4 min

Wedding bells & business advice

Business fair grows, aims at gay consumers

THE WELL-PLANNED HITCH. A wedding aisle is new for this year's third annual gay business fair, sponsored by the Gay & Lesbian Business Association. Entrepreneurs and wanna-be business owners can check out the lecture series, and gay consumers will find a wide range of goods and services on offer. Credit: Jacques Gaudet

“I never thought I’d marry,” confides Janine Davies. “And I certainly never thought I’d propose.”

Four years into a strong relationship with partner Susan Rae, however, Davies found herself spelling “Marry Me” in tea lights on the floor of the Wedgewood’s penthouse. That was last year’s winter solstice. Not one to be outdone, her partner spelled “Marry Me Too” in the sand the following summer solstice. She hid the ring inside a shell.

The romance was the easy part. Finding the right cake, dress, and venue-especially when you’re a lesbian couple that doesn’t feel like putting up with any bigots on your big day-can be slightly more stressful. “You want to deal with people who support who you are as a person,” says Davies. She and her wife attended last year’s straight wedding fair, to gather ideas for their own party. “We even wore badges that read ‘bride’ and ‘bride’-people didn’t get it.”

This year’s Gay & Lesbian Business Association (GLBA) trade show aims to solve that problem with its brand new Wedding Aisle-a showcase of products and services for same-sex fiancées.

“It’ll create opportunities,” says Davies. “Weddings are very individual, so you need to have the chance to see lots of ideas-and nothing could be a more mature safe space than a GLBA expo. I think they’re making wonderful inroads.”

Jennifer Fabre, a financial planner by day, is chairing the Business and Lifestyle Expo 2004 trade show that’s building those inroads. From what Fabre calls “humble beginnings” at the Parkhill Hotel on Davie St (“we had no budget, no exposure”), the GLBA trade show is now-only two years later-in a position to participate in a global queer economy.

“Queer as a three-dollar bill” isn’t just a saying anymore. It’s a fact of life for blue chip corporations. American Airlines, one of the first US companies to recognize the buying power of queers, spent a paltry $300,000 US on gay and lesbian marketing for 1999. Their return? Over $193 million. According to Wilde Marketing in Toronto, Vancouver Pride celebrations alone provide about $23 million to the local economy annually. And Forbes magazine has estimated that gay marriages will generate $16.8 billion in the US wedding industry. Clearly, we mean business.

And so does Jennifer Fabre. She’s just returned from New York’s Gay Lifestyle & Business Trade Show. Fabre wasn’t impressed. “I was very disappointed with the venue and the layout of their show, which consisted of long plain rows of tables and worn dividers in a flat gray concrete building; there was not much style and pizzazz.”

What’s a gay lifestyle trade show without pizzazz? Happily, Vancouver business owners need not dwell on such gloomy questions. William Dahl of Dahlhouse Interiors is a member of this year’s organizing committee and will be working to ensure that “style and pizzazz” are not lacking at the Sep 26 event. The trade show will be held in the Hyatt Regency’s Convention Centre, in keeping with the committee’s desire for “classy locations, close to the downtown core and easily accessible by everyone.” (“Accessible,” in this case, includes free admission.)

Since New York’s expo is operated by a professional events promotions company, rather than local businesses, it’s designed to be all for profit. Vancouver’s, however, is a non-profit event, designed by a team of board directors and volunteers from within the GLBA. The New York Times contacted co-chair Mark Long for an interview recently, having heard that “we were the organization to go to on the West Coast.”

This year’s Wedding Aisle is just the icing on the cake of what’s available at the Vancouver trade show. If the word “wedding” makes you want to run in the opposite direction, don’t worry: there’ll be lots of alternatives to keep you amused. Featured this year is clothing from Top Drawer, Mantique and designer Dal Bianco. DJ Quest will spin throughout the day, along with performances by the Rainy City Gay Men’s Chorus and others.

Also new to this ever-expanding expo is a Career Paths section, devoted to gay-friendly employers, educators and starving students in need of a job. Plus space for Home Improvement, Gardens, Travel & Leisure, Healthy Lifestyles, Professional & Business Services, and a Lecture/Speaker Series. Lecture topics range from the immeasurably broad (“Taking Care of Life 101”) to more pragmatic analysis of marketing and financing for new business owners.

“We invite anybody who’s even contemplating starting a business to come to the show,” urges Long. “Come to the speaker series. Everyone has an opportunity here.”

And there will be special visitors. “Seattle’s GLBA is coming up,” notes Long, which allows for Canadian businesses interested in expanding to the US to ask questions and make meaningful connections.

Attendance at last year’s GLBA trade show, held at the Sheraton Wall Centre, was four times greater than the previous year’s. And that momentum appears to be building.

At least one couple is excited: “The notion of a gay wedding fair would have been a great thing for us,” laments newlywed Davies on the phone from her work at VanCity’s Robson St branch.

Even without the valuable contacts that a fair would have provided them, Davies and Rae managed to pull in the community for their May Day wedding. Cupcakes on Denman St made the cake. Davies and Rae were married at beautiful Robson Manor. They wore black dresses. “Nothing white. Nothing foofy.” And there was even a chocolate fountain. “It was Susan’s idea.”

Drag queen Symone even performed. “We didn’t tell my mother about Symone until three days before,” laughs Davies.


Sep 26.

Hyatt Regency Convention Centre.

655 Burrard St.