Rubin: At LGBT wedding expo, men actually show up

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News

The difference between Sunday’s wedding show and most of the other ones is that you’ll see men there.

Also, some of the men will be holding hands.

“If there was no crowd and you just walked around,” says co-founder Jan Stevenson, the Ultimate LGBT Wedding & Anniversary Expo at MotorCity Casino Hotel would look fairly typical.

You’ll find event planners, caterers, limousine companies — basically, everything for a celebration from A (AG Chocolates) to Z (Zingerman’s Cornman Farms).

Plus guys.

Not to make sweeping generalizations about my fellow men — no matter how true — but most of us have only two questions about our weddings: What do you want me to wear, and where should I stand?

Ergo, “Vendors tell us that at a traditional wedding show, it’s almost all women,” says Stevenson, whose day job is publishing the LGBT weekly Between the Lines with her wife, Susan Horowitz.

At the Ultimate LGBT event, it’s about 50-50.

The emcee who’s also a stilt dancer is probably unique, too, as were the models from the Detroit Derby Girls last year in wedding gowns and skates.

“It just has a total party feel. A celebration,” Stevenson says. And those were the early expos, before last June 26.

That was the day the Supreme Court said marriage is marriage, no matter what two consenting adults are at the altar.

“Oh, my goodness,” she says. “It’s like the spotlights just came on.”

‘Can you believe it?’

The Ultimate Expo’s roots go back to 2010 and an outraged phone call to Stevenson from the catering director at the Detroit Marriott Livonia.

The catering director said she’d had two calls from couples — one male, one female — who’d been turned away by other facilities and were wondering if the hotel might be willing to host their receptions.

“Can you believe it?” she asked.

“Well, yeah,” Stevenson said. But the woman from the Marriott was worked up enough that she wanted to host a wedding show — and she wanted Between the Lines to help her.

The first event in 2011 had 25 vendors and maybe 125 paying customers. After three years, it outgrew the space and moved to the Southfield Pavilion.

MotorCity was one of the exhibitors in 2015, and conference and catering director Irene Lignos was so enthralled she made the Ultimate Expo the ultimate offer: We want this, and we’ll sponsor everything.

Now more than 100 vendors are involved, and upward of 1,000 people are expected to pay $10 apiece to stroll the ballroom and Sound Board theater from noon to 5 p.m.

“Vendors realize there’s a huge opportunity for them. A whole new market,” Stevenson says.

Bottom line, “There’s money to be made here.”

Six-week wedding plans

Tina McNeal-O’Brien bought a booth last year for her real estate brokerage in Lathrup Village.

She’s also president of a networking group called BNI Biz.Networx, which will be one of the exhibitors Sunday.

“As an African-American woman married to an Irishman,” she says, she feels like a beneficiary of progress. She puts marriage equality in the same category: “It’s about love and it’s about family.”

There’s also a sense of gratitude, Stevenson says, to “those businesses that want our business.”

Some of them earned extra bouquets last summer, a week after the Supreme Court decision on Obergefell vs. Hodges.

April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse’s case against the State of Michigan had been consolidated into Obergefell, and had slogged through the courts for three difficult years. DeBoer called Stevenson and said hey, we want to get married — in six weeks. Know anybody who does invitations?

Sure, Stevenson said, but what about everything else? Gowns, flowers, venue?

“Jan,” said DeBoer, “I have five kids. I don’t know about any of this.”

Stevenson grabbed the phone and the vendor list. Within four hours, she had the entire wedding donated.

“I couldn’t get the question out before people said yes,” she says.

Some of the donors will be at the 2016 expo. So will an assortment of bakeries, restaurants and others who might logically bring free samples.

That’s fairly standard — and probably worth the entry fee whether you’re L, G, B, T, or none of the above.