These days, there are two overarching planning trends influencing today’s LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) couples — one follows a pattern of increasing assimilation into the mainstream market and its trends; the other follows an increasing embrace of broader, less restrictive definitions of gender expression. In order to better serve all couples, it’s important for wedding professionals to be vigilant about these two seemingly contradictory trends and how to identify the needs of each individual couple.
Broadly speaking, with 80% of today’s wedding market represented by Millennials, LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ (aka ‘straight’) couples are looking to add personalized touches that play well on social media and serve their authentic expression. Thus, we’ll be seeing more similarity than difference in wedding planning trends between the two groups.
At the same time, wedding professionals must understand that younger couples are embracing the term “queer” as a more inclusive term for their gender identities, expression, and sexual orientation. Though more couples may be challenging traditional concepts of gender expression (and the traditional roles of “bride” and “groom”), this doesn’t mean that their weddings will be unrecognizable.
The key element for wedding professionals to understand is that while cultural assimilation is underway, LGBTQ couples still want to build wedding rituals that are reflective of their own identities, and the range of expression will be more broad than what we expected from a “bride and groom” 50 – or even 15! – years ago.
When I talk about “mainstream representation,” I’m referring to planning trends that are inclusive not only of traditional weddings, but also of seasonal and evolving trends for a broad swath of today’s couples. These are the wedding trends you’ll hear about in national trend reports, and these are the weddings you’ll see on the largest wedding blogs and platforms and in national magazines. The representation is increasingly inclusive of additional religious, ethnic and cultural wedding customs, and also will include same-sex couples and mixed-race and non-white couples. The unifying feature is generally the wedding wallet, as most of these featured couples are able to afford highly stylized weddings, photographers, and videographers.
Since marriage equality recognition has settled in over the past 4 years, LGBTQ couples have assimilated and adapted to the general wedding trends that suit their taste, style, and budget rather than their legal needs and familial support. Many same-sex weddings appearing in mainstream media sources, for example, look increasingly like their opposite-sex counterparts; the primary difference is whether there are two brides, two grooms or one bride and one groom getting married.
Accompanying increased assimilation, straight (non-LGBTQ) couples are demonstrating their curiosity and excitement about new wedding customs introduced in same-sex weddings. Many of these new rituals have evolved from the very practical purpose of adapting rituals for one man and one woman to be better suited for two women or two men. Today, however, younger couples across the board are planning their wedding rituals and receptions, choosing to adopt rituals that are less restrictive of gender roles and more accepting of an equal expression of love and commitment.
For all couples from mainstream sources who approach you looking for services, it’s incredibly important that you ask open-ended questions to understand not only what they are looking for, but how they see themselves and to which planning trends they are responding. The majority of the market is represented by engaged couples who seek personalized service, and want to be understood and supported in developing a meaningful tradition that is reflective of their love and commitment. It’s important to understand what a bride and groom might want and/or need; what two grooms might want and/or need; or what two brides might want and/or need. In sum, cultural shifts are impacting everyone.
Though most couples (LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ) may be seeking personalization and a wedding worthy of a wedding feature in WeddingWire’s “Real Wedding” inspiration pages, there are also LGBTQ couples who still embody some of the needs and objectives of the early wedding pioneers. They are brides and grooms and bridegrooms who may use their own labels and be struggling to get their needs met because the mainstream market isn’t serving them. For these couples, rather than focusing on how to serve two brides or two grooms, the larger question is one of intentional service to support the couples who have a much more expansive (often non-binary) representation of their gender expression or sexual orientation.
Genderqueer and other non-binary couples, according to “LGBTQ Weddings in 2018: A Study of Same-Sex and Queer Identified Couples,” share a “strong fear of rejection” based on their sexual orientation or gender expression. Sixty-one percent (61%) of transgender and non-binary identified couples and 44% of same-sex couples remain wary. Significantly, 100% of married trans/non-binary identified couples (p. 38) are concerned about “religious freedom” laws that allow service providers to refuse to serve LGBTQ couples (compared to 88% of married same-sex male couples and 96% of married same-sex female couples).
Thus, when you, as a wedding professional, have the opportunity to serve a queer-identified couple, it is important to expect a deeper line of questioning and a higher expectation of understanding about the politics surrounding same-sex marriage, the queer community, and gender identity and expression. Know that historically marginalized couples may be slower to trust the process, having been mistreated, misgendered or misunderstood previously in their planning process.
Goodbye to service refusal
Though there are still questions on service refusal to be settled in the courts and by lawmakers, the wedding industry – as a whole – has chosen to be inclusive and welcoming of same-sex couples. In 2017, a majority of wedding professionals (67%) said they believe that wedding-related businesses should be required to serve same-sex couples; a minority of vendors (32%) supported service refusal. Notably, a number of those who support the right of a business owner to refuse service also said that they think same-sex couples should be served.
Though couples do still express concerns about rejection and discrimination, the market has evolved to offer more powerful examples of unconditional acceptance according to the rule of law (eg, WeddingWire’s non-discrimination policy) than rejection. And, even with a few road bumps along the way, I see this trend continuing to spread from coast to coast throughout 2019.
This post was written by Kathryn Hamm WeddingWire Education Expert, Diversity and Inclusion Specialist. Kathryn is also co-author of the groundbreaking book, The New Art of Capturing Love: The Essential Guide to Lesbian and Gay Wedding Photography. Follow her on Twitter @madebykathryn.