GayWeddings.com is the leading online boutique and resource dedicated to serving same-sex couples. Founded in 1999 by straight mom, Gretchen Hamm, GayWeddings is the first site of its kind and offers same-sex couples resources such as free Wed Pages, a community forum, a boutique, planning articles and an LGBTQ-friendly vendor directory featuring more than 60,000 wedding professionals.
Additionally, company president Kathryn Hamm shares her perspective on the same-sex wedding market and wedding trends with journalists and she writes and speaks about how same-sex weddings are meaningful and why marriage matters. She is the author of ‘The New Art of Capturing Love: The Essential Guide to Lesbian & Gay Wedding Photography” (Amphoto, 2014) and is an Education Expert for WeddingWire, the nation’s leading technology company serving the $100+ billion wedding, corporate, and social events industry.
BusinessInterviews.com: Can you share a bit about the story behind GayWeddings.com and how the site has evolved since first launching back in 2000?
Kathryn: Sure! It has been a labor of love for almost 15 years now. My straight mom founded the company when she couldn’t find the products she needed for my (non-legal) wedding to my partner. She was lamenting this fact at our bridal shower (back during the first dot-com boom) and someone suggested she start “twobrides.com” – so she did! She founded the company in ’99 and then launched the first-of-their kind boutiques, TwoBrides.com and TwoGrooms.com, at the March on Washington in 2000.
I became a full-partner in the company in 2005 and, that year, we acquired GayWeddings.com and rebranded ourselves and became more of a one-stop resource for engaged couples and the wedding professionals who wanted to serve them. In 2011, we launched a partnership with WeddingWire, the leading technology company serving the $100+ billion wedding, corporate, and social events industry. And, since then, our LGBTQ-friendly directory of wedding professionals, which was already the most comprehensive by a long-shot when we launched, has grown by leaps and bounds. We now feature well over 60,000 wedding professionals in our directory.
But, beyond how we’ve grown as a company, what I find is fascinating is how the country has grown with each year that has passed. When my mom first started the company, same-sex couples were generally having small, private ceremonies; we had very limited access to partnership recognition; and marriage equality seemed like something reserved for the distant future, if at all. But “suddenly,” here we are, fifteen years later, and almost half of the states in the US (41%) recognize same-sex marriages and civil unions. And, with the recent Supreme Court decision to overturn Section 3 of the (poorly named) ‘Defense of Marriage Act,’ full marriage equality for all 50 states feels closer than ever.
With 2013’s seismic shift in the legal landscape, this means that what engaged couples and wedding professionals need from us has changed. And I love this! We no longer have to try to be ‘all things to all people’ because more businesses (mainstream and niche) are now serving same-sex couples. We can focus our efforts and drill down a bit more into helping couples have the weddings of their dreams, enjoy their legal marriage recognition, while also helping vendors better prepare themselves to serve this growing segment within the wedding industry.
BusinessInterviews.com: Are there any tips or suggestions that you would you give to a couple about to plan a same-sex wedding? Is there anything that they need to be aware of or keep in mind that doesn’t necessarily apply to straight couples?
Kathryn: For the same-sex couples who live in marriage equality states, wedding planning has grown to be quite predictable. The application process is inclusive, there are many wedding professionals ready to serve same-sex couples, and LGBTQ-inclusive resources are not as hard to find. If anything, these couples have the opportunity to be picky and can choose the wedding professionals and venues that are the best match for them personally. The criteria of being ‘gay-friendly’ is no longer enough; wedding professional now need to be gay wedding competent and this is a wonderful change for same-sex couples.
For same-sex couples who live in more conservative states where constitutional bans still exist and are isolated from marriage equality states, planning can be a bit more complicated. It can be harder to find local venues and professionals, and it can still be an unpleasant chore to ‘come out’ to friends, family and professionals when planning a wedding. Even so, there are many more companies and websites out there ready to lend a practical or inspirational idea so those couples can get the help they need.
I do advise all couples to realize that the wedding industry is a big entity and it has its own strong current. And sometimes, the advice given stems more from the conventional (straight) wisdom and traditional (straight) practices of the wedding industry, rather than as an outgrowth of a meaningful, personalized ceremony ritual between two people. For example, I’ve co-authored a book on wedding photography called, “The New Art of Capturing Love: The Essential Guide for Lesbian & Gay Wedding Photography (Amphoto Books, 2014),” and, in it, we discuss the ways in which photographers often unwittingly fall into the trap of posing same-sex couples as if they are opposite-sex couples. As a result, the poses can often leave same-sex couples looking like siblings rather than a couple in love; or put same-sex couples into a number of awkward situations or poses. And that’s just not good. It’s awkward at best; offensive at worst.
I advise couples always to consider what is most important to them and to work with the wedding professionals who most understand what they wish to accomplish. All couples – straight or gay – should design the wedding ceremonies and receptions they wish to have (being mindful of an appropriate budget, of course!) rather than the one someone else (a parent, a wedding vendor, a friend) wants them to have.
BusinessInterviews.com: What’s the biggest risk that you’ve ever taken and how did it turn out?
Kathryn: For me, two of the biggest risks I’ve taken relate to everything I’m doing today. I don’t remember ever being more scared than telling my immediate family that I was gay. I was so afraid of being rejected and of disappointing them. It was a very overwhelming time for me, but the personal risk, as my mom puts it, to “not hide my light under a bushel,” was worth it.
The second biggest risk I took was to join my mom in the company full-time back in 2005. Previously, I had been an educator, soccer coach, and social worker and, while I have some solid sales and marketing instincts, I don’t have a business degree and had limited business experiences; so, I felt incredibly intimidated about the thought of opening an office in Virginia (we’re based out of Texas, which is where my mom lives) and taking on this new challenge to help grow the company. In those early days, my anxiety about it kept me awake at night. It was so stressful!
In balance, both risks have turned out well. I’ve been with my partner (now wife!) for 20 years, we have an amazing son, and we just married legally (finally!) in Washington, DC in November 2013. I couldn’t be happier. And, while I laugh now at my worries about opening up an office and taking on the business (it seems so simple in retrospect!), I feel quite proud of everything our company has stood for and accomplished since its founding. It’s been an incredible journey thus far, but we still have so much more to do!
BusinessInterviews.com: Can you share the inspiration and a bit about the creative process behind your forthcoming book “The New Art of Capturing Love?”
Kathryn: I don’t think I have ever worked so hard on a project in my life. But, it’s been such a wonderful culmination of working with a great business partner, at an intersection of our many interests and our work experiences. I’m so proud of everything ‘Capturing Love’ stands for and what it will have to offer the many photographers, engaged couples, families and other professionals who will read it.
My co-author, Thea Dodds, whose work I had published several years ago on GayWeddings.com, contacted me about the idea to write a book for photographers about how to work with same-sex couples. Writing a book had long been on my bucket list and her timing was perfect. We met in New Hampshire within a few weeks of that first phone conversation, hit it off swimmingly and set out to write the book. We actually self-published our book first as “Capturing Love: The Art of Lesbian & Gay Wedding Photography” in 2013 and, I have to say, hard though the work might have been (we are both working moms with a lot going on), it was an absolute joy. Thea and I were always on the same page, and the combination of her photography background and my LGBTQ wedding and marketing expertise was a match made in heaven. We have had a blast working together.
We started the project hoping that the book would make it into bookstores or be picked up by a publisher and, sure enough, our recipe worked. Within a few weeks of our national launch party, an editor from Amphoto Books (an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group), contacted us and a month later we had signed a book deal. So, we sat right back down and expanded the book and added in even more great photography and instructional content and look forward to releasing the new book, “The New Art of Capturing Love,” in May 2014!
I will say that, one of the most inspirational things about the book (and what makes it different from so many other wedding photography books) is that we invited a wide range of photographers and couples to share their images with us. Thus, “The New Art of Capturing Love” will feature more than 180 photographs from 46 photographers. The photography is gorgeous and diverse and authentic so every page feels as exciting as the one before (even if you read nothing more than captions!). Thea and I are indebted to our contributing photographers and the many couples who have participated with us in this journey. The book wouldn’t be the same without them.
BusinessInterviews.com: What are some trends in the wedding industry that you’re excited about?
Kathryn: One thing that makes same-sex weddings different from straight weddings is that we are often talking about the legal opportunities that come with our weddings. As I like to say, “We are putting the marriage ceremony back into the wedding reception!” So, the trend I’m most excited about is marriage equality. More couples than ever can now marry legally in their home states and this is fabulous! We still have a long way to go. For example, only 46% of same-sex couples who got hitched in 2012 did so in their home states compared to 70% of straight couples and only 38% of those couples described their wedding professionals has having fully inclusive marketing materials, but, hey, we’re getting there!
I think we’ve also seen a greater push toward more personalized ceremonies and receptions in the mainstream industry and I just love this and want to see more of it. I believe strongly that same-sex couples have played a big role in influencing this trend and I think everyone ‘wins’ as a result. I haven’t yet met anyone who disagrees with me when I say that authentic and meaningful expressions of love are what we need more of in this world, not less.
BusinessInterviews.com: Can you talk a bit about the role you’re playing in helping the mainstream wedding industry to be more inclusive of same-sex couples and the kinds of feedback you’ve received about the difference you’re making?
Kathryn: When we first started the business, we received lots of calls from couples who were looking for support because many of them did not have parents who were supportive. It was amazing to hear my mom recount these inspired conversations she had with them. I can’t tell you the number of weddings she was invited to as a result of helping a couple with their wedding invitations or cake tops or whatever they needed! And, then, she hit the gift shows talking to suppliers and wholesalers about the kinds of products we needed but that no one was making. And, bit by bit, over the years, she and I have either found other small companies willing to create products for same-sex couples or convinced larger ones to modify their offerings or create new ones so that we could add their products to our boutiques. And, thankfully, now, more companies than ever recognize the opportunity and the need and are being inclusive.
And, now that I’ve been speaking nationally about how to better serve same-sex couples through my ‘Weddings Reimagined’ presentations, as well as through my work with WeddingWire as an Education Expert, we’ve been able to broaden our reach and expand our message for inclusively even farther, faster. The wedding industry refers to its default customer as the ‘bride’ (nevermind the groom and certainly nevermind two brides or two grooms!) so there’s still a lot of work to be done to help the industry rethink its terms and its habits. But, we’re getting there.
Early last year, I sat on a panel of other wedding website editors from the Washington DC area and was amazed, inspired and grateful to hear the majority of them talking about how they already included same-sex couples in their mix. I was no longer the only voice in the room speaking for inclusivity. These days, I no longer have to spend copious amounts of energy knocking on doors that won’t open or trying to convince folks in the wedding industry that same-sex couples should be considered, too. I receive a warm reception after my talks. And, I haven’t cleared a dinner table merely by announcing what I do for a living in a long, long time.