They came, they wed, they got sponsored. In fact, talk of sponsorship was so rife in this city the week of May 30, you’d almost think you were watching the Gomery inquiry. The wedding of Amazing Race Seven’s Lynn Warren and Alex Ali, both television producers from West Hollywood, was certainly a huge affair. In all, nearly 50 corporate sponsors backed the event in one way or another. But when everything started to wind down, and you took a look beneath some of the Vegas-like façade, one big realization imposed itself – Canada’s first celebrity gay wedding seemed more for the benefit of the straight audience than for the gay community.
Hot 89.9, the local radio station that hosted and sponsored the wedding, promised Ottawa the biggest party it had ever seen. No doubt, the emotional media circus they birthed met the station’s wildest dreams. It also exceeded the couple’s expectations – happily so, considering that they had an active hand in every detail that went into the preparation.
“We had final say – our lawyer made sure of that,” Warren told Capital Xtra. “Originally that was not the case. Every single aspect of this wedding has been approved by Alex and I, down to the programs, the flowers, the linens. They would Fed-Ex us fabric, they would Fed-Ex us sketches of the floor plans and seating arrangements.”
Ali chips in. “I know when companies come together to put on your marriage, that doesn’t usually happen. Lynn and I were very grateful that we had final say.”
But what about the marketing of all of the associated events, like the bachelor party at Fusion nightclub in Gatineau, or the reception at Suite 34 in the Market? It’s here where the “gay” aspect of the gay wedding gets troubling. Take a close look at the sponsors and events and only one – Out Productions, which runs the gay night at Fusion – was a gay-identified business.
The reason can be discerned by a quick peek at Hot 89.9’s target demographic: women age 25 to 44. The events and locations were skewed to them. And that’s who showed; the vast majority of the crowds at both the bachelor party and the reception were 20-something women and their boyfriends, with but a few gay faces in the crowd adding some colour to the crowd.
The radio station says they turned to their sponsors and contacts, rather than the gay community, to put together the gay wedding. Even their dealings with Out Productions were held more through the ownership of Fusion than the gay night organizers themselves.
“Nobody even thought of approaching gay-owned companies – not that we really even know them,” says Rob Mise, operations manager at Hot 89.9. “The businesses that we went to, like the Bay, Congress Centre, Ottawa Tourism, Jubilee [Jewellers] – they’re all gay-friendly.”
Me, I loved the media circus. Nearly 20 of the 25 media outlets that showed were from mainstream Canadian venues. A few notable US media institutions such as People Magazine, Access Hollywood and CNN picked the story up off of a wire service, avoiding the cost of a trip to Canada. I met only one other journalist from gay media in the media tent – and he was representing a US gay news service.
Of course, coverage was aimed at straight fans of the Amazing Race. Random polling of people I know found more of my straight friends aware of the wedding than gay ones, and universally there was surprise that more US outlets didn’t turn up for the event, especially given the contentious nature of the same-sex marriage debate in the States. Of course, the coverage that the wedding did receive was far and above what either the station or the couple had expected – and that’s probably a good thing in terms of making the world more gay-positive.
“When the deal was first in talks, it was only supposed to be Lynn and I getting married, the radio station doing everything we said, and they would broadcast it live on the air,” Ali says. “All of the media, all of these extra outlets that have come, have come on their own accord. All of that is a bonus and we didn’t ask for that. We only asked to get married.”
But the press is certainly good for Ottawa, at least according to Ottawa Tourism, who also sponsored the wedding. Following the wedding, the Canadian government’s tourism department has started running ads in US gay publications, promoting Canada as a great gay tourist destination – especially if you want to get married. Ottawa Tourism is getting involved in the campaign.
“In both our leisure campaign and our travel trade campaign [package tours], both departments have goals to increase gay and lesbian travel to Ottawa,” says Jantine Van Kregten, director of communications for Ottawa Tourism. Her organization sees the highly-publicized wedding as the catalyst to improving their contacts in the gay community and to working with the community to develop a better campaign.
“Our selling point is not, ‘Hey, come and discover the 12 million bars that we have, or the nightlife scene,'” Van Kregten says, pointing out that Ottawa doesn’t really have a strongly-anchored gay village to promote. “What we are offering is a safe, comfortable, welcoming, active and proud community.” Van Kregten points to the more than 80 differing community organizations that will welcome those tourists with open arms.
As for the wedding, with the plugging of sponsors and the radio station, the obnoxious personalities yapping about how great same-sex marriage is, and even a blasphemous female Cher impersonator (isn’t it a law that all Cher impersonations must be done by drag queens?), it all came up in shades of Vegas. The comparison to a land of replicas and chintz didn’t faze the couple, however.
“Let’s get real – Vegas is hot right now,” Ali says. “It is booming. If I can be compared to Vegas, thanks!”