By now, it’s old news – but no less horrifying – that Indiana Gov. Mike Pence recently signed into law a “religious freedom” bill allowing businesses to turn away gay, lesbian and transgender customers. An obvious effect of this bill is that wedding professionals who oppose same-sex marriage can now refuse service to LGBT couples, while enjoying the full protection of the law.
This article isn’t about that.
Well, not exactly, anyway. There are many others out there who share my disgust at Gov. Pence’s decision, who are far more qualified than I to write about its legal, moral and financial implications. What inspired me to write today was my thoughts on how many wedding professionals seem to be on the fence about marketing to an LGBT clientele, and what that implies.
See, I feel very fortunate to work with some of the most intelligent and ethical wedding professionals anywhere. Of the literally hundreds, if not thousands, of wedding business owners I know, I can’t think of a single one who outright declines LGBT couples. (I’m sure a few exist, but I’m glad I’m not aware of them, and I’d happily invite them to decline to work with my company going forward.)
Unfortunately, while I think most wedding vendors are willing to work with gay and lesbian clients, that’s not the same thing as welcoming them. Specifically, it’s not the same as marketing to them, which is how prospective clients know that you value their union and you want to be part of their wedding.
I’m just going to put this out there for consideration:
If you aren’t willing to market directly to LGBT couples, you don’t deserve their business.
Bold statement? Maybe. Keep in mind, though, that saying you don’t deserve their business is not saying you shouldn’t receive their business. You may very well may be the most talented vendor in your field, and you may be perfectly glad to help gay, lesbian and transgender couples celebrate their marriage. Those couples may be thrilled to work with you, in which case, more power to you all.
My point is that if you aren’t willing to make a public statement, via your wedding marketing, that you welcome LGBT couples, then you have no right to expect that these couples will want to spend their money on your services.
I’ve had several wedding professionals – respected, experienced ones – approach me to ask how you can publicly market to gay and lesbian couples without alienating more “conservative” clients. My answer may have seemed flippant, but it was about as true as true gets:
You just do.
I don’t think it’s possible to operate a business, especially one in a field as deeply impacted by religion and morality as weddings, without potentially offending anyone. Take any marital union between any couple on the planet – someone, somewhere, is going to take issue with it. The couple doesn’t share the same faith, they’re not the same race, they’re not the same nationality, their age difference is too great, they’ve been married and divorced before, they lived together before marriage, they already had a child together, they don’t go to church often enough, they don’t go to church at all, their families just plain don’t like each other. The list of potential objections goes on and on.
So in that sense, by working with any couple, we’re potentially taking a stand.
And really, in our industry, what more important stand is there possibly to take than one for the basic human right for any person to marry (and enjoy the associated legal benefits and protections) whom they love?
My primary business, MyDeejay, has openly solicited the business of LGBT couples for as long as I can remember. In fact, Bernadette Smith, the creator of the Gay Wedding Institute and the nation’s leading educator on gay and lesbian weddings, has used our website as an example in her training sessions. (I couldn’t be more proud of this!) We put our marriage equality stance pretty much front-and-center in our online marketing, and I feel certain that it’s done nothing but positive things for our business and our bottom line.
Can I say without a doubt that no prospective client has ever walked away from us because we include same-sex couples in our marketing? Of course not; it’s not like they’d tell us. What I can say is that I have had innumerable couples, both same-sex and heterosexual, thank us for having such a welcoming, inclusive website. Furthermore, I can say that our vehement position on marriage equality doesn’t seem to have impacted the overall religious and political diversity of our clientele. We continue to provide music for couples with all variations of ideology. (I’ll never forget the year that we deejayed weddings for both an Obama campaign adviser – just weeks after his first presidential victory – and a honcho at the Republican National Committee, on the same weekend!)
Another point I can make with confidence is that, when you put yourself out there as a supporter of same-sex marriage, the right kinds of clients seem to find their way to you, and you don’t find yourself missing those who might pass you by. Honestly, if I’m going to lose out on anyone’s money, I’m more than happy for it to be that of a bigot. People who share my passionate belief in the equal rights and liberties of every human seem to be (in my experience anyway) more cool, more interesting, more kind, and more likely to appreciate my company and what we do.
There’s another benefit to being open with your LGBT marketing. It puts people, who might otherwise feel uncomfortable, more at ease. And that matters a lot. Let me share something that happened last week:
I was at the office after hours, and happened to pick up a telephone call. The gentleman on the other end inquired about our availability for his date, we discussed his venue, we talked about our DJs’ style and approach. All in all, an entirely typical conversation. Then he paused.
“I have to tell you,” he said, in a quieter tone. “This is a gay wedding. I need to know you’re okay with that. Are you willing to work with us?”
And with that, my heart broke a little. He didn’t know.
My website has a tile in the center of our wedding homepage, with the header “LGBT Weddings.” It directs to a page specifically written for gay and lesbian clients, which includes a statement on our DJs’ commitment to supporting marriage equality (we absolutely will not hire anyone who does not share this belief), testimonials from same-sex couples, and information on our involvement with the Human Rights Campaign. Elsewhere on the site, we blog about our gay and lesbian weddings alongside all our other weddings. I don’t think our stance could be any clearer.
And yet, this person – and a handful of others before him – felt he had to make sure.
I personally can’t relate to having to wonder whether a company would be willing to accept me as a client. And yet, I can imagine how terrible it would feel. Especially when researching something as wonderful and momentous as your wedding.
For that reason, if no other, I believe that we as wedding vendors should market ourselves, openly and publicly and vocally, to all couples. The more businesses that commit to doing this, the less companies and websites like mine will be an anomaly, but instead just the norm. Only then can we feel like we’re entitled to be considered for patronage by LGBT clients, and like we’re doing something tangible to spread the idea that we all have the right to marry whomever we choose.