You cleaned up the pronouns and bride-centric language on your website to make it more inclusive, you studied ways to pose folks without conforming to a bunch of gender norms, and you set up a styled shoot with a same-sex couple to feature them on your website. Now, you’ve booked your first actual wedding with an LGBTQ couple. Woohoo! You’ve got a few months to get ready, so what should you be doing to prepare?
Posing and pronouns are important, but they aren’t everything, especially at a wedding. Just like any couple, an LGBTQ couple is likely to be under a ton of stress and pressure on their wedding day. By spending a little extra time trying to understand the unique tensions of an LGBTQ couple, you can be an important part of making their wedding day perfect.
The most important thing to understand about anyone in the LGBTQ community is that, even though we’re walking right beside you on the street or sitting next to you on the subway, we experience a very different world than you do. We live in a world where we must be virtually always on guard against verbal and physical threat; this is especially true for those of us who aren’t gender-normative or otherwise don’t blend in. We are the topic of endless public debate about whether we should be allowed to have basic rights, be hired or fired, serve our country, or even be served by restaurants or other businesses, and we are routinely rejected by close friends and family. Individually, any one of these stressors is manageable, but cumulatively, they are a burden that others do not notice we carry.
Outside our homes and carefully selected circles of friends, there are few places where we can go where we are not outsiders, the exception to the norm, unusual, singular, or alone. Creating places where we feel we can fully be ourselves and relax our guard is critical for our mental health. Our wedding day is one of only a few days in our lives when we can publicly celebrate who we are and who we love, with unguarded joy. This is why it’s so important for you to prepare yourself to be a part of our day.
Begin by making sure your entire wedding process is inclusive from start to finish. Does every point of contact include gender-neutral language and avoid bride-centric language? It’s no good if your website is great but all of your follow up emails and questionnaires are problematic. Examine each step of the entire encounter to make sure there are no oversights.
Use Inclusive Pronouns
Take the time to clean up your own mind and environment. Incorporate the language from your website into the rest of your life, and use inclusive terms in your daily language. Practice these terms when you speak to anyone, regardless of your environment. The more you practice inclusive language, the more natural it will feel, and the less likely you will be to slip up. I can’t stress the importance of this enough. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard a vendor refer to a same-sex couple as ‘Mr & Mrs’ at their wedding. That kind of slip-up is extremely distressing to a couple on their wedding day.
Between now and the couple’s wedding day, pay attention to the language you use when you attend (or photograph) other weddings. Make note of the ways you address couples and groups, and how often you use gendered or bride-centric terms. Practice inclusive wedding day language by using terms like:
- The couple
- The newlyweds
- The parents of the couple
- Wedding party
- Stand with your partners
- Who’s the big spoon?
Simply learning and using names as much as possible is a great way to ensure you’re being respectful to everyone. At the very least, please make sure you know who is who with your same-sex couples. It’s good practice to have all your clients send photos for your files ahead of time.
Be An LGBTQ+ Ally
Find ways to involve yourself in your local LGBTQ community as an ally. You can volunteer or attend a local networking group that is affirming. Many cities have LGBTQ chamber of commerce-type organizations that you can join as an ally. There are also many groups on Facebook for LGBTQ people and allies. Interacting with gay folks and allies will help you understand the concerns and diversity of our community more fully, and it will help you be more at ease at your LGBTQ couple’s wedding. The important thing to remember when you are interacting with folks is that you should spend more time listening than talking, especially at first. As questions arise, let Google answer them. Expecting others to educate you can be overwhelming to them, and is unnecessary in this modern age.
Discuss Family Complications Ahead of Time
Shortly before the wedding, have a discussion with your LGBTQ couple to make sure you understand all the unique details of their wedding, just as you would with any other couple. If you’re not already asking every couple about family complications, it’s a good time to start. Ask the couple if there are any family difficulties that might affect the day. Often with LGBTQ weddings, a parent or other close relative will either refuse to attend or they will come to the wedding begrudgingly, causing folks to worry about how they might behave. Occasionally, a couple will give you a description and name of someone who is not allowed into the venue on their wedding day. If your couple discloses any family complications, acknowledge the situation and offer your sympathy, but don’t dwell on it, and do not mention it on their wedding day to anyone (especially their guests).
Become Acquainted With The Wedding Party
Ask your couple about their wedding party, and be sure to get names for everyone ahead of time so that you can learn them before the wedding day. Frequently, individuals from their wedding party will also be part of the LGBTQ community. While it is rude and unnecessary to ask the orientation of each person in the wedding party, you should ask if there are any details about anyone in the wedding party you might need to know, and your clients will likely voluntarily clue you in if anyone in the wedding party has any notable considerations.
Taking these empathetic steps during the months before an LGBTQ wedding will help you become more familiar with the beauty of the LGBTQ community, and also allow you to overcome any awkwardness you may have around others who are possibly radically different from you or the people in your world. Additionally, you’ll probably make a few new friends along the way, and that is something we all need!
Good luck and thank you for your support!