Jenni (she/they) of Jenni Chapman Photography is a queer, non-binary photographer and creative who started her career ten years ago in the actor headshot and theater space. This unique experience paved the way for her specialty in wedding photography and creative portraits in the San Francisco Bay area. She’s a fierce advocate for the LGBTQ+ community and believes in the importance of diverse, intersectional representation, which she hopes to keep promoting through her photography and work on the Queer Soul project.
It was an honor to speak to Jenni this week in my podcast to get some of their insights on planning an LGBTQ+ wedding — because they’re not just a photographer and amazing human, they’re also counting down the days to their own wedding!
Jenni and some of the couples they’ve worked with. Photos by Jenni Chapman Photography.
Along the wedding planning journey, Jenni’s encountered first-hand the challenges LGBTQ+ folks face:
If you’ve tuned into my podcast or read my blog, you know how much I advocate for queer weddings to be whatever you want them to be. If you wish to avoid traditions, then do just that! While Jenni and her fiancée, Ali, may partake in some meaningful wedding traditions, they also want to make the day uniquely their own.
For example, they plan to do breakfast for dinner, which Jenni has found exceptionally difficult to find caterers for. “It’s been interesting finding a caterer willing to do breakfast for dinner for 50 people on a Saturday because you could make a ton more money making 200 steaks instead.”
While the search may be difficult, rest assured there are vendors out there who will be enthusiastic about all your “non-traditional” ideas.
One of the venues Jenni and their fiancée toured was listed on The Knot as a queer-friendly venue. However, when they got to the space for a tour, they immediately saw red flags. For example:
This experience speaks to the point that, as LGBTQ+ folks, we never truly know if a vendor or establishment says they’re queer-friendly for the sake of the image or because they genuinely support inclusivity.
Wedding venues and vendors alike can have a range of price points, making it incredibly difficult for those who don’t have tens of thousands of dollars to spend. One idea that Jenni wanted at her wedding was to have people lodged on-site. Unfortunately, a venue like that doesn’t exist in California for a decent cost.
Budgeting is an issue many folks face during the wedding planning process — the industry is built on the notion that it should be one of life’s most significant investments. Thankfully, there are workarounds, with many venue options out there and more and more people opting for smaller weddings or eloping.
While Jenni is a massive advocate for hiring LGBTQ+ vendors, there are some instances where this might be difficult or impossible. For example, their chosen venue had them choose from a specific list of DJs. This worried Jenni because their guest list is full of queer people with various identities and ways of presenting. The last thing they wanted to do was educate their DJ on how to use inclusive language. Thankfully, they lucked out — despite the DJ being straight, he has the awareness and, let’s be real, basic human decency to know how to treat a diverse group of people with enthusiasm, acceptance, and respect.
Jenni did her due diligence, knowing how complex the wedding landscape can be for queer folks. She emailed or called ahead to many places, explicitly stating that they’re an engaged queer couple. Anyone who didn’t pass the vibe check didn’t deserve consideration.
One dress shop she vetted beforehand still did not meet expectations when the couple walked in. “The stylist came to get us, and she was like: whose wedding is first?” Much to her bewilderment, Jenni explained that it was the same day. The stylist went on to think that Jenni and Ali were shopping together because they couldn’t go to each other’s weddings, it was a double wedding, or they were sisters or friends. When it finally clued in, the couple was met with the comment, “oh well, then you can’t shop together. You can’t see each other’s dresses.”
The hoops Jenni and Ali had to jump through in this interaction made this experience infuriating, proving that biases still exist, no matter how hard you try to avoid these encounters.
From their years in the LGBTQ+ wedding space and personal experience with planning their own wedding, Jenni has some tips they’d like to share with all the folks out there:
An LGBTQ+-friendly event coordinator can be your lifesaver when planning a wedding. These specialists are not just queer-friendly but also queer-empowering. When recommending a vendor, you know “they’ve done the dirty work to ask those questions and vouch for them.” They will advocate on your behalf and save you from the tedious process of weeding out the non-inclusive.
Additionally, LGBTQ+ wedding planning can be daunting, especially because there are millions of opinions on what a wedding should look like. Coordinators “can lead you through it and help you wade through the muck and find the actual things that are going to serve you best.” These people have dozens or hundreds of weddings behind them, so they have the knowledge and tips to ensure your special day fulfills your dreams.
This message comes up with everyone I speak to on my podcast, which means it’s important to the queer wedding experience! At the end of the day, it’s your love, so celebrate however you want. The wedding industry is full of archaic traditions that don’t apply anymore, especially to LGBTQ+ folks. “I just really want to give you full permission to throw away all of it,” says Jenni. “Keep whatever little bits are genuinely meaningful to you and create new traditions. Don’t be afraid to do things you’ve literally never seen before.” If traditions work for you, do them because they mean something. If they don’t align with your styles or identities, you’re allowed to do whatever you want.
This is something you’ll want to coordinate beforehand. Ensure the officiant knows this is happening and that your photographer has enough room to back up and fit in most of the crowd. “There’s going to be a million pictures of you kissing on your big day,” says Jenni. Capturing your first kiss with all the people you love cheering behind you will make the moment a million times more meaningful.
LGBTQ+ wedding planning can come with a host of challenges. That’s why it’s important to mentally prepare yourself for vendor or venue rejections or discriminatory treatment. It’s unfair that, as queer folks, we have to take on this emotional burden, but it’s still our reality. If you feel particularly anxious about the planning process or overwhelmed by current challenges, consider taking a week off, caring for yourself, and waiting until you feel ready to reach out to vendors again.
As queer photographers, both Jenni and I are in your corner. We know the wedding planning process can be complex, and finding inclusive vendors can be stressful. Queer love is sacred, and you deserve to celebrate your love in ways that make you happy.
If you’re in the process of looking for a queer wedding or elopement photographer, you’ve come to the right place. While I do many shoots here in the Midwest, I’m also a traveler at heart, ready to take on new adventures in the spaces that mean the most to you. Reach out to me for more information, and let’s connect!
If you want to learn more about Jenni, her business, and wedding planning experience, check out my interview with her in my podcast, Queerly Beloved. Can’t wait to catch you there!