LGBT-Friendly Businesses Anticipate Wedding Expo


DETROIT -- Last year was all about hope. At this year's Ultimate LGBT Wedding & Anniversary Expo on March 20 in Detroit, it's full speed ahead for LGBT couples planning their weddings and other life celebrations, thanks to last year's U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage.

"Last year, there was so much excitement about the possibility that the court rulings would be favorable," said Irene Lignos, Director of Conference and Catering Sales at MotorCity Casino Hotel, the site of this year's event and a Platinum Sponsor. "Since that time we have had various inquiries from the LGBT community regarding wedding space and hotel accommodations. I understand the show has already significantly grown in size and we look forward to celebrating this happy time with so many of our clients and friends."

The Ultimate LGBT Wedding & Anniversary Expo is, indeed, going to be bigger and better than ever, starting with its new venue. Hosted for the sixth year by Between The Lines, the event will feature over 100 vendors - maximum capacity -- special guests and plenty of surprises, all in MotorCity's state-of-the-art ballroom and Sound Board Theater. The hosts are planning for about hundreds of attendees.

According to Lignos, the event will be not only informative but fun and celebratory, with multiple demonstrations on stages around the venue. One of the main events will be a bridal fashion show, hosted as in previous years by B. Ella Bridal of Plymouth -- but with a fresh twist.

"We're excited to have strolling models in a larger venue, for a little more interaction this year," said Brittany Blase, owner of B. Ella Bridal. "We're super-excited about this year's expo to celebrate the community that has always given so much to the bridal and event industry -- and to the cause of marriage equality itself. Everyone we've worked with is so earnest and from the heart."

The inclusive vendors on site will showcase everything couples need to plan their upcoming celebrations, including weddings, anniversaries, vow renewals, graduations, bar and bat mitzvahs, adoptions, baby showers and more. But some vendors will look beyond, to services couples and families need in their daily lives.

BNI Biz.Networx of Southfield, for example, is coming as a team featuring a variety of businesses that are involved with their networking organization. This includes their "wedding mafia" -- such as a fitness trainer, travel agent, event coordinator, chef and makeup coordinator -- to an insurance agent, loan officer, title agent and more.

"Now that marriage equality is here, people are looking at the next steps in their lives and we're excited to be part of it," said Tina McNeal-O'Brien, a real estate broker and president of BNI Biz.Networx. "As an African-American woman married to an Irishman, if you look back 50 years that wouldn't have been possible for me. It's all about progress and change. It's about love and it's about family."

Although the Ultimate LGBT Wedding & Anniversary Expo is inclusive -- you don't have to be LGBT to join in all the fun -- there's no doubt that the LGBT community will be at the center of the celebration.

"This year, we are able to extend the full range of goods and services we offer to the gay community," said J. Robbin Yelverton, who is the co-owner of Blumz by JR Designs in Detroit and Ferndale, along with life partner Jerome Raska. "We are a full-service wedding shop that, in addition to beautiful flowers, provides services such as tuxedo rental, invitations, specialty linens and more. I'm even an officiant and have been 'marrying' people for years. It's nice to finally be able to do the same for the gay community."

Vendors won't be the only attraction at the Ultimate LGBT Wedding & Anniversary Expo. The event will feature live music, demonstrations, prize giveaways and much more -- all hosted by a talented, charming emcee, Jason Bowen.

"I'm excited for the chance to do this event -- something I feel close to, that's important to me," said Bowen, a professional actor, singer and host (not to mention a stilt-dancer). "Because of the Supreme Court ruling, our country is going in a direction we should have been going in for a long time. I've always believed you have to be on the right side of history."

The Ultimate LGBT Wedding & Anniversary Expo is from noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday, March 20 at the MotorCity Casino Hotel in Detroit. Tickets are just $10 each. For a full list of vendors, event sponsors and more details visit btlweddingexpo.com, where tickets are also available. For updates, follow www.facebook.com/UltimateLGBTExpo on Facebook, @BTLexpo on Twitter and @BTLEXPO on Instagram.

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