeddings.com and Community Marketing validates my experiences as a wedding planner. For example, we found that gay men are far less likely to want to follow wedding traditions such as something borrowed, something blue (35% of lesbians adhere to this tradition vs. 7% of gay men), doing a first dance (43% of lesbians vs. 18% of gay men), changing their name (42% vs. 7%), having a wedding shower (23% vs. 4%), and many other traditions. You can take a look at the full report here.
You may also find that gay men are less likely to even have a sit down dinner and instead choose a cocktail reception. You may find that gay men are interested in hiring a DJ with experience in clubs as opposed to a DJ whose experience is primarily limited to weddings. You may find that gay men are interested in a fashion photographer rather than a traditional wedding photographer. Gay men may even be interested in picking out the attire of their waitstaff, and may ask for model bartenders/servers! I once had a gay client ask for a cute young male wedding officiant! Is that discriminatory? No, because someone’s appearance is not a protected class… but there’s no doubt that it’s shallow.
Lesbians, on the other hand, are more likely to hire people in the wedding industry for their wedding. They typically care far less about a vendor’s appearance. They care more about things like safety, experience with same-sex weddings, budget, and other concerns.
I also mentioned above that most lesbians do identify as brides. This may surprise you to know that there are some who do not identify as brides, and actually feel more comfortable with the term “bridegroom”. Lesbians who are more masculine in appearance, might be wearing a tux instead of a wedding dress, might not be walking down the aisle, and might take on some of the more masculine roles in the relationship are probably not going to see themselves as brides. On the contrary, gay men, even those with a more feminine gender expression, typically identify as grooms and seldom subscribe to traditional bride/groom gender roles on their wedding day.
Although the differences I’ve seen in the course of my wedding planning career are backed up by solid data, please don’t assume these to be the case with your clients. It’s always dangerous to assume – with any client – so listen to their specific wants and needs and ask if you’re unsure. Either way, you’re going to have fun with your LGBTQ couples – however they choose to express themselves on their wedding day!