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What's Trending: Gay-Friendly Events

By Selena Fragassi


With same-sex marriages now recognized in 36 states, event venues are showing a lot of love for the LGBTQ community with new marketing and planning strategies that make everyone feel included.

At the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, for example, printed materials promoting the event hub Perelman Quadrangle were updated this year to include more varied images that better reflect the breadth of clients they serve. “It makes you feel more comfortable and you can relate better when you see that [the venue] isn’t just geared to one couple or one set of people,” says Manager of Event Sales Veronica Kraft.

It was a decision that was applauded by the campus’ LGBTQ Center that has often supported and collaborated with the event department to help guide the planning of functions like gay-friendly proms, which they have hosted for four years. “Just like visiting the chaplain’s office for certain religious ceremonies I’m not familiar with, I’ll meet with the Center to ensure that what we are doing is in no way offensive,” says Kraft.

It’s one of the benefits of working with niche venues like campuses and universities that have built-in resources to cater to all backgrounds. At the University of Montana in Missoula, there is a UM Allies Program “where we train our staff on diversity awareness,” says Shannon Brilz, director, Montana Event Services.

The Allies program, along with support from an on-site Lambda group, has helped the department put together events such as the Power of One leadership conference in April that brought together students from the Northwest to learn about intersecting identities while promoting social justice. In addition to panels and educational sessions, activities included an opening night Drag Show and daytime workshop that offered makeup and dress tips, an interactive play called “Queer Bathroom Stories” and a movie screening. Brilz’s department also coordinated to offer a number of gender-neutral bathrooms to make guests feel more comfortable.

Yet it wasn’t just the campus that went the extra mile. The Power Of One organizers received funding through a joint effort of the Missoula CVB and the Downtown Business Improvement District to bring the conference to town.

“It ties into the mission of the Destination Missoula CVB that has concentrated on the LGBTQ community to let them know Missoula is a safe place for conferences and individual travelers in the LGBTQ community,” says Brilz.

Doing so is not only a measure of goodwill but also financially responsible as gay-friendly events continue to become a growing client segment.

Across the country in San Francisco, locations like Bently Reserve have recognized this and put together special packages to cater to the gay wedding and event market such as a 20% discount for rentals on Sundays throughout 2015. Here, the former federal bank transformed into a special event venue, has a long connection to the community in a city that has often been considered the heart of the gay rights movement. Bently Reserve has hosted Aids Walk ceremonies, Prop 8 functions and some of the first gay weddings in the country and they look to build on that portfolio with the special incentive.

“We saw that there was a real trend coming forward for Sunday morning weddings and brunches,” says Event and Sales Director Jim Bruels. “The cost at the Bently Reserve is significantly lower to host on a Sunday, and we just wanted to encourage that kind of inquiry to come into us.”

Wedding bookings have increased steadily for the venue in recent years, especially since it now hosts the popular Gay Vanity Wedding Show annually where couples can meet with event planners and vendors and see a fashion show. Though he says there’s no real difference in the trends that have come forward for gay weddings (“couples all have their own vision”), Bruels does appreciate the open-mindedness and creativity his clients have. “They really make it very unique and special to them,” he says.

Kraft couldn’t agree more. “The energy is very high right now,” she says, “and it’s really refreshing to meet these couples that have been together for so many years who are finally ready for a grand celebration.”

Get Connected

Bently Reserve
(415) 294.2226

University of Montana
(406) 243.4113

University of Pennsylvania – Perelman Quadrangle
(215) 573.5011