“I was so glad to find this event as it came right in time after our engagement. Neither one of us has ever been involved in planning a wedding, and we felt intimidated by the process.”
That was the sentiment expressed by one of the attendees at the first Coastal Virginia Gay Wedding Showcase in Norfolk on January 28. Produced by Norfolk-based Weddings with Pride, the showcase was the result of a yearlong survey of more than 600 Virginia same-sex couples that uncovered a desire for a wedding planning event targeted exclusively to the unique needs of the LGBTQ community.
While an overwhelming majority of wedding businesses welcome marriage equality, the media has given highlighted coverage to those that refuse to service same-sex weddings. Coupled with a pending religious freedom bill working through the Virginia General Assembly, gay couples feel an added trepidation as they navigate the already-stressful new frontier of wedding planning.
The survey also revealed that most LGBTQ couples are approaching the task as savvy consumers. An astonishing 89% of survey respondents say they are sensitive to the possibility of discrimination by some wedding vendors. 76% of them rank working with LGBTQ-owned, operated or friendly businesses as a top priority.
In addition to the survey findings, a count of marriage licenses issued in Virginia show that Norfolk and Virginia Beach lead the Commonwealth with 620 issued between October 2014 and August 2015 — 16% of the 3,600 issued statewide in that same time period.
“We knew the timing was right for this event,” said Eric Hause, President of Wedding with Pride. Hause is gay himself and up until now produced only traditional wedding shows. “The LGBTQ weddings market was there, that the community needed a little extra TLC, and there are dozens of wedding businesses in Coastal Virginia who want to help them.”
As a result, the Showcase was structured to give couples and business owners several opportunities to build a rapport. “We carefully vetted every wedding professional we invited to make sure that they fully embrace marriage equality,” said Hause. “Right off the bat, we offered a level of comfort with that guarantee.”
The company also set out to create a showcase that offered couples a higher level of personal attention than the traditional bridal show. They put together a daylong event with three signature activities, a format that they had successfully implemented in the traditional weddings market.
The first event on Saturday morning was a limousine tour of eight Hampton Roads wedding venues from Norfolk to the Virginia Beach oceanfront. Each venue welcomed couples for 30 to 45 minutes, served food and drink, and gave couples a tour their facility.
“The tour was definitely the best and most unique part of the day,” said one of the attendees. “Not every day do you get a chauffeured limousine ride with champagne in hand to a venue. It made us feel really special.”
At tour’s end, couples were delivered to the Sheraton Norfolk Waterside where 40 Coastal Virginia wedding professionals greeted them at the Wedding Expo. Tim Bostic and Tony London, plaintiffs in the first Virginia marriage equality case who were married last year, fielded questions from the audience during a Q&A session. A spectacular fashion show featuring local same-sex couples as models closed out the Expo.
After a break for dinner, couples and vendors headed to an After Party at Work | Release in the Norfolk NEON District. Food and drink, door prizes, dancing, and a raucous drag show rounded out the evening.
Hause explained, “The party was an opportunity for couples to socialize with the same vendors they met that day without feeling overwhelmed or pressured. Plus, we just wanted everyone to let their hair down and have some fun.”
Weddings with Pride has already set the date for it’s next Showcase on February 11, 2017 at the Sheraton Virginia beach Oceanfront. The company also produces smaller educational and social wedding events throughout the year. The next event, “A Private Dinner with a Wedding Planner,” is on April 26 in Norfolk. Weddings with Pride also produces a same-sex wedding showcase on North Carolina’s Outer Banks.
“These events will only grow in popularity over time as more couples commit to each other,” Hause said. “And who knows, maybe some day we won’t have any more gay weddings. Only weddings.”
Visit Weddings with Pride online at www.WeddingswithPrideVA.com.