Between The Lines launched The Ultimate LGBT Wedding & Anniversary Expo six years ago not necessarily to throw a party, but to advance the cause of LGBT equality.
As it turns out, they did both.
This year’s expo will be a special celebration, following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in June 2015 legalizing same-sex marriage. The event will be a party, no question. But it will also mark a renewed commitment to the ongoing pursuit of lived equality for the LGBT community — the ideal of erasing anti-LGBT discrimination in every area of life.
According to Jan Stevenson, co-publisher of Between The Lines and co-producer of the event with her co-publisher and wife, Susan Horowitz, the event was born out of activism.
“Six years ago we got a call from the catering manager at the Marriott in Livonia, who was outraged that LGBT couples were telling her that other venues were turning them away,” Stevenson says. “I told her that happened all the time — and she said she wanted to do an LGBT wedding expo and asked if we would help.”
Although Stevenson and Horowitz were excited about the prospect of a fun event, it was about more than that.
“It was work we’d already been doing, and a response to blatant discrimination we were seeing against LGBT couples,” says Horowitz who, along with Stevenson, has a long, proud history of activism. “And that discrimination is not going to be eradicated because of marriage equality. We’re hearing even more stories of wedding vendors going on the offensive with the ‘religious freedom’ tune, and as long as there are people like Kim Davis and bakers who don’t want to bake cakes, you’re going to have injustice against people who just want to get married.”
In Michigan, for example, the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA) does not protect LGBT people against discrimination in employment and housing. Activists are working hard to update ELCRA to expand those protections.
As the pursuit of progress continues, The Ultimate LGBT Wedding & Anniversary Expo will celebrate the LGBT community’s achievements so far — and all the special events in their lives, including weddings, baptisms, graduations and more.
“The expo is about feeling respected,” Horowitz says. “It’s about celebrating with the people and vendors who won’t trample over our sacred moment.”
Stevenson and Horowitz bring a unique combination of activist engagement and event planning experience to the expo. The couple, who were married 12 years ago in Canada, met while serving on the board of the National LGBTQ Task Force. Stevenson was also the executive director of Affirmations in Ferndale for six years and chaired the first Human Rights Campaign dinner in Michigan. Horowitz was the co-founder and first executive director of NewFest, New York’s LGBT film festival, from 1989 to 1994, and was the 1983 Grand Marshal of NYC Pride and worked with the NYC Pride Committee for 19 years, producing the annual NYC Pride Guide.
Needless to say, these women know how to throw a party — and this year’s Ultimate LGBT Wedding & Anniversary Expo is going to be the biggest and best yet.
Hosted this year at MotorCity Casino Hotel, the biggest venue ever for the expo, which means room for many more inclusive vendors, with more than 100 booked. The expo will span the hotel ballroom and Sound Board theater, with activities throughout the space including cooking, makeup and jewelry shopping demonstrations, plus live entertainment and fashion, all emceed by the very entertaining Jason Bowen.
“We don’t want to pull people away from talking to the vendors, because that’s why they’re there: to find vendors who will be happy to work with LGBT couples and families,” Horowitz says.
All are welcome to the expo, whether or not they identify as LGBT. The expo will continue to be Detroit’s only LGBT-specific destination for couples planning their wedding to meet with inclusive vendors. But it will also be a place where couples and families that care about equality can meet with LGBT-friendly vendors that can help them celebrate all the special occasions in their lives: anniversaries, vow renewals, graduations, bar and bat mitzvahs, adoptions, baby showers, and more.
From the beginning, though, the expo has been a popular event for the LGBT community, drawing more and more attendees and vendors each year. Stevenson says they quickly learned that vendors appreciated their expo’s fun approach.
“A lot of vendors found traditional bridal shows to be a little stuffy — and it’s almost always the bride and other women, where our expo is a mixture of men and women,” she says.
In addition, attendees consistently give the expo high marks, Stevenson says, complimenting it for being well-organized and -presented.
“Attendees and vendors tell us they felt they really connected with each other — and that it’s a warm, approachable fun event,” she explains. “In the LGBT community, that can be kind of a foreign thing, so attendees really appreciate talking with vendors who are excited to work with them.”
The Ultimate LGBT Wedding & Anniversary Expo is Sunday, March 20 from noon to 5 p.m. at the MotorCity Casino Hotel in Detroit. The event will feature more than 100 vendors, a fashion show, prizes, entertainment and more. Tickets are $10 each. Learn more or order tickets online at http://btlweddingexpo.com. For updates, follow http://www.facebook.com/UltimateLGBTExpo on Facebook, @BTLexpo on Twitter and @BTLEXPO on Instagram.