Meet the woman on a mission to make the wedding industry more inclusive...

Ava Korwin (pronouns: she/her) is the Founder of LGBTQ Equality Weddings. She wants to improve the experience of LGBTQ+ couples who are planning their weddings or commitment ceremonies by helping wedding suppliers to think more inclusively and broaden their representation.

In less than a year she's got over a hundred businesses on board and built up a collaborative community of wedding venues, photographers, cake-makers, stylists, wedding planners and a whole load of celebrants, who really want to see change in our industry and are committed to keep on learning and improving.

When I first heard about what Ava was doing I was over the moon that someone so capable and determined was taking this problem on and in the short time I've known her she's impressed me week on week with her brilliant ideas and her ability to bring people with her.

She's just been nominated for a very well deserved National Diversity Award - which seemed like a perfect reason to introduce her to you and find out a bit more about her. If you want to be inspired, read on!

Congratulations on your award nomination, Ava. Can you tell us a bit about yourself? Ok!  I always find these questions a tad uncomfortable but here goes... I am a 30 something queer woman originally from Yorkshire, currently a self-proclaimed honorary Londoner in the middle of planning a relocation to vibrant Brighton.  I am a solicitor (non-practising), entrepreneur, and some might call me an activist although I am not quite sure I qualify as such, yet!  Why did you start LGBTQ Equality Weddings? Because it was NEEDED.  The wedding industry is overwhelmingly heteronormative, so much so, that lots of LGBTQ+ people don't even begin to consider marriage or a wedding as being accessible to them or designed to incorporate or understand their love.  And for those that do see it as accessible, well their love is far too often represented by cis-het suppliers and models without any LGBTQ+ voices being included in the agenda.  If people without the relevant lived experience or knowledge create something with themselves at the centre, it more often than not results in tokenism or damaging stereotypes which ultimately causes more harm from a diversity and equality perspective than well-intentioned industry folk realise. 

Someone needed to take a stand, but in a supportive way, without judgement or criticism.  I realised that education was the key ingredient that was missing, and so I set out to build an incredible team of not only LGBTQ+ people but inclusivity professionals, to bridge this insight gap and ensure that good intentions were not resulting in damaging counter-productivity (and harm). 

What sort of change would you like to see in the wedding industry? I would like to see more businesses investing in professional support and realising that it is not as simple as 'asking my gay friend' or 'I welcome all people, it isn't even a thing for me' or even being LGBTQ+ ourselves.  None of us are immune from unconscious bias.  I want to see suppliers learning about how to properly serve those they are trying to attract and I want to see those that are willing to grow in this regard become incredible allies, not just to encourage more people to grow, but to help contribute to more equal rights for their LGBTQ+ relatives, friends, colleagues, and strangers in their communities who may not yet be safe enough to be who they are.  

I also want to see wedding professionals listening more to LGBTQ+ voices and not speaking over them, silencing them, or minimising their pain.  I want to see more visual representation without gender or orientation in the title of blog posts or being used as a badge of honour.  I want to see more suppliers being proactive and NOT getting involved in a styled shoot tagged as a same sex wedding where cis het models are being used.  I want to see diversity and inclusion not being an option that those with straight privilege get to push to the bottom of their business investment list.  And when we see all of this, we will naturally and organically see more diverse couples getting married and trusting us with sensitively and equally representing their love simply as a WEDDING.    What advice do you have for couples who are trying to find wedding suppliers who share their values?

I would start by reading their website.  Don't skim it.  Read it all.  Who are they?  Do they share bits of their personal lives with you?  Listen to them.  Suppliers tend to give a lot about themselves away on their websites (trust me, I have reviewed more than a hundred) and I leave most feeling warm and fuzzy and wanting to have a ceremony or celebration so I can work with that person.  If your interest is piqued, check out their social media and see if there are any lives, see them speak in real life.  Then meet them, always meet them. 

Of course, if your values are that of inclusivity, you can skip a lot of this and pick a supplier from our website and start at the meeting stage (because we've already done the above for you).  You could even pick up the phone us to us and tell us what you're looking for and we can tell you instantly who we think would align with your ethos the best.  It really is about human connection though and no amount of reading can replace being in front of a person and getting to know them.  Your wedding team are worth getting to know.  What advice do you have for wedding suppliers who want to be more inclusive? I think the first thing is it isn't about wanting to be.  It's crucial that you are both in terms of the law (Equality Act 2010) but for the success of your own business.  By considering inclusivity in every message you send out to the world, you're drastically increasing your chances of speaking to and resonating with all people (which = bookings).  It should be the first focus of all marketing training.  I know that there's a long way to go before suppliers see this as a need rather than a want and that want tends to come from the privilege of always having a product or service made accessible to you (you don't know what it's like to see something and instantly be told that it's not for you). 

So, if you need or want to ensure that your products or services are accessible to all people, then I highly recommend not going it alone.  By far, the most difficult work we have had to do so far is advising those who have already researched, drafted, tweaked, and attempted to be super inclusive.  Their efforts cannot be criticised though, it's incredible, but the problem is that there's a lot of conflicting information out there and even within the LGBTQ+ community, there's a great lack of inclusivity and so it's less about applying 'facts' and 'language' and more about rallying voices, fact-checking over and over again, constantly growing, constantly testing, and never ever putting your business needs or self in the centre and this is only achieved when it is your full time job, in our humble opinion. 

Also, please, please, please do not ask your LGBTQ+ friends, even if they are willing.  This is personal and professional labour for them and it is time that we stopped expecting our black friends to teach us about racism or white supremacy and we stopped asking our gay friends to teach us about LGBTQ+ inclusive terminology and paid professionals to do this work instead.  Not only is it damaging to your friends but you are not guaranteed an accurate and balanced view point - you're merely provided with one perspective (which is always valid for that person) but inclusivity is about everyone and crucially, always thinking about the one person who's harmed over the millions who don't really mind.

  What do you say to people who think the struggle for equality is over now and the main battles are won? I say that you need to trust LGBTQ+ and other marginalised people when they say it is not.  I say that this is complacency and privilege speaking.  I say that you have so much power in your privilege to do great things if you listen and accept that the struggle isn't over and the battle will never be won but together, we can overcome one battle at a time.  Ignorance is not bliss.   Do you have any tips for how couples can make their weddings more inclusive and make sure that all their guests feel welcome and involved?

Yes.  The biggest tip is that you do not know who around you might be struggling to live their authentic lives.  Your parent, your sibling, your best friend might not be safe enough yet to show the world who they really are so always act/speak as though you don't know who might be listening and in a way that empowers those around you.  Perhaps ask your people before allocating them gendered and traditional roles?  And with that in mind, really small things like asking your toastmaster or celebrant not to address the room as 'Ladies and Gentlemen' or 'Boys and Girls', for example, could make all the difference.

  What is your vision for the future of LGBTQ Equality Weddings?

Oh the vision is forever evolving.  I hope that we will become the go-to place for inclusivity education in the wedding industry.  I hope we will create many (more) jobs and opportunities for LGBTQ+ (and all) people who need flexibility for whatever reason.  I hope that we help more people to realise that if marriage is something they can see in their future, it's theirs for the taking, and I would also like to champion a push in non-legal commitment ceremonies for those who just don't want to legally commit but still want to celebrate their unique love.  

I also want to see a push towards making naming ceremonies more accessible to those with a trans experience seeking name affirmation, of all ages, where other forms of affirmation may not readily be available.  And I see awesome year end parties in the future too, where we can all get together and celebrate our joint efforts of leading loud and leading proud. 

If you're looking for wedding suppliers who take inclusivity and equality seriously, check out the LGBTQ Equality Weddings website and find them also on Facebook and Instagram.

Are you as impressed by Ava as I am? Why not go to the National Diversity Awards website and give her another nomination?

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