Gay Weddings and Social Media

Thursday, March 24, 2011

gay wedding expertBernadette Coveney-Smith is the nation's first legal gay wedding planner and the founder of 14 Stories, her wedding planning company for same-sex couples as well as the founder of the Gay Wedding Institute, an organization that trains wedding professionals on how to market to and work in the same-sex wedding market. I asked her to share some of her insight into some of the common mistakes wedding professionals make online that keep them from booking clients in this growing segment of the market. Here is our conversation:

Can you share some statistics on the impact same-sex weddings have (will have) on the economy if/when they are legalized?

Well, to start, according to the last Census data (not from 2010), there are 781,000 same-sex couples living together in the U.S. And, as of today, there are only five states in the U.S. and D.C. where same-sex marriage is legal. 45 states remain - that's a lot of weddings. Gay weddings are good for business and Forbes reported that the overall wedding industry would see a $9.5 billion annual increase if gay marriage was legalized across the country. The wedding industry is huge and gay weddings are truly the only emerging segment of the industry. I'm based in Massachusetts which saw $111 million come into our economy the first five years gay marriage was legal here.

What are the two main things wedding professionals who want to work in this aspect of the market do to undermine their opportunities?

The two main things wedding professionals do to undermine their opportunities with engaged same-sex couples are 1) to assume that planning a gay wedding will be just like planning a straight wedding; and 2) to fail to use gender neutral language and inclusive photos in their marketing collateral.

Because of your influence, I often catch myself writing in a gender-focused way (bride instead of brides or bride and groom or couple) and will edit it to be gender neutral. What is the importance of writing in a gender neutral way? Does it really matter or is it just an issue of the PC police? Will an engaged gay male couple really not hire a wedding professional because they only write "brides" on their blog and other social media sites?

How many times do you say "my bride" or "the bride and the groom?" What if there are two brides or two grooms? It's important to train yourself to avoid assuming that there's one bride and one groom. This means that when you answer the phone and there's a female on the line inquiring about your services, you should avoid questions like, "what's the name of the groom?" It's easy to accidentally offend or turn off a couple, simply because of the way we're programmed as wedding vendors. Most of the time it's purely accidental and same-sex couples know not to take it personally, but it's awfully embarrassing when it happens.

If you fail to be gender neutral, will you automatically lose a client? Maybe, maybe not. But is it worth potentially losing thousands of dollars? It could literally be a $50,000 mistake.

What are some of the more common stereotypes vendors have about gay weddings that you'd like to see go?

The first assumption I'd like to see go is that gay weddings are just like straight weddings, except with two same-sex partners. I think it's easy to forget that there is an LGBT culture and that with any culture come traditions. Just as there are Jewish and Indian wedding traditions, there are gay wedding traditions. Gay weddings and straight weddings differ, particularly in the planning.

Secondly, I'd love any assumptions/stereotypes about gender roles in same-sex relationships to go. I was at an event last year and a colleague asked me, "In a lesbian relationship, is one of them the bride and one of them the groom?" It's a fair question and she asked it to learn, but it's also something that's based on stereotypes. It also would have been unfortunate if she'd asked that to a lesbian couple directly. I've had two brides in dresses, two brides in suits and every other combination you can imagine. There are no rules and it's best to avoid the stereotypes so you don't accidentally offend anyone.

You can follow Bernadette on Twitter here.

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