Opinion: Despite Marriage Equality, the wedding industry still shows a lack of LGBTQ+ representation

With so many LGBTQ+ couples not only marrying, but spending a lot of money on those weddings, the industry needs to catch up in terms of representation.

Two men kissing at a wedding

With the passing of marriage equality in 2015, the entire wedding industry saw a surge. And that was thanks in large part to LGBTQ+ weddings. It’s a business that encompasses many different trades: dressmakers, florists, cake makers, musicians, hotel venues, celebrants to name but a few. Weddings are a lucrative business, with most Irish couples spending an average of €25,000 on their big day. It’s one of the few places where people will splash out, regardless of their financial situation.

Many industries are notorious for being hetronormative and lacking in diversity. None more so than the wedding industry. While we as a society have begun to step away from this, it seems that many wedding vendors are stuck in that archaic narrative of what an Irish wedding looks like.

There was a huge backlash last month, when one of the most prominent Irish wedding websites, Weddingsonline, was accused of homophobia and a lack of diversity. I’ll take a moment here to say for those of you who missed it, things have since drastically changed on their social channels… so on the surface it wouldn’t look like there is an issue.

In September, Spiritual Ceremonies Ireland called Weddingsonline out publicly when images of LGBTQ+ couples were removed from an Instagram takeover that Spiritual Ceremonies Ireland had done in the weeks previous.

Spiritual Ceremonies said: “As part of our subscription plan, we did an Instagram takeover last Thursday 27th August. We provided Weddingsonline with a video and images of our couple’s weddings, same sex and opposite sex. Weddingsonline posted the photographs on Instagram, but then removed the same sex couples’ photo that we had included a few hours after it was uploaded.”

When I first heard about this, I immediately logged onto Instagram to see for myself. I scrolled back through all their social media platforms and I was unable to find a single photograph of an LGBTQ+ couple. In addition I could only find one picture of a BIPOC bride, other than that it was thin, white, straight and able bodied people.

As a personal response to this situation, I chose to flood my own socials with photos of my wife and I at our wedding in 2016, captioning it with the very tongue in cheek:

“If you’re missing a bit of content @weddingsonline I’m happy to help??
Anyone else with some gay wedding pics? I’m sure they’d appreciate the help. Must be hard to find all those tricky gays.
But seriously though, joking aside- be careful who you are following, make sure that the vendors and businesses and organisations that you support are places that welcome all people regardless of sex, race, religion or abilities.

I was angry, along with so many others, that in a country that voted resoundingly YES to equality, that one of our main wedding platforms could be so openly heteronormative. I spoke to Karen Dempsey, an Interfaith Minister and a HSE Registered Solemniser who works in the wedding industry. She also happened to marry my wife and I in the first ever same-sex wedding in the Smock Alley venue back in 2016. She told me that this sort of discrimination is unfortunately a regular occurrence in the wedding industry.

“I’m astounded by the number of suppliers who are completely heteronormative in the online wedding world. Many say they are open to all couples, but when it comes down to it, all of their material, all of their content is geared towards white men and women. There is no diversity there. Maybe it is just ignorance, but that’s not good enough anymore.”

Over the next few hours and days I watched as the Weddingsonline socials were flooded with person after person complaining. After a certain stage, Weddingsonline disabled commenting on their posts and then the following day, posted their official reply.

It was a stock image of a rainbow flag accompanied with the text: “We want to make it 100% clear we do not discriminate against anyone. We love all weddings. We are thankful because it has highlighted a lack of diversity on Weddingsonline. We are seeking to address this immediately and ensure that all platforms reflect our inclusiveness in a much stronger way.”

In this post they also asked for couples and suppliers to send in their real life pictures for them to use. Many people were further angered by Weddingsonline seeming ignorance to the fact they needed to ‘do the work’ themselves.

There were a few things that bothered me about this. Firstly, they have since removed their ill-judged rainbow flag post. They have erased any indication that this ever happened. In my opinion, Weddingsonline should have taken the opportunity to say ‘We see you. We hear what you are saying. We were wrong and we are sorry. We will do better from here on out.’ But it seems to me like they are going to pretend that this never happened.

I was contacted soon after this post by Weddingsonline to ask if they could use our photos. I suppose they didn’t get the intended sarcasm of my post. I responded that I would only be happy to help promote an organisation that has equality at its core. I asked to see their equality and diversity policy. They do not currently have one. When I asked them for a comment for this article, this was their reply:

“We have realised that our blog and some of our social media channels haven’t always reflected our view that all weddings and all couples are equal and we are making progress towards correcting that.”

I say it over and over again. Representation matters. What we see, influences how we feel about ourselves. Activist Yasmin O’Connor commented on the situation saying:

“I was very sad to see a prominent Irish wedding site not only exclude gay couples but also BIPOC from their website and social media recently. In this day and age it’s extremely tone deaf… there are no excuses anymore… Ireland is beautifully diverse in terms of sexual identities, relationships and race; we’ve come a long way in accepting what has previously been shamed as the norm now, it’s so important for this to be represented and celebrated in our media.”

I honestly believe it’s no longer good enough to claim ignorance or a lack of content. The content is there. There are thousands of weddings in Ireland every year, even throughout the strange times in which we are living. Weddings of all shapes and sizes and colours. It’s not good enough to be ‘ok with gay weddings.’ Vendors, suppliers and wedding websites throughout the industry have a duty to actively show and celebrate all people and their weddings.

And it’s time we started having these conversations and calling it out.

© 2020 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

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