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LGBT-friendly wedding festival: ‘We are going to treat you like everybody else’

  • Dan Liberatore, who is a LGBT Wedding Festival of New England committee member, bakes a cake. He owns a business called Masterpieces Cake Art in Stoddard.  Courtesy photo



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Thursday, November 16, 2017 10:5AM

Even though Michael Bell has been connected to the wedding industry for years through his work as a florist when it came to planning his own he was a little nervous.

“I did have my reservations,” Bell, who lives in Dublin, said in an interview on Monday.

He wondered how vendors might treat him when he told them that he wasn’t planning a traditional wedding — that he was gay and was marrying his longtime partner Ron Witze. He wondered how he would be treated when he went to rent tables, tablecloths, and to order the cake. Bell said he was worried when he went into a shop looking to rent not one tuxedo, but two.

That concern is one of the reasons a committee organized an event called the LGBT Wedding Festival of New England in Keene. The event is scheduled for Dec. 3 from 1-4 p.m. at Stonewall Farm, located at 242 Chesterfield Road in Keene.

Bell said he grew up in the South in a time when being gay was not widely accepted. He said his biological family disowned him when he came out. In the South, it was even hard to find a doctor who would take him on as a patient. He said he hasn’t been offered promotions because of his sexual orientation and one company even fired him for being gay. He said people in New England are generally less upfront about discrimination, but he has still faced some pushback. There was the one time when he was working at Target that a woman told him she would no longer shop at the store because they had hired a gay man. 

Even though gay marriage is the law of the land, discrimination still occurs, both blunt and subtle.

And that can come into play when planning a wedding.

“A lot of gay people still don’t know who they can trust,” Bell said about trying to find vendors. “There’s always that question, is someone going to put poison in the cake, or are they going to spit in it? You never know.”

When Bell was planning his wedding he was up front with vendors from the get-go.

“I told those people right up front, ‘this is not a straight wedding. I want you to tell me if you’re not comfortable with that,’” Bell said.

He said that may have been the reason he didn’t experience any discrimination when planning his wedding.

Dan Liberatore, who is a festival committee member and the owner of a cake shop in Stoddard, said last year he received a request for a wedding cake from two gay men. The person who called him asked if Liberatore was OK with the situation.

“The first thing that came to mind is that someone shouldn’t have to worry about this when they’re planning their wedding,” Liberatore said.

Liberatore started his business MasterPieces Cake Art in 2010. During an interview, Liberatore said that the “s” tacked onto the end of “Masterpiece” is important because of the similarly named business called MasterPiece Cakeshop in Colorado, whose owner refused to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple. The business’ refusal became national news, making its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. It has not reached a conclusion.

Liberatore, who is gay, said he got married to his longtime partner David Perry in 2013. They had a small wedding that didn’t involve many professionals. He does wonder if he had a bigger wedding though if they would have experienced any discrimination. 

Holly Long, festival founder/director and owner of Naturally Elegant Designs in Keene, said the idea came about after her gay step-daughter ran into some issues while planning her wedding a couple of years ago.

“She went through the same thing that many people do when they go to vendors and they’re like, ‘uhhh,’” Long said. “They’re hesitant.”

The idea for the festival is that same-sex couples will know it’s a safe space that the people there are tolerant and supportive.

“With all the negativity that has been playing out in politics, this seems like the best time to say not everybody is anti-same-sex marriages,” Long said.

Lauren Dragon-Cook, who is on the festival committee and has been a wedding planner since 2012, said she hopes the LGBT-friendly event will make more businesses conscientious and courteous to same-sex couples. She said she has had clients who tell her stories about walking into a florist and the person asking if the person with them is their brother or sister. That leaves the person having to explain away the situation.

“It’s just an awkwardness that a lot of people would rather avoid,” Dragon-Cook said.

This festival should help wipe away that feeling.

“The idea of this show is that vendors care and love them and want them to have a great wedding just like anybody else,” Bell said. “We are going to treat you like everybody else.”

Abby Kessler can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 234 or akessler@ledgertranscript.com.