Mia Kumar-Pesci tapped her moccasins and bounced up and down in one of her dads’ arms while a dozen members of the Sacramento Gay Men’s Chorus sang “Material Girl” and “Luck Be a Lady Tonight” at Sacramento’s fifth annual LGBT Wedding Expo Sunday.
“It’s so nice to see the Hyatt hotel hosting something like this,” said Robye Kumar, 42, a banker from Elk Grove, as he kept the beat with Mia. “Seeing all the gay-friendly hotels, country clubs and other vendors – it’s a sea of `yes’ vs. the ‘no’ you hear on the news.”
His husband, Matthew Pesci, 38, added that it’s not just high-end businesses that appreciate the value of “the pink dollar.” “I was impressed by the number of restaurants that actually want to cater our wedding,” he said, including Dickey’s barbecue chain.
The couple actually married in 2008 “without our families knowing,” Kumar said, but then his dad died and last year they had the opportunity to adopt Mia. Now they’re ready to hold a formal wedding ceremony.
Like dozens of other festival-goers, Kumar worried about possible rollbacks on LGBT rights while lauding the climate here.
“It’s good to be from California in this day and age,” he said, noting that Alabama has advanced a bill that would allow faith-based adoption agencies to refuse gay couples seeking to adopt.
Tim Parmley, 32, said fears of a more restrictive climate also factored in his decision to get married this year to Zach Whitehouse, 33, of Cameron Park.
“The election gave me a little moment of panic and urgency to get married,” Parmley said. “I’m mildly terrified and happy we’re still in California,” added Whitehouse, whose mom, Lora Whitehouse, had come to help them scope out photographers, caterers and venues.
They, like many other couples, were carrying free tote bags supplied by the Puerto Vallarta Chamber of Commerce, which sent a representative with positive news on the gay rights front. Last year, various Mexican states legalized gay marriage, said Jesus Langarica, Puerto Vallarta’s representative. “The LGBT community in Puerto Vallarta’s very strong,” he said.
Along with samples of free food and wine, the expo featured a fashion show led by a drag queen who performs under the name Taryn, though “her boy name’s Jonathan,” explained festival organizer Fred Palmer, publisher of the Sacramento-based bimonthly Outword Magazine.
Palmer organized the festival “so the first thing couples didn’t have to do was explain they’re a same-sex couple, and we want to support businesses who support us, vs. those who don’t want the gay dollar.” Now more than 1,000 people show up every year to browse more than 100 vendors, said Palmer, 52, who married his partner on June 27, 2015, the day after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the legality of gay marriage.
The openness of the LGBT Wedding Festival reflects a long and hard road to acceptance, Palmer said. “I’ve had stones thrown at the back of my head, I’ve been spit on, people of various religions have told me I’m going to hell,” he said. “I’m from an Italian Catholic military family with five boys, and I never in a million years thought my dad would celebrate our wedding, but he did!”
Palmer and Emily Bender, program director for the Sacramento LGBT Community Center, said while California has passed a law protecting gender-neutral restrooms at public schools and restaurants, transgender youth are facing greater emotional challenges as other states are now compelling them to use restrooms based on their gender at birth.
“The new administration brings up a lot of fear, a lot of panic that causes disruption in daily life, and mentally it takes a toll on you,” said Bender. Since the election, calls from transgender people to suicide hotlines have spiked as people have been made to feel uncomfortable in their own skin, Palmer said.
Sunday’s event was all about being comfortable with who you are. Tiffany Franklin, 38, appeared in the fashion show in a dark-blue tuxedo suit with matching bow tie, while her partner Renée Jones strode the runaway in a shimmering green dress and a billowing white gown. “I feel free!” Jones said.
“We still need a D.J., a caterer and photographer for our wedding party,” said Franklin, whose wedding is set for September. She said she’s nervous about marriage equality laws being reversed. But she added, “We know that taking away our piece of paper can’t take away what’s forever in our hearts.”