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Between the cake, photographers, floral arrangements and wedding attire on display at the 9th annual Between The Lines Wedding, Home and Life Expo on Sunday, Oct. 13, Dearborn’s The Henry, Autograph Collection hotel felt transformed into a unique celebration of both marriage and equality. With more than 80 equality-minded vendors in attendance at the event, guests, LGBTQ or allied, could feel comfortable that every business and organization present was there not only to showcase their various offerings but stand in solidarity with LGBTQ people.
Jan Stevenson is BTL’s co-publisher and co-founder of the Expo. When she addressed the hundreds-strong crowd in attendance, she summed up the value of feeling comfortable when preparing for any event, especially in this charged political time.
“In this time of the movement, it’s really important for us to recognize that these vendors who are with us in the room today are the ones that are really going to make a difference in our lives,” Stevenson said. “Some of you may have heard that there was an invitation company in Arizona that sued because they didn’t want to make invitations for a same-sex couple. It went all the way to the Arizona Supreme Court and they won. So the current political climate is a scary one for us in the LGBTQ community. But if you want invitations, we just happen to have an invitation company here and they make them for same-sex couples — they know you’re gay.”
She went on to thank the remaining vendors for their continued support as both allies and community members themselves. The invitation company she was referring to is Pink Paper Studios, which creates hand-stamped and colored personalized invitations. When asked why acceptance of LGBTQ people is important to them as a business, owner Cathy Glynn said that “everyone deserves their day.”
“I saw the event come up on Facebook and I thought, ‘You know, I haven’t done a wedding expo,’ and I thought, ‘I’m sorry, but love is love,’” she said. “We have lots of friends that have gone through and they ended up doing something small because they had trouble [finding a vendor.] Everyone deserves their fairytale.”
Also in attendance were representatives from The LGBT and Allies Caucus of the Michigan Democratic Party whose goal was to encourage more political activism on behalf of the LGBTQ community.
“We’re at the expo this year because we’ve reached a critical point where we need to get the LGBTQ community engaged and involved,” said Caucus Vice-Chair Jacob Johnson. “… The question of whether or not I have the right to be employed in this country. It’s not just about a job, it’s the right to education and my health care and the rights of my children to education. On the grand scale, people say that, ‘Oh, that happens every day, I can be fired for any reason,’ but we want legal backing support for our community. We want the same rights and we don’t want to be second-class citizens. We’re here to energize and engage the community where they are.”
For many other vendors in attendance, the cause was a personal one: either they or a member of their family had come out as LGBTQ and acceptance was the natural response. For Pattie Belanger and Patty Scott, the sisters-in-law who run Le Fontaine De Chocolat catering company, it was their family ties that persuaded them to participate in the Expo.
“We’ve been in business for about 15 years. We don’t do a lot of shows, however, when Patty’s son got married to his husband it was 2012, there wasn’t anything for them. And a lot of time when they went somewhere people gave them a look, which infuriates both of us,” Belanger said. “And then, my brother just got married to his partner of 15 years. So we did their whole wedding. I think we look at it differently than a lot of people do.”
Patty Scott agreed.
“We’re inclusive for everybody. We do graduations, baby showers, but we don’t do many wedding shows, but we do this one because it’s a new market,” she said. “And then, we understand the client and their needs. We don’t judge anybody and another company might say, ‘I don’t do that,’ but not us.”
Comfort in Planning
Unfortunately, that rejection can be all too real. And in some areas of the country without explicit protections for sexual orientation and gender identity in all areas, Michigan included, discrimination is a real threat that extends beyond wedding preparation. One of the vendors in attendance was Don Chisholm from Real Estate One. A member of the LGBTQ community himself, he pointed out why LGBTQ couples can benefit from using a service provider who is well-versed in what rights clients have.
“At the federal and state level there are not necessarily sexual orientation laws in place for non-discrimination, so in certain parts at the national level it’s legally OK to discriminate against someone based on their sexual orientation when it comes to housing to rent and so forth,” Chisholm said. “I’ve been fortunate in my business that I’ve not had first hand discriminatory experiences from myself and my clients, but it’s important to me that I put my clients in such a position that they’re not going to ever have to worry about that.”
And beyond providing expertise, there’s a level of ease that couples can uniquely feel when working with a vendor who is accepting. Couple Sally and Leanne Trainor attended the Expo with their son. They said that they enjoyed the stress-free nature of the event, too.
“It was just nice to come out to a relaxed atmosphere, being a same-sex couple with a child and see people interested in the same things that we are,” Sally Trainor said.
Leanne Trainor agreed.
“It’s a sense of community to be with other same-sex couples,” she said. “It’s comfortable, it’s home, it’s our community; It’s a relaxed atmosphere with like-minded people.”
Fiancees Chelsea Manning and Christy McGraw are scheduled to tie the knot in the spring of 2020. They said that they hadn’t known about the expo before they made their plans but they were eager to keep service providers from the Expo in mind for future events.
“When we were trying to find venues and find caterers and everything one of the questions I always felt like I had to ask was, “Are you LGBT-friendly?” And some people were like, ‘Of course, of course.’ And other people were like, ‘Yeah, we’ve done three gay couples,’” she said with a laugh. “So, I wish we had had this [resource] before.”
It was perhaps Mary Gondert of Mary Anastasia Photography who summed up the value of an inclusive vendor best — both from a personal and business-minded perspective.
“It’s something that I value partially because I came out late in life as bisexual, and I struggled to find a place within the queer community, and I struggled to find my own identity as I moved forward. And as I started making more friends in the community and more trans friends, in particular, I started seeing the value of having a photographer that was actually showcasing those couples and making it less about acceptance like, ‘I threw an LGBT photo in my gallery so I could tell people I do LGBT wedding,’ versus enthusiasm,” she said. “A lot of my photos are LGBT couples. So I find that very, very important.”