The exhibitors were typical of those at any other wedding expo, from florists to photographers, alongside food vendors and event planners ready to do business.
What made Sunday’s expo at Solas Raleigh unique was that it was held specifically for the LGBT community – perhaps the first of its kind since same-sex marriage became legal in North Carolina in October.
“The great thing about our event is the couples are so grateful to be able to meet face-to-face with professionals who are LGBT-friendly, respectful and ready to help them prepare the ceremony they’ve been dreaming of for years,” said Marianne Puechl, co-founder of the organizing Rainbow Wedding Network.
“On the other side, we have the exhibitors who are grateful to be able to meet this niche.”
Sexual orientation was irrelevant to some vendors. For others, it was the reason to be there.
Lia Sanchez and her fiance Derek McManaman, co-owners of Durham-based Lez Get Married, offer event planning specifically to the LGBT and LGBT-friendly community. Sanchez said the couple gambled when starting the company last May.
“We’re gay ourselves and knew people were going other places or getting married in other states, or having commitment ceremonies whether or not it was legal (in North Carolina),” Sanchez said.
A vast majority of her clientele once got married in Washington, D.C., and returned to the local area to hold their banquets. But that arrangement was a thing of the past as Lez Get Married participated in its first gay wedding expo.
“People are really excited, especially the couples who have been together 20-plus years and had the thought to go get married in another state, but didn’t see the point if it wasn’t going to be recognized in their own state,” Sanchez said.
For Emily Vardell and Brenda Linares of Chapel Hill, the expo was a long time coming even though their wedding date is September 2016. Engaged in 2009, the couple’s wedding date will mark the nine-year anniversary of their meeting.
“We were waiting for it to become legal in North Carolina and making sure our parents had time to come around to the idea,” Vardell said.
After making a round at the expo, what stood out to Linares was a sense of acceptance. She said other, non-LGBT wedding expos have come across as intimidating.
“Just because it’s people of the same sex, it’s no different,” Linares said. “We want to have a celebration with friends and family the same as any other couple.”
The Rainbow Wedding Network, based outside Asheville, has held 125 such expos in 27 states. Another event is planned for the Sheraton Hotel in Charlotte on Feb. 15.