When Springfield clears the way for same-sex marriage in Illinois, LGBTQ couples can collect their marriage licenses and plan the moment that they exchange vows and celebrate their love. Their friends and family members may want to buy a congratulatory cardbut from where? That's the dilemma Emily Belden faced when her longtime friend, Lucas, married his partner 72 hours after the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act.
Although stores like Hallmark started to carry gay-themed cards in 2008, Belden found nothing suitable at her local outlets. She had known Lucas since she was 5. They played soccer and rode their bikes to school together. She watched him suffer through and eventually overcome the torment of vicious bullying from his classmates. She was not going to celebrate his wedding without something to mark the occasion.
Instead, the 27-year-old Belden, who will be publishing a book this coming February, decided to put her creative abilities to the test and designed her own card. Her concepts led to the birth of a website specializing in same-sex sentiments for every occasion. "I had all these different ideas," Belden remembered. "I sat at the computer and one card turned into 10. Then 10 turned into e-commerce."
At happyhappygaygay.com, visitors can select from a variety of cards that do away with straightforward, poetic sentiment in favor of unconventional pearls of the fabulous ranging from recognition for someone who is coming 'out like a light bulb' to congratulations for a day that began with love, then marriage, then 'a Donna Summer mega-mix at the reception.' People can send a gay best friend a thank you 'for being weird with me' or celebrate the idea that 'two parents who know how to decorate a nursery are better than one.'
The selected image is emailed over as a link either for the customer to print or to send as an e-card. Since Belden handles both the art direction and the writing of the cards, she has very little overhead beyond the maintenance of the website. She, therefore, decided that a portion of the five dollar cost for each card should go to charities like the Trevor Project, a national organization providing 24 hour crisis intervention and suicide prevention to LGTBQ youth.
Once again, Lucas served as Belden's inspiration. Looking back on their friendship, she realized that, for LGBT people, life is not always 'happyhappygaygay.' "When we were growing up, every 12 year old boy would say the nastiest things to him at school," Belden said. "It happened every day, and it got to the point that he was counting on it." Although noting with pride that, despite the obstacles he faced, Lucas was able to make a success of his life, Belden is grateful that organizations like The Trevor Project exist today to help bullied kids. "It's not a way for anyone to have to grow up. Lucas could very easily have been Trevor," she said.
Despite having no advertising budget and relying solely upon social media and word of mouth, the response to happyhappygaygay.com surpassed Belden's wildest dreams. Within an hour of the site going live, her first customer was an order from Mexico. Belden sent the customer a thank-you email to which he replied, "I've been waiting my whole life for something like this."
Since then, Belden has heard from people all over the country and world. A boutique store in Minneapolis contacted her about carrying the cards. She has also received special requests for cards marking everything from adoptions to bar mitzvahs. Belden handles them on a one-on-one basis. "Now that I'm learning what the demand is, I'm amazed," She said. "It's more than just gay marriage, its milestones."
Still, Belden pointed out that there are a few people who hate what she is doing. The Jesuit college she attended omitted her from its alumni bulletins and, when her website was featured in Crain's Chicago Business, one commentator called it a "sick, sick concept." But the more overwhelming messages of support Belden received empowered her to take the idea as far as it can go. "I have no words for the anti-marriage people," She said. "They have a level of intolerance that I cannot grasp. Love should not be regulated."
As for Lucas, he will soon be standing as a Bridesman when Belden marries her fiancÃ© and she said she could care less if people think it 'looks weird.' She believes it is just a matter of time before gay marriage becomes legal nationwide. Much like the success of happyhappygaygay and the upbeat choices the site offers people celebrating the marriage of an LGBT couple, Belden would not have it any other way.