By Cathy O’Connell – founder of Gay Wedding Planning and COJ Events
Congratulations on embarking on planning one of the most emotional, fun, creative, challenging, and stressful events of your life! These five tips will guide you through the process of navigating planning your wedding and hopefully help you to have fun in the process.
This may seem obvious – of course, your purpose is to have a wedding, and as an LGBTQIA couple sometimes it’s because you finally can be legally wed, but what does that really mean to both of you? Why do YOU want to have a wedding? Why is YOUR wedding different from all other weddings?
I believe it’s really important to understand your purpose both individually and together before you start planning. When you understand your purpose clearly, every wedding decision can be guided by referring back to your purpose. As wedding planners, our goal is to create events for our couples that are very individual and unlike any other wedding we have done before or they might have attended. The only way to do that is to really understand what is unique about you as a couple, and how that can be reflected in your wedding day.
When answers come to you, keep drilling down and ask yourself why that is important. Suppose you answer that you want to have a fun party for your friends and family. Why is that important to you? “Because we love and cherish these people and want them to relax and have a break from their busy lives.” or “Because we have all been away from each other for so long due to COVID that we want to celebrate finally being together!” Those answers will help you make decisions about your wedding day that makes sure things are easy and relaxed for your guests.
Before all the fun stuff, looking at venues, making design decisions, and hiring a band, it’s really important to carefully discuss and curate your people.
First, look at who is non-negotiable. List those people who you would really regret not being present. Is there an aging grandparent who may not be able to travel to a remote island? Is there a cousin in the military with limited leave time? Are your best friends pregnant and having a baby in the next year?
Once you have the non-negotiables list, then it’s time to discuss the wedding you want related to the size of your guest list. This relates back to your purpose. If your purpose is an intimate getaway with your nearest and dearest to spend time connecting and celebrating together, then you are not going to invite every Facebook friend from High School!
Sometimes, unfortunately, with LGBTQIA weddings there are important people who choose not to come for one reason or another. If this is a parent or close relative, this can be especially hard and I encourage you to express how you feel about this with your partner. Acknowledge that it makes you sad. And then think about how you can invite a chosen family to support you at your celebrations.
Family is who we choose it to be. That doesn’t mean not acknowledging your birth family if you choose to, but there are no rules with weddings, especially LGBTQIA ones, and this is the place to surround yourselves with those who are most important to you!
Budgets are the less glamorous part of wedding planning but one of the most important to grasp before you start planning. Once you have an idea of your ideal headcount, you can start figuring out what a realistic budget would be for your event.
Wedding venue and vendor costs can vary significantly from country to country and even within destinations in the UK and the US. This is where it’s great to have help. We offer free budgeting tools for couples planning a wedding in the US or Mexico. If you aren’t working with a wedding planner, research venues in the areas you are considering and consult online resources for budget guidelines.
This is also when it’s time for the hard conversations with family about your wedding budget. Many older LGBTQIA couples are paying for their own wedding, and if that’s you, then you just have to decide what you both feel comfortable spending. But most younger LGBTQIA couples have families participating with wedding expenses. Don’t be afraid to ask about their level of financial support and share with them what you learn about wedding costs. Most parents have no idea what weddings cost and the first number they throw out is just a guess!
Once you have an ideal number of attendees, it’s time to decide where in the world to have your celebration. Hopefully, by the time you are having your wedding, borders will be open again and travel will be safe and easy for all!
Consider places that are special and important to you: where you had a first date or vacation, where a family member has a second home, or some place romantic you have always wanted to go! If travel is still limited during the time you plan to have your wedding, your venue decision is actually easier. You may have to stay geographically close for both of you or at least within easy travel for your most important people.
The best part about planning an LGBTQIA wedding is that there are no rules! We are creating new traditions or embracing old ones, but only as we choose to do so. I encourage you to not just toss out everything traditional – but carefully review wedding traditions to see what might or might not be important to you and why or why not.
Do you really want to cut a cake? Or do you want to share something else? Are special dances important to you? Or is there a new way to create the “parent dances” that works with your situation? Do you really want a dance party or is there something your friends would enjoy more! We recently planned a wedding where the after-dinner activity was Game Night!
The most important thing to know is that there are no wrong decisions. You have made the most important decision already with the person you have chosen to spend the rest of your life with! Always keep that in mind as you plan your wedding, taking time to stop and enjoy the process, not just the destination!
Need help with planning your wedding? Reach out to Cathy at COJ Events to discuss further.
I’m a gay, married wedding planner with a passion for joy and fun! My wife Dorry Winham and I co-founded COJ Events, a Destination Event Design & Planning studio based in Palm Springs CA that helps discerning multicultural clients create memorable celebrations worldwide. We are also the creators of, Gay Wedding Planning, a resource for LGBTQIA couples that includes wedding planning tools and a network of guidance and support.
I am also the host of LGBTQIA Wedding Conversations with Cathy O’Connell, a bi-monthly talk show on Facebook, and YouTube about LGBTQIA wedding issues with industry and community leaders.
As one of the premier LGBTQIA event planning companies in the world, we are committed to supporting and uplifting our community. I am the President of the National Gay Wedding Association, and Secretary of NACE Palm Springs.
My Creds: Degree in Interior Architecture from San Jose State University and a Doctorate in Divinity from the American Institute of Theology, I am also an Ordained Inter-Faith Minister. So I can marry you too!
COJ Events weddings have been featured in notable industry publications and blogs including Vogue Magazine, Martha Stewart Weddings, The New York Times, The Huffington Post, “My Fair Wedding” with David Tutera and “Say Yes to The Dress” US & UK. We love helping people become the best they can be while celebrating lives filled with joy. Dorry and I spread our time between Palm Springs, Los Angeles and the Bay Area. We are self-proclaimed hotel junkies, travel often for business and fun bringing our canine and feline children along as much as possible!