Featured photo: An LGBTQ+ wedding shoot at The Barn at Reynolda Village (photo by Ariel Kaitlin Photography)

It started with an email response.

A week before Christmas, a same-sex couple reached out to the Warehouse on Ivy, an event space and wedding venue in downtown Winston-Salem, about hosting their wedding there. In response, Daniel Stanley, a representative of the business, told the couple that the venue doesn’t host same sex weddings. Then all hell broke loose.

A screenshot of the email went viral, causing allies to post negative reviews of the business on Google and flood their Facebook inbox with messages. Since then, the Warehouse on Ivy’s Facebook has been taken down. Local papers picked up the story and national outlets soon followed suit. Triad City Beat reached out to the Warehouse on Ivy for comment but has not heard back.

In all of the chaos, Winston-Salem, a mid-size municipality that likes to advertise itself as the “City of Arts and Innovation,” was cast as a bigoted, backwards town to those who had never heard of the place. But those like Rebecca Woodcock and Allison Watts who work at The Historic Brookstown Inn say that the recent controversy doesn’t represent their city.

“I’ve always felt that Winston-Salem is a welcoming place,” says Woodcock who works as the director of marketing at Brookstown Inn. “Downtown especially has done a lot with Pride and local events to promote the LGBTQ+ community and spread that message of love and acceptance.”

Woodcock and Watts work together at Brookstown to coordinate and plan weddings at the venue and said that they’ve personally hosted multiple LGBTQ+ weddings at the inn. The venue, which was built in 1837, has been hosting weddings since the ’80s, according to Watts.

“We’ve done hundreds of weddings and our most recent LGBTQ+ wedding was in 2020 or 2019 right before the pandemic,” Woodcock says. “We love and support everyone from all backgrounds and we believe the spirit of hospitality is to accept everyone.”

Like many other businesses, Watts says that they’ve had to adjust to the challenges posed by the pandemic. They were forced to furlough a majority of their staff in March and have struggled with business slowing down. But they hope to continue to plan events and host weddings for anyone who wants them moving forward.

“We are at 50 percent capacity and we have hand sanitizer,” Watts says. “Our employees wear masks and gloves when serving food and we’re socially distancing the tables so they are six feet apart. We’re also trying to make sure family pods are sitting at the same tables and we are requiring masks.”

About 10 minutes outside of the city center, Caitlynn Lancaster of Legacy Stables also says that she’s worked to continue to help couples plan their special day — no matter what their sexual or gender orientation.

“We’re booked almost every weekend,” Lancaster says. “This past year and next year.”

While she says the company doesn’t have a formal nondiscrimination policy in place, it doesn’t feel like they have to have one because it’s simple.

“Our nondiscrimination policy is to just not discriminate,” she says.

The business has been operating for about three years and started out as a saddle bred riding facility, Lancaster says. After receiving requests to host weddings, the owners fixed up the barn and created a space for people to celebrate their love.

“We’ve had three or four LGBTQ+ weddings and have two more scheduled for this spring,” Lancaster says. “Our first LGBTQ+ couple that we booked was in 2018 and when they called, she asked me, ‘Do you guys do LGBTQ+ weddings?’ and I was just floored that someone had to ask. Like, of course! It doesn’t cross your mind that people are still discriminating against couples for those kinds of things.”

A couple getting married at Legacy Stables. (courtesy photo by Yessica Grace Photography)

Tabatha Renegar however, knows the kind of discrimination that LGBTQ+ couples can face. As the sales manager at the Barn at Reynolda Village, Renegar is also in the business of love but has seen her friends and family members who identify as LGBTQ+ be discriminated against.

“I know they can’t assume anything,” she says. “They can’t look at a website and assume it’s going to be accommodating to them because there are still hurdles for them.”

That’s why Renegar has made an extra effort to list the Barn at Reynolda Village on wedding websites geared towards LGBTQ+ couples. Recently she says they started advertising to be listed on Equally Wed, an online LGBTQ+ wedding magazine and online resource.

“We wanted to make sure that it was obvious that we are LGBTQ+ friendly,” she says. “We wanted to make it very, very clear that we are a venue that wants to celebrate love in every form that it takes.”

Lancaster of Legacy Stables agrees. For her, hosting weddings doesn’t come with any conditions.

“We love love,” she says. “How can you be in the business of love and you know, not love your brides and your customers?”

Lancaster says that despite the pandemic, bookings haven’t slowed down as much as she thought they would.

“I think people are hopeful for the future,” she says. “We’re getting more inquiries for smaller weddings.”

Renegar says that their dates at The Barn at Reynolda Village are also filling fast.

“We are absolutely seeing nothing but optimism for 2021,” she says.

And she hopes that more LGBTQ+ couples feel comfortable enough to reach out to them about hosting their weddings there.

“I mean what a gift that we can be a part of one of the happiest days of people’s lives?” Renegar says. “And there shouldn’t be a box around who those people are. We’re not going to change the world, but we can do our part to be loving and open to anyone who wants to celebrate.”

To learn more about the venues, visit brookstowninn.com, legacystablesandevents.com and reynoldabarn.com.

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