Even while throwing a great party on March 20, the event co-producers still have their eyes on the ultimate goal of lived equality.
It began as an LGBT wedding expo six years ago, in response to LGBT couples being turned away from wedding venues that disapproved of same-sex marriage. Following the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide, it’s now a wedding and anniversary expo, acknowledging the countless LGBT couples who have been together — or were already married in other states or countries — for many years.
It was always intended to advance the cause of LGBT equality, and it still is. But it’s also one heck of a great party.
Hosted by Between The Lines, The Ultimate LGBT Wedding & Anniversary Expo on March 20 will be an even bigger and better party than ever, in its swanky new location: MotorCity Casino Hotel in Detroit. There will be four fashion shows — including a honeymoon fashion show featuring sexy lingerie — live entertainment and lots of surprises, all in the midst of more than 100 vendors who can’t wait to help LGBT couples and families celebrate all the big events in their lives.
The expo will be a massive celebration, no doubt about it. But it will also mark a renewed commitment to the ongoing pursuit of lived equality for the LGBT community — the ideal of erasing anti-LGBT discrimination in every area of life.
According to Susan Horowitz, co-publisher of Between The Lines and co-producer of the event with her co-publisher and wife, Jan Stevenson, the event has always been driven by activism.
It was work we’d already been doing, and a response to blatant discrimination we were seeing against LGBT couples. And that discrimination is not going to be eradicated because of marriage equality. We’re hearing even more stories of wedding vendors going on the offensive with the ‘religious freedom’ tune, and as long as there are people like Kim Davis and bakers who don’t want to bake cakes, you’re going to have injustice against people who just want to get married.
Stevenson and Horowitz bring decades of event planning experience and activism to the expo. The couple, who were married 12 years ago in Canada, met while serving on the board of the National LGBTQ Task Force. Stevenson was also the executive director of Affirmations in Ferndale for six years and chaired the first Human Rights Campaign dinner in Michigan. Horowitz was the co-founder and first executive director of NewFest, New York’s LGBT film festival, from 1989 to 1994, and was the 1983 Grand Marshal of NYC Pride and worked with the NYC Pride Committee for 19 years, producing the annual NYC Pride Guide.
Given their years of experience, Horowitz and Stevenson are undaunted by the fact that MotorCity Casino Hotel is the biggest venue ever for the expo, which will span the hotel ballroom and Sound Board theater. Activities throughout the space will include cooking, makeup and jewelry shopping demonstrations, plus live entertainment and fashion, all emceed by the very entertaining Jason Bowen.
“We don’t want to pull people away from talking to the vendors, because that’s why they’re there — to find vendors who will be happy to work with LGBT couples and families,” says Stevenson. “The fashion will be flowing through the show and everything will be showcased through multi-media platforms throughout the space.”
The event’s generous sponsors and supporters will help LGBT couples and families make their celebrations even more special, thanks to the chance to win some fantastic prizes just by showing up. Raffle prizes include dinner and tickets for four to see Margaret Cho at MotorCity Casino Hotel, dinner for eight on the Detroit Princess Riverboat, a sterling silver flower link diamond bracelet from Abracadabra Jewelry, and much, much more. The enthusiasm for this year’s event — all of the vendor spots sold out well in advance and sponsorships are plentiful — demonstrates how much acceptance there is for LGBT couples today.
Many couples who are celebrating marriage equality recognize that the work isn’t done yet, like Ken Siver and Zack Ismail of Southfield, who were among the 300 couples married during the one-day window in 2014 when same-sex marriage was briefly legal in Michigan before the Supreme Court decision the following year. Siver, who is the mayor of Southfield, feels confident about the future of LGBT equality.
The train is barreling down the tracks — not just in Michigan, but all over the country and around the world, toward full equality for gay people. Look at someone like [Republican Oakland County Executive] L. Brooks Patterson. He’s said he supports marriage equality and the addition of LGBT people to the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act.
But because the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act does not yet include non-discrimination protections for LGBT people, there is still a lot of progress yet to be made. Activists are working on expanding the law’s protections but, in some ways, the work became even more challenging after same-sex marriage was legalized.
“This proliferation of the ‘men in women’s bathrooms’ trope has always been used against inclusive non-discrimination efforts,” says Amy Hunter, a transgender woman from Kalamazoo and an activist who heads up the ACLU of Michigan’s Transgender Advocacy Project. “It’s been refined and honed to a fever pitch since marriage equality. Educating people, and raising the comfort level of the public and policy makers, is how we go forward as a community.”
The work continues, but on March 20 the LGBT community pauses to celebrate. All are welcome to the expo, whether or not they identify as LGBT. The expo is a place where couples and families that care about equality can meet with LGBT-friendly vendors that can help them celebrate all the special occasions in their lives: anniversaries, vow renewals, graduations, bar and bat mitzvahs, adoptions, baby showers, and more.
“The expo is about feeling respected,” Horowitz says. “It’s about celebrating with the people and vendors who won’t trample over our sacred moment.”
The Ultimate LGBT Wedding & Anniversary Expo is Sunday, March 20 from noon to 5 p.m. at the MotorCity Casino Hotel in Detroit. Tickets are $10 each. Learn more or order tickets online.
[Images courtesy of Between The Lines.]