I spend a lot of time reading about marketing for small business, I am a bit of a business education junkie. There is a lot of talk about “finding your tribe” in the world of creative entrepreneurship. This idea that if you speak authentically, build a personality-based brand, and target a narrow niche of customers, you will grow and attract more of your ideal clients. And despite the fact that I dislike the fact that its referred to (rather appropriatively) as your “tribe” I will admit it is good advice.
Speaking directly to the people who are picking up what you are putting down is a great way to intentionally build a brand image, curate the work in your portfolio, and create a better experience for both you and your client.
But is there a line where you stop speaking to your tribe and start alienating people, or worse, making them feel unwanted or excluded?
Let’s just say that all those cake bakers who turned away LGBTQ customers probably thought they were speaking to their tribe.
I had someone ask me how what we are doing here at Secularly Wed is any different than Christian business owners turning away a gay couple. I honestly did a double take, because SERIOUSLY? But I collected myself and then explained the difference between having a target audience, and excluding an audience.
Religious weddings are considered standard.
First of all, the mainstream wedding industry centers white, Christian, heterosexual couples and their weddings as the default. Representation matters – which is why it is so fantastic that we have all these blogs, magazines, podcasts, and wedding expos popping up that tell the rest of our stories. Trailblazers like Munaluchi Bridal, A Practical Wedding, Offbeat Bride, and more recently, Catalyst Wedding Co. are putting the under-represented stories front and center. Many of these publications have covered non-religious and secular weddings, but I felt it was important to build a resource specifically for our secular community.
Why though? It’s not because I dislike or don’t want to work with religious people! That’s for sure! Instead, it’s that I want my non-religious pals to feel like they belong and that their weddings are just as meaningful and important. Plus, in some parts of the United States and the world, it is very difficult to find vendors who are supportive of your choice to have a secular wedding.
Our little tribe of secular humanists, atheists, agnostics, spiritual folks, and others excluded from having a religious wedding for whatever reason – we deserve a place to discuss the specific challenges of planning our weddings and navigating to world as secular people.
Ok, so how is this different from specifically excluding religious people. Well to be perfectly honest, we aren’t excluding them! In fact, I love talking with my religious friends about their beliefs and having an opportunity to explain my own. My own father is a Presbyterian pastor and we have a great relationship. I think that there are some religious ceremonies and traditions that are simply gorgeous and moving – but they are not my beliefs, and that is totally OK. I may be an Atheist, but I am not Anti-Theist, and there will never be anything of the sort on this website.
Giving equal service to all.
As a wedding planner, I would never turn down a client based on their religious beliefs or desire to have a religious ceremony. About half of the weddings I do are religious weddings (it is the South after all!). I value and highly respect my religious couples beliefs and give them the same level of commitment and service as my secular couples.
When a secular couple visits my website, they see mentions of humanism, feminism, marriage equality, and my manifesto on challenging traditions – these are signals that we are part of the same tribe.
I am saying to these couples, you are safe here, you are valued here, and your ideas are not “weird” or “alternative.” They will not have outdated traditions or religious ritual pushed on them as “just how it’s done” from me or any of the vendors I introduce them to. By speaking to them directly, I am saying, I see you and I totally get your vibe.
Now, let’s come back to the Christian small business owners who decided it was a good idea to turn away paying couples because they were marrying someone of the same gender. They are refusing service to an entire community of people based on their personal religious beliefs. That is discrimination. Instead of speaking to their tribe they are excluding those who not in their tribe.
As I talked about in my piece on Christian Witness in the Wedding Industry, if a wedding professional wants to incorporate their faith into their business, that is their prerogative. They are signaling their ideal clients just as I am when I talk about secular humanism and feminist issues. In my previous article, I discuss how even the act of Christian Witness can be othering to those who do not believe, but at the end of the day, I am a grown-ass woman who decides where to shop and who I hire or recommend. As long as they don’t actively discriminate, they are free to do what they will and I am free to take my money elsewhere if I choose.
But what happens when a couple lives in a town where there are only a few wedding vendors? Or a town without a strong secular or progressive community? Where do they turn if they feel excluded by religious vendors (whether intentionally or not)?
This is why Secularly Wed is so important to me. Why it was important that I started the vendor directory right from the start. I wan’t you to find your tribe, work with the people who value your ideas and beliefs. Whether you are a wedding pro, or a couple getting married, I want to build a community in hope that we can change the wedding industry from the inside out. I want to give you all a place to feel safe and included, where we can discuss issues that we otherwise cannot with our religious family and friends.
And I want everyone to be able to have a wedding cake.