Friday, March 7, 2014

Why Being "LGBT-Friendly" Is No Longer Enough

For years, I've been asking the question of what it means to be "LGBT-friendly". Sure, we say our Say I Do! event features LGBT-friendly vendors but there was always the nagging question in my mind, “Is being  ‘LGBT-friendly’  enough?” I wasn't sure what enough would be or how to go the extra step.
And like a sack of bricks, it hits me. Being LGBT-friendly isn't enough. As a matter of fact, if current events and events I've personally witnessed are any indicator - and they are-  being "friendly" to the LGBT community really means nothing at all.
I am a big fan of RuPaul's Drag Race. This show delivers everything to keep me entertained and I usually come away with a new phrase or word. I swear, its pure gold! But, I digress. Anyone who has watched this show knows that while some of the contestants may act friendly towards each other (at times) they are all not friends, not at all! The many ways in which these queens “throw shade” is astounding. It's damn near brilliant. It makes for great TV but in real life, who needs someone who is just "friendly" to you?  Smile in your face, talk about you behind your back- I'll pass!
For the past five years, we have been producing the Say I Do! LGBT Wedding Expo. Part of my job is to find vendors and businesses who want to work with the same-gender loving community and who are as excited about helping us plan our weddings as they would be with any couple. I wish I could say it's been all roses; I wish I could say that every person, every business has jumped for joy to work with our couples.  That has not been the case. I have had people step away from me;  I mean, literally take a couple of steps back when I told them that I produce wedding shows for the LGBT community. The same people who were in my face and excited to meet and talk to me were no longer interested in networking when they found out what it was I do. It was as if being gay was contagious or standing next to me somehow transposed my "sin" onto them. I even had a venue manager tell me that while they will do gay weddings, the wedding can be held in the back pavilion; and that no, they would never put a gay or lesbian couple on their marketing materials because they are "family-friendly". These things I cannot make up! Though,  I do wish it was fiction.
The cornucopia of what I like to call "luke-warm" businesses is dizzying. These are businesses that will take your money but will talk about you behind your back.  They really don't like you because you're gay but will put up with you for the check.  Ask yourself- If someone is just putting up with you, do you think they're going to give you the best service or the best product? Of course not! Funny though, these businesses call themselves "LGBT-friendly"! If the standard of "friendly" they use is the same standard that Christians who proclaim “love the sinner, hate the sin” when they refer to gays, or are like the "friendly" we see on RuPaul's Drag Race or on a Real Housewives episode- that is a friend that the LGBT community does not need!  Ask any of the politicians who passed the Arizona bill to discriminate against gays, I'm sure they'll tell you they are "gay-friendly" as well!
If you judge me by anything other than my character, I don't need your services or products nor do you deserve my money.  No tea, no shade- just real talk!
Part of my job is to fend off these types of businesses so that the couples that attend Say I Do! Events- or look to us to recommend businesses to help them plan their big day- don't have to deal with them. I wish there was more we could do to let people know that while certain business will take your money, they are fundamentally opposed to who you are on the basis of who you love.
It may be impossible to ensure that every time money leaves your hands it is given to a person, business or entity that believes in the right for two consenting adults to love each other regardless of gender but we can make sure that larger planned out efforts, such as a wedding, are only conducted with businesses who affirm us not just tolerate us. The decision has been made to move from saying "LGBT-friendly" to "LGBT-affirming" when describing the businesses that participate at Say I Do! events.  Affirming means:  I accept you for who you are, regardless of who you love and I won't treat you any differently because of it. Affirming is all or nothing. You can't fake it. You can't affirm someone and then not like or agree with what it is you are supposedly affirming. Maybe you can, but it would be really hard to fake. When you affirm someone, you don't tell them that you can work with them but they have to hold their "gay wedding" at the back of the venue. Recently, I fell head over heels for a unique and fun game for weddings.  I noticed that none of the sample images showed same-sex couples or indicated any same-sex partnerships. I talked to the company and suggested that they make mock-up samples featuring same-sex couples. Two weeks later, I received an email saying they would not do it. Over twenty images of straight couples but they could not accommodate one image of a same-sex couple. But once again, they'd be happy to take my order! I'm invisible and so are others like me but you want my very tangible money? No, thank you! We need businesses that affirm us without hesitation. I cannot settle for anything less than affirming for the couples who attend our events and trust us for advice. And whether you decide to attend a Say I Do! event or not, you shouldn't settle for anything less either!
Say I Do! is in the process of creating a badge for businesses to display and let others know that they are affirming of the LGBT community. The badge will signify to our community that you can shop here, we will treat you with dignity and respect, and we will not deny your right to be served at this establishment because of who you love. Further, it means that if another patron has an issue with your presence because you are gay, we will stand for your right to be who you are regardless of what others may think, feel or publicize. That's a big statement.  It’s on the side of equality and justice and it is simply the only way to counter discrimination and to let people know that bigotry, by any means, will not be tolerated.  There is no room for intolerance or hate in love.
It is my hope that the words "LGBT-affirming" speaks volumes and indicates the seriousness of our cause and how committed we are to our couples.

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