Pioneer Press Article

For this event planner, family history helped her focus on gay weddings
By Molly Guthrey – – Posted:   05/04/2013

Julie Lyford helped plan the wedding reception of her father, Robert Schanke, right, to Jack Barnhart in 2010. The pair has been together 28 years. (James Ramsey Photography)




Julie Lyford of Fabulous Functions is an event planner who works on a variety of gatherings and specializes in gay and lesbian weddings and commitment ceremonies.

It is her career, but it also a ritual she takes personally.

“I grew up in a very small, very conservative community in Pella, Iowa,” says Lyford, 45, of West St. Paul. “My parents were married in the ’60s; they were married for a long time. In the mid ’70s, my dad came out to my mother. They stayed married and he stayed closeted.

“He was a professor at a small private college; she was a teacher at small private school. It was not the time or place to come out, not if you wanted to keep your job. They could have separated and moved, but they both loved me and wanted to raise me. My dad wanted to be a full-time part of my life.”  Lyford was 17 when her father told her he was gay (Lyford’s parents waited until she graduated from high school before they divorced and moved to Des Moines).

“My reaction was, ‘Oh, OK.’ I didn’t care. My dad didn’t believe that I actually didn’t care. But my dad was a theater professor; I’d been around gay and lesbian people my whole life.  “To me, when he said, ‘I’m gay,’ it wasn’t like he was saying, ‘I’m an alien.’ It was more like, ‘Oh, just like Ron and Herb,’ our family friends.”    Not only did Lyford not judge her father; she followed him onto the stage, working in theater as a professional stage manager on the East Coast after college.

“Because theaters often host other events, I began helping with parties, weddings and commitment ceremonies,” Lyford said. “An event is just like a show, really; you have a theme, a deadline, a cast of characters, an audience. And you have also more control over your schedule as an event planner than as a stage manager.”

After moving back to Iowa, Lyford continued working as an event planner; she also got married; she and her husband have two children. They moved to Minnesota in 1999, but she has maintained her ties to Iowa, where same-sex marriage has been legally recognized since 2009. She helped her dad and his longtime partner plan a celebration after they tied the knot.  “It was a big backyard get-together with gay people, straight people and grandkids running around,” Lyford said. “My mom is a master gardener with an English garden in her backyard; she basically clear cut her garden for the wedding. Yes, my mom was at the wedding; she and my dad are still best friends.”

Fabulous Functions also helps plan other events, including straight weddings and celebrations of life (funerals). But gay weddings make up about half of Lyford’s business and currently, business is slow in Minnesota.  “It could be legal in August, so couples are waiting,” Lyford says.   (The Minnesota Legislature is considering expanding the state’s legal definition of marriage to all genders.)

In the meantime, Lyford organized a “LGBT Wedding Dreaming” photo shoot that will appear in “Lavender” magazine and is working with the magazine to create a “wedding fair” of sorts at Twin Cities Pride on June 29.  “I’m trying to get the pictures out there, because a gay couple doesn’t see themselves in ‘Bride’ magazine,” Lyford says. “There are not a lot of high-end weddings happening here. We want to show couples what it could look like. We’re trying to give them ideas — from traditional to artsy to offbeat.”

In many ways, a wedding is a wedding.

“Really, gay weddings are not different from heterosexual weddings,” Lyford says. “But there are some slight differences. At gay weddings, there’s a tradition of two aisles instead of one. And I have noticed that at gay weddings, the people attending are smaller in number. They don’t invite the side characters, like their dad’s boss. They invite the people who truly love and support them, the ones who are totally 100 percent on board with it. There is so much love there — every single person at the wedding really knows the couple and the situation. The guests also tend to know each other, too. It’s a more intimate feel compared to the wedding with 250 guests.”

A wedding planner also plays a different role in a gay wedding.

“Part of what I do is go out and vet the vendors,” Lyford says. “Are these vendors gay friendly? Are they going to feel comfortable working with my couple? My couples know that the vendors I recommend are totally fine with it.”

Not all vendors are. — “I worked with one lesbian couple who, when they first started planning their wedding on their own, tried to buy a dress and the bridal salon refused,” Lyford says. “They told them, ‘We don’t feel comfortable selling it to you.’ ”

Lyford has faced similar issues.  “I’ve lost straight clients because of it,” she says. “I was planning a straight client’s wedding. The client’s parents were paying for the wedding, but when they found out I did gay weddings, they told my client, ‘You can’t work with her.’”

Lyford shrugs off that kind of attitude.

“I believe if you’re in love, you should be able to get married,” she says. “Weddings can be stressful enough — for any couple. I enjoy being able to help couples not have to deal with some of the hatred out there, to be their buffer.”

Share your turning point with Molly Guthrey at or 651-228-5505.

Direct Link to Article



Did You Know…Julie is often a Featured Guest Speaker at Conferences and Universities?!


Guest Lecturer –  Using a Theatre Degree Outside the Theatre – University of Minnesota, College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University, Central College

Repeat Guest Lecturer at University of Minnesota – Festival & Event Management Certification281635_10150285728574587_6238682_n

Speaker – The Special Event National Conference, Chicago – Web Apps for the Event Professional      


Speaker – 2012 MFEA – MN Festivals & Events Association – Event Trends and LGBT Weddings



Pantone Color Trends

I love seeing what the new colors will be and bringing them to the attention of my clients LONG before they hit the magazines and Pinterest.  Wonder how to find out what the newest colors will be?  Keep an eye on Pantone.  Here is the forecast for Spring 2014!

Pantone Spring 2014They now have a subscription service that can keep you up to date on all the newest color trends…that way you don’t have to wait until September to find out hints for 2015!

PANTONEVIEW.COM is a unique online subscription service solely devoted to color and ideal for all creatives.


A Roadmap to Follow: Top Ten GLBT Wedding Traditions

Julie wrote an article that was recently featured in Lavender Magazine.

glbt wedding trends, lavender magazine, glbt weddings
As a wedding planner, I’ve had the opportunity to work with many…many…couples over the years…straight..same-sex couples it doesn’t matter…certain questions always arise…What is expected of us? What rules are we supposed to follow?  What traditions are people expecting us to follow? They always ask…Please can you give us a list of traditions we are expected to follow?

Gay Marriage…Straight Marriage…Whatever terms society uses…the fact remains that a union/wedding/marriage is taking place between two people who love one another. Years of assisting couples of all kinds create a memorable day of celebration, plus my personal experience of having a gay father who is married to his love of over a quarter century,
have given me an insight into societal, cultural and event-savvy advice. SO here is my list….

The following are just a few tips for making YOUR wedding a unique and personal experience:

1. To heck with rules and traditions. As with ANY wedding, this day is about your love and who you are as a
couple. Make is your day with YOUR special touches that reflect you as a couple. If you want to follow a family
tradition DO SO but if you want your ceremony to be totally different…That’s OK too!
Love to travel?? Why not drape the ceremony with flags from all the countries you’ve visited? Love
theatre? Have a FULL theatrical choir break out in an upbeat show tune as you both walk in.

2. Consider having you EACH walk down a separate aisle in unison! Why limit yourself to one aisle when there are
two of you? This way you indicate you are both approaching this union separately with the culmination of
coming together.

If you are considering having two aisles instead of one central aisle, I highly recommend that you invest in a
second shooter so that you can have both your special moments captured on film!

3. Many LGBT wedding vows reference the law. Many couples choose to use an except from the ruling by Judge
Vaughn Walker in the Prop 8 trial. Here is some of that statement:

“Marriage is the state recognition and approval of a couple’s choice to live with each other, to remain
committed to one another and to form a household based on their own feelings about one another and to
join in an economic partnership and support one another and any dependents. …”

4. “I now pronounce you LEGALLY married!” That’s a very impactful statement and as its being said in more and
more states it carries a message in of itself. I have witnessed many a calm gathering break into a room of
raucous cheering and happy tears when those simple six words are spoken.

5. Offer champagne or lemonade to your guests as they arrive for the ceremony. It sets the tone that this is ,
indeed, a celebration, it will be fun and it just may help take the edge off of great aunt Mildred and her
puritanical attitude.

6. The Greeting/Call to Attention: Your officiate announces to the guests that the festivities are about to begin.
He/She can may say a few words about you and your relationship and then lead the guests in a pre-ceremony
toast to the wedding they are about to help celebrate .

7. Add a Foundation Covenant or Quaker Marriage Certificate to the ceremony. These are signed by the couple
and their officiate during the ceremony, and by all of their guests who were lucky enough to witness the the
ceremony. The signed document is usually a piece of art and a wonderful item to frame and hang in your new

“We pledge to each other to be loving friends and partners in marriage.
To talk and to listen, to trust and appreciate one another;
to respect and cherish each other’s uniqueness; and to support, comfort and strengthen each other through
life’s joys and sorrows….”

8. Make the reception festival and personal. You do not have to do the chicken dance, cut the cake or thrown the bouquet…unless YOU want to! Remember though, if you cut some of those elements you need to do something to entertain your guests. Bring in entertainers…fire swallowers, drag queens or professional dancers to get the party started.

9. Create a cake topper that reflect you…there are thousands of choices out there. Have a portrait made of the two of you…create a stylish and fun twist to the typical cake topper.

lesbian cake topper

cake men cake men2
Cake Toppers by Miss Cake of

10. Finally…did I mention…to heck with the rules. This is about YOU and your day…to heck with what others expect…make it a your own unique day filled with love and you’ll end up with a lifetime of memories for both you AND your guests!

Awarded: Wedding Ninja by the Twin Cities Wedding Professionals

Julie was thrilled to be awarded the ‘Wedding Ninja’ award from the Twin Cities Wedding Professionals. Its always a thrill to be voted on by your peers and actually winning is the icing on top!

What is a “Wedding Ninja”??  —  “Someone who is right there to help come up with a creative solution to a problem.  A resourceful individual that does more work behind the scenes then anyone knows.  This person is a fighter for the client and total success of the event.”   Yep, that pretty much sums up  who we are and what we do at Fabulous Functions!!award award2 award3 award5 awards6awards7

Congratulations to ALLLLLL of the TCWP’s 2013 Award Ceremony Winners:
Most Creative Tagline: Christie Williams –
Grinkie Photography, LLCGrinkie Girls have more fun … ding!”
Best Networker: Donae Cotton – Donae Cotton Photography
TCWP’s Wedding Ninja: Julie Lyford – Fabulous Functions
Mr Congeniality: Brian Glad – DJ BGLAD
The Wow Factor: Dan & Richard – La Vita Espresso Catering
TCWP’s 4th Year: The Depot Minneapolis
TCWP’s 3rd Year: The Van Dusen Mansion
TCWP’s 2nd Year: DS Event Center
TCWP’s 1st Year: The Landmark Center 
Congratulations to all the finalists / nominees!!!

Alexander’s 1st Birthday Party (Pt 4 of 4: room decor, favors and thank yous)

We have gone over how I started to plan Alexander’s party, how I came up with the theme, location, invites and attire.  We went over food, dessert and table decorations, what is left?  Room decor, favors and thank you cards.  All while looking at professional pictures captured by the ever so talented Ben Berndt

Room Decor

I love the banners that are popping up everywhere and I knew right where to get mine.  I know the owner, Jessica, of Two Little Birds Designs. After telling her my theme she was busy making a Happy Birthday Alexander banner and a Monthly banner.

Happy Birthday banner Fabulous Functions

Happy Birthday banner by Jessica of Two Little Birds Designs.

Two Little Birds Design made the Newborn-12 month banner I added the monthly photos of Alex. It is great seeing the monthly changes at a glance. We now have this banner hanging up in his room.

monthly banners Fabulous Functions

Monthly Banner by Jessica of Two Little Birds Design.


A dear friend of mine gifted this fabulous balloon wreath from Kim Leutenegger, you can email her if you want one. She can personalize them with any color!!

Balloon Wreath Fabulous Functions

Balloon Wreath by Kim Leutenegger

You can’t have a 1st birthday party without balloons!

Alexander loves Balloons Fabulous Functions

Alexander loves Balloons

I found this perfect inflatable Alligator and the kids loved it! 

Alligator Fun Fabulous Functions

Alligator Fun Fabulous Functions

Alligator Fun Fabulous Functions

Alligator Fun Fabulous Functions

Alligator Fun Fabulous Functions

Alligator Fun Fabulous Functions


Alligator Fun Fabulous Functions

Alligator Fun Fabulous Functions


Thinking of the age group that will be receiving the favors I went with handmade/DIY coloring books.

Thank you coloring books Fabulous Functions

Thank you coloring books by Fabulous Functions

I HAD to include chocolate silver coins and bubble gum gold coins!

Thank you treats Fabulous Functions

Thank you treats by Fabulous Functions

When we had Alexander’s newborn session I brought with a John Deere dump truck. We then used the same dump truck for his 6 month and 1 year photo sessions. I printed and framed them as decoration around the favors. I also included a welcome sign and his birth stats.

Display corner Fabulous Functions

Display corner by Fabulous Functions

Thank you Cards

Ordered from TinyPrints

Alex thank you card fabulous functions

Alex’s thank you card by fabulous functions

I am posting a bonus blog with some fun candids of the party! Be on the lookout for that one.

If you missed them: Part 1, Part 2 or Part 3