Happy Pride Month, Yelpers! Each June, celebrations around the world commemorate the Stonewall riots of 1969, a pivotal moment in the fight for LGBTQ equality. Just as these events honor the struggles and advances of the gay rights movement, Yelp would like to celebrate how businesses with queer connections have shaped the cities that they call home. Follow along all month as we profile some of America’s top LGBTQA small business owners, all Yelper approved.
Heather Yenawine knows the dance well — the figurative tip-toe dance that LGBTQ couples do when they are first mentioning to a wedding vendor they are gay and to see if the vendor will still want to work with them.
And Heather — owner of Louisville wedding and event DJ company, HAY DJ — hated to watch it.
“Eventually it comes to a point in the conversation where they’d say, ‘We’re a gay couple; are you cool with that?'” she said. “Opening yourself up to a discriminatory action when you’re already in a vulnerable state? That was unacceptable.”
So, Heather worked with other Louisville businesses to create the Fair Event Vendors Alliance; a nonprofit that aims to connect the LGBTQ community with Louisville and Southern Indiana wedding and event professionals, who welcome them as clients and believe in their equality and fair treatment.
FEVA launched in 2014 and now has more than 115 member businesses, which include bakeries, caterers, DJs, venues, photographers, florists, jewelers and more. It hosts professional development seminars on inclusion for its members.
FEVA was also the main nonprofit sponsor and beneficiary of the second annual Yelp’s Art in Action event in Louisville in 2015.
Earlier this week — on the third anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that legalized gay marriage — we spoke with Heather about FEVA, about how businesses can be more inclusive of LGBTQ couples and about how LGBTQ couples fit into the future of the wedding industry.
Why is working with LGBTQ couples so important to you?
My uncle, Philip, was a big part of the art scene in New York City, and he lost a huge part of his community to AIDS. He did a lot of writing and wrote about who he lost. And I experienced that loss through him.
My hope is that this tremendous loss could be healed in some way by helping build families and futures. And I was in a position to be helpful to the community.
That really means everything to me. It’s about making people feel empowered and comfortable. It’s about creating a more inclusive Louisville. FEVA is about rebuilding and investing in the future of the LGBTQ community.
With FEVA’s professional development seminars, you often go over common mistakes businesses make when it comes to working with LGBTQ couples. What are some of these mistakes?
Not using inclusive language on your website, like only referring to it as “brides and grooms” and “bridal party.” Change it to “wedding party,” and that makes it inclusive. Plus, it’s important to provide a diverse representation of the couples you want to be serving on your website. When they see a couple like them, then they feel instantly more comfortable.
It’s about us as vendors putting ourselves out there, using inclusive imagery and making our forms gender neutral. Instead of saying “bridesmaids” and “groomsmen,” put “Partner A side” and “Partner B side.” Having forms that are already adjusted and not having to cross out “bride” or “groom” in the meeting (with the couple) — it shows you’re being mindful of serving a larger population.
Also, it’s important to have gender neutral bathrooms available and having staging areas for both people in the couple, not just one “bride’s room.”
You’ve also hosted some amazing fundraisers, like Wes Anderson, Baz Luhrmann and Wynona Ryder-themed fundraisers that incorporate your member businesses. Why do you use this approach to connect couples with businesses?
It’s important we throw great parties. You have to think outside the box and be involved in different types of events — and put a focus on online presentation. Wedding shows are a fading medium for finding vendors. More people are shopping online.
You’ll find a lot of LGBTQ couples are looking online, looking at reviews, looking at photos. If they’re not getting a good vibe off your marketing and your reviews, they might not approach you.
Have you noticed heterosexual couples using FEVA to find wedding vendors as well?
We have seen a lot of straight couples who want to find vendors who share their values and believe in the same things they believe in.
Your wedding is one of the most important and special days of your life — you want good people around you. If they go out of their way to say they stand for fairness, that’s hugely important.
What do you see for the future of FEVA and the future of LGBTQ couples in the wedding industry?
At this moment, we’re trying to expand more into Louisville and perhaps branch into Lexington. As far as I know, we’re the only city that has a nonprofit alliance of businesses that are promoting inclusivity like we are. And it seems like there are more LGBTQ weddings happening. This year (with HAY DJ) I have five LGBTQ weddings, and in years past, I had one, maybe two.
We know national approval of LGBTQ couples is way, way up there and keeps going. Increasingly, millennials are identifying as “queer.” Twenty percent of millennials are identifying as “queer,” and of that, 12 percent are identifying as “non-binary.”
We all have to get with the program and expand our ideas of who “couples” are. Take it for what it is — it’s two people who love each other, and we’re getting to celebrate their love.
A lot of these couples have been waiting their entire lives for the chance to marry, and it’s an honor to be a part of their day.