Inclusive Vendors Offer Engaged Couples Equal Treatment and Respect
Ashley Howe and her fiance Justine Simpson have been to several bridal shows, but none quite like the Ultimate LGBT Wedding and Anniversary Expo held on Sunday, March 11, in MotorCity Casino’s state of the art ballroom in Detroit.
“At this one, people aren’t asking us ‘Who’s the bride?'” said Simpson, 29. “We always have to explain, no, we’re both brides. We’re getting married together.”
The couple from Wyandotte is set to wed on Sept. 7 and attended the event – hosted for the eighth year by Between the Lines and Pride Source Media Group – to seek out ideas.
“Most of the time vendors won’t allow me to take the stuff they’re giving away,” said Howe, 33. “I just stand off to the side while they talk to her, like I’m the gay best friend or something.”
Simpson said, “Here, they acknowledge that we’re both brides and they talk to her too.”
Jordan Hefty, 28, and her fiance Nicole Milliman, 35, had a similar experience at a local bridal show.
“It was so uncomfortable and impersonal and unwelcoming,” said Hefty. “This is such a better experience. We love it. The vendors actually want to talk to you. This is what I thought the first one was going to be like.”
The couple is getting married on Aug. 11 in Traverse City and attended the expo for a worry-free shopping experience. “We have the right to be brides, too,” said Milliman. “I need to have that feeling of excitement, and an event like this helps with that. Otherwise, it’s terrifying. This increases that excitement while we plan.”
More than 100 inclusive vendors were on-site showcasing everything couples need to plan their upcoming celebrations, including weddings, anniversaries, vow renewals, graduations, bar and bat mitzvahs, adoptions, baby showers and more. The expo featured demonstrations throughout the ballroom, a fashion show, and live entertainment along with an impressive array of prizes for attendees, including a $500 gift card provided by sponsor Snethkamp Chrysler Dodge Jeep RAM Detroit to use with any vendor in attendance.
“We love the opportunity to work with this community,” said Monica Ingles of Sorella’s Custom Cakes in Livonia. “This is a really meaningful event for us in general.”
Johnson, who represented the bakery with her sister Bertha Ferguson, discussed the loss of their nephew, Spencer, in early March. He was a member of the LGBTQ community and died from cancer at the age of 25.
“We are getting a taste of what our nephew might have enjoyed had he lived long enough to have his own wedding. Many of our loved ones are a part of the LGBTQ community. We love love,” said Ingles, adding that they have offered to show people the door who have a problem with they way they love.
That sentiment was expressed in the Mr. & Mr. and Mrs. & Mrs. cake designs on display.
Ingles said, “It’s such a celebration, such a labor of love making our cakes and putting them together.”
Wally Russell of Russell Photography in Lake Orion agreed with that statement.
“For us, in photography, love is love, however it’s conveyed,” he said. “It’s love and that’s what we love to photograph. If you love photographing and you’ve got love in front of you, it comes out great.”
Russell and his wife, Michelle, are longtime supporters of the LGBTQ community and were “excited” to attend the expo for the first time to offer up their services.
“Our job as photographers is to find beauty in everybody that we see,” said Russell. “The wedding is all about them, not us. We leave our ego at home. We want to be a support team for our couples and help them have the best day of their life.”
Walled Lake couple Lavon Hall, 25, and Brandon Lampkin, 31, are getting married on June 8, 2019, and are in the beginning stages of their wedding planning.
“This is such an inclusive feeling,” said Hall. “We know we’re welcome here and can meet with vendors who will supply the services we need without discriminating against us.”
While Dawn Carpenter, 49, and her fiance Angela Pullen, 48, haven’t set a wedding date yet, the St. Clair Shores couple attended the expo to gather ideas.
“This is great,” said Carpenter. “Being a gay couple, you don’t know who’s going to accept you if you walk in the door somewhere … this is a safe place to find people who are welcoming of our business.”
The expo was also an important opportunity to celebrate the businesses in Michigan that vocally support equality for the LGBTQ community and everyone else. Co-publishers Jan Stevenson and Susan Horowitz sliced into a rainbow-colored cake provided by Sorella’s Custom Cakes to celebrate more than 25 years printing their award-winning weekly LGBTQ print publication, Between The Lines. The celebration also commemorated the Michigan Pride Source Annual Yellow Pages and Magazine and its online site, Pridesource.com. This month marks a quarter of a century in business, and reporting on the lives of LGBTQ Michiganders as they fight for full equality.
“To mobilize a community they have to know what’s going on, and Susan and I consider the paper a vehicle for activism,” Stevenson said. “The best way we know how to get the largest number of people educated and motivated, to make real change, is by publishing Between The Lines.”
Events celebrating LGBTQ rights are especially important in the current political climate, as legislation is consistently being passed that endangers them. For instance, on March 8, a bill called the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA), was introduced by Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT). The bill, cosponsored by 21 Senate Republicans, would bar the federal government from ameliorating discrimination against same-sex couples, single parents and unmarried couples when an entity evokes a sincerely-held religious belief or moral conviction.
The political climate has been inundated with news of religious liberty advisory councils forming to advocate for discrimination against LGBTQ Americans, and anti-LGBTQ marriage and family boards attacking same-sex marriage rulings by the Supreme Court. Even though LGBTQ couples can still get married in Michigan, there are no civil rights protections statewide, so they can be fired from a job, denied housing or services.
Rev. Deb Cox, associate pastor at MCC Detroit in Clawson, attended the expo to remind LGBTQ couples that there are many inclusive and welcoming congregations in the faith community that exist.
“Try them out,” said Cox. “We’re not one-size fits all necessarily, because each church has its own personality. Stay for like six weeks. Get over the jitters of, ‘Wow, can this really be church?’ We’ve been told for so much of our lives that church can’t be real if it’s open to LGBTQ people. The world is changing, though, even if our government is not, and people are more accepting. The more we talk about it and the more we stand together, the more we sit in places of worship where we know we’re welcomed, the more we can be much less jittery.”
Carlton Johnson, 41, and his fiance Stafford Sykes, 54, of Detroit got engaged during the expo. They plan to get married May 19, 2019.
Johnson said he believes communities of faith will “slowly come around to understand exactly what this is. Until then, we’ll have to work within the system to make it work. More education is needed.”
Because, after all, Sykes said, “I should be able to love who I love and be celebrated, not tolerated.”
Gordon Matson and Tim Osiwala, too, think of the expo as a way to educate and bring awareness that “this is OK.” The Oak Park couple is set to wed on June 9. Matson said it will be “a ceremony of love, not gender. It’s not a gay wedding. It’s a wedding between two people that love each other.”