LGBTQIA+ Affirming Language Guide for Wedding Vendors

they, them, nonbinary, wedding, gender, LGBTQ+

Language is incredibly powerful. It literally binds marriages. It’s the thing that holds together heartfelt vows, hilarious toasts, and welcomes guests to make them feel included. As a wedding photographer — language is essential for instructing my clients on how to get comfortable leading up to their wedding day. It’s a way we bond, through laughter, shared interests, and awkward banter.

Historically, language can also cause a lot of harm. Individuals and groups have long been marginalized and discriminated against because of their race, gender identity, sexuality, culture, religion, body, and/or abilities.

This post will focus on some best practices for creating safer spaces for LGBTQIA+ clients through shifts in our language. It’s hard to talk about gender and sexuality without also diving deep into other intersections of social positionality — such as race, class, and ability. I plan on sharing future posts about differentiating between safety and comfort within the wedding community, and accepting discomfort as necessary for social justice growth.

Challenge the construct

The gender binary is a social construct that has long gone unchallenged. I encourage you to read this this with empathy and imagine an experience that might not be your own. Hold your own opinions lightly and with humility. If you’re feeling defensive, take that energy and use it as an entry point for gaining deeper self-knowledge. It takes work and courage to change deeply ingrained habits, while doing daily unlearning. We all implicit bias, but if you take the time to ask yourself why you might be using certain language, it shows a desire to make change.

I try to be incredibly conscious of my language choices and still catch myself slipping by saying things like “hey, guys!” or “alright, it’s time to photograph the bridesmaids!” To make lasting change, we need to be able to sit with our discomfort and turn that into action. Some of these language alternatives might seem unfamiliar, and it’s possible you’ll still offend someone by using gender-neutral terms. What’s important is that we’re always challenging ourselves to dig deeper by taking intentional steps to bridge the gap.

Drop gendered terminology

Make your business a safer and more welcoming place for everyone, including LGBTQIA+ clients, by always dropping gendered terms from your communications — including your intake forms, website, social media, contracts, brochures, questionnaires, business cards, and conversationally.

It’s such an easy thing to change — how we communicate. That can feel like such a trivial thing for those of us who aren’t excluded. But these language alternatives can make a huge impact on LGBTQIA+ wedding clients who aren’t used to feeling included or represented. It’s so simple.

“When you approach the wedding industry with gendered terms (such as ‘bride’ and ‘groom’), you’re already projecting you have a narrower point of view in terms of what a wedding should or shouldn’t look like and who it does or doesn’t include.” — Equally Wed 

Make sure you’re being more inclusive of everyone when talking in general terms. Many marriers embrace gendered terms, so let them take the lead and use their words of choice.

BrideMarrier or celebrant or their name
GroomMarrier or celebrant or their name
CouplePartners or marriers
Bridal suiteWedding suite
Bridal partyWedding party, crew
Maid/Matron of HonorPerson of Honor, Attendant, Honor Attendant
Best ManPerson of Honor, Attendant, Honor Attendant
Flower girlFlower child
Ring bearerJunior attendant
Fiancé/FiancéeNearlywed, Intended, Spouse-to-be
HusbandSpouse or partner
WifeSpouse or partner
Mother/fatherParent or caregiver
Ladies/guys/girls (when greeting a group)Hey everyone, folks, y’all, friends, or people
Ma’am/sir/gentlemen (when addressing guests)Simply say “excuse me” or pardon me”
Bridal showerWedding shower or couple’s shower
Bachelor partyBach party
Bachelorette partyBach party
Bridal show/expoWedding show/expo
Father-daughter dance/Mother-son danceSpecial dances
Groom’s cakeSecond cake
MenswearSuit style, formalwear
Bridal portraitsPortraits
“I now pronounce you husband and wife.”“I now pronounce you married.”
“You may kiss the bride.”“You may kiss your partner.”
“Please welcome for the first time, Mr. and Mrs. Smith!”“Please welcome the happy newlyweds!”

Remember, there’s always work to do. None of this means anything if you aren’t willing to put the words into action and do something with it.