Author, speaker, and consultant Kathryn Hamm, this week’s featured guest on the Game Face Execs podcast, hasn’t just made a career bringing people together; she’s made a difference amplifying voices of the overlooked around us. As an educator, former account executive in professional women’s sports, and an LBGTQ wedding expert, Kathryn has been an industry innovator and is now a strategic advisor for individuals and business leaders seeking a transformational understanding about their assumptions, habits, and blind spots. As a pioneer of online wedding planning resources for same-sex couples, our game face exec gets personal and shares how her experiences informed her work as an advocate and educator supporting the unions of all couples, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Watch the episode here:
Kathryn Hamm | Building Bridges Over Troubled Waters
How often do five passing words uttered by one acquaintance to another turn a normally brief encounter into a decades-long mutual business relationship of mutual respect? That’s what happened to me many years ago when I first met the very talented Kathryn Hamm. She was then the account executive with the WUSA’s Washington Freedom, 1 of the 8 teams in the first women’s professional soccer league. Though I’m a straight man and Kathryn is a lesbian, this episode’s conversation provides more proof that as equal members of the human family, there are certain outcomes to all friends you’re in to find, embrace and celebrate.
If you have read my book, The Sales Game Changer: How to Become the Salesperson People Love, you’re going to love our guest. In that very first chapter, I tell a story right at the outset. That story involves my guest. Her name is Kathryn Hamm. She is someone that I have long admired and respected. I’ve wanted to have her on our show ever since we began. Finally, welcome to the show, Kathryn.
Thank you, Rob. I’m glad to be here. It’s fun to have this little reunion.
I’ve had many people comment to me about that story that I tell in the book. They want to know more about you. I was tired of telling them myself. I thought, “Let’s get Kathryn on the show.” As you say, it’s a great reunion. You and I first met many years ago. We were in a different place in both of our careers. Let’s go back. I was working with a women’s professional soccer team called The Washington Freedom where you were a leader. Take it from there. Tell us how you got into that job in Washington DC.
Professionally, it was a window in time that was one of the most fun jobs I’ve ever had. I had been working in independent schools in the Washington DC area in the lead-up. I experienced some burnout at a school and was looking for something new and different to do, and to take a break. My wife and I were season ticket holders of the Washington Freedom. I played soccer my whole life. I went on to college to play soccer. I am as the same age as a lot of the girls of summer of 1999 class, and I wasn’t as good. My career had ended. Yet there was this entity that I felt passionate about and connected to. I thought, “Why don’t I send a resume?”
I know soccer and I love being a part of it. It would be such a tremendous honor and pleasure to support this team, and to support women’s professional athletics, which when I was a kid, it wasn’t an option on the table for us. It so happened that the day I sent that resume in, they had to let go an account executive. I got a call from the sales operation saying, “We’ve got this position. This is an entry-level position. It might not be your deal but if you’d like to come in, we’d love to talk to you about it.” As it may be obvious to your readers or anyone who follows soccer, one of the fun pieces is I had the right last name since our marked key player was the great and incredible, Mia Hamm. I like to say that I played right cubicle while she was out scoring a lot of goals. She’s the penultimate player, and such a wonderful asset for the club and for women’s soccer.
I always thought that you got her a position on this.
[bctt tweet=”It feels fulfilling to have a career that is part of something meaningful.” via=”no”]
Is that how it went? Maybe. I’m sure that I must have set up the one-shot that she needed to make to advance to the national team. I had so much fun, and that is what led me to meeting you. The league was looking to enhance, develop, and support the skills of its account executives. We all loaded up into our cars and headed down to North Carolina, and you were running a workshop on sales. I’m a total dork. I love to learn and sit in class. I was one of those kids that thought school was fun, both for the academics and the athletics.
To sit in a workshop and get skills that were new or were being taught to me in a different way, I was a young professional at that time. It was great to get this concrete articulation of skillset to help me do my job and hit my marks. I remember it well because you’re such a fabulous storyteller. You’re such an energetic teacher and I was completely enthralled by the educational opportunity. The anecdote, which I was surprised and pleased to find at the start of your wonderful new book. I do remember talking with you after, and feeling moved and connected to what you were saying and teaching us.
There was a mutual connection because during the workshop, which lasted a couple of days, you were always engaged, asked great questions and challenged me. When you came up at the end and we said our goodbyes, thinking that we would meet again, work again together, what you said to me opened up a whole new perspective of what I do for a living. I’m not going to steal my own thunder, I want my readers to read that first chapter. I’ve been forever grateful for that. As I say in the book, I’ve shared that story numerous times with other clients. When they hear what you said, they all nod affirmatively like, “She’s insightful.”
That must be our chemistry and dynamism because it was something that was very clear for me. It was organic at that moment. It felt like a light bulb moment. I love those moments. I like them more when they’re comfortable, which your workshop was. I liked the last one. I felt like it’s blood, sweat and tears, lots of kicking and screaming to get through it. I love those light bulb moments that provide some of insight, which like turning on a light switch and it sheds light, which helps everything that you’re doing next to be that much easier.
I have to ask you though regarding your start with the Washington Freedom, which the league did not last too long, unfortunately. It’s since been reconstituted now, but you went from education when you were in the classroom, is that correct?
At that point, I was a high school administrator. I taught but I was doing a little of everything on the school side.
For many of my readers, sales and the whole topic, even taking a sales job would be the last thing on earth they’d ever consider doing because they’re not “cut out” for sales. I’m interested to know what was going through your mind coming from an administrative position, from a coaching standpoint to accept the idea that, “I’m going to take an account executive position. I’m going to become a salesperson.” Most people won’t touch sales with a 10-foot pole. For you, what happened? Was it, “This is something I’ve got to do?” Is it a necessary evil to get to something better or is it something you aspire to?
It’s neither or none of the above. There were two parts to the answer. The first around what I was doing was this was an extension to participate in something that mattered. This was part of being a member of a team and a sport that I cared about, and something I wanted which was professional women’s sports. We forget how much it’s changed in such a short amount of time, but there weren’t professional sports. I was a young kid who was a sports junkie that grew up in a time where my sport wasn’t in the Olympics. It now is. It didn’t have an opportunity for professional athletics as a choice. To me, this was a piece of that story. That part was easy.
I was happy to do whatever. I’m sure part of my comfort with something that involves sales might be connected to that I was totally that kid in your neighborhood. If you live in a suburban neighborhood situation where the school was asking us to do a readathon, a swimathon or whatever athon, and I was out there to go and raise money. I was the kid that nobody wanted to see coming because while I did come trick or treating for candy which was the easiest exchange we had, I also came to your house asking for you to sponsor me.
For the families who underestimated the number of books that I would read or the number of laps I would swim, sometimes we had to negotiate what the donation would be. I’m fortunate in being an extrovert and seeing it as an opportunity to be connected to something meaningful. To me, that’s not sales. While I understand your point from what I’ve read in your book so far, you’re dead-on right. It’s being connected to something, to a mission, and to an opportunity that’s meaningful.
When the league did fold, no fault of yours, Kathryn Hamm, but when it was not in the cards at that particular time, women’s soccer has resurrected and is doing well in a variety of markets, more markets than the original league enjoyed. Nevertheless, when the Washington Freedom folded for a time, you had to move on professionally and you’ve talked already about following things that are meaningful to you. Where did your career go next? I’m assuming you were not looking for a paycheck, you were looking for something that was meaningful to you. Could you describe that path for us?
By that time, I was in my third iteration of a career from education to working in professional sports to working in the wedding industry. As I was reflecting on what is this common thread, I realized that I was always connected to something that had some connection to social justice. The education, teaching of kids, supporting women’s professional sports, and bringing empowerment for women and girls to the forefront. My mom started a business in 1999 called TwoBrides.com and also the companion site, TwoGrooms.com. It was an outgrowth of her response to struggling to find products for my wedding to my wife in 1999. It’s not legal. Those were the days of commitment ceremonies and there were commencement ceremonies certainly happening. There was a market to be served, but there weren’t companies embracing our community in other ways, serving couples who were looking to have ceremonies and celebrate their commitments.
My mom was in the early years of having launched that business and needed some support. In the course of the things that I have done professionally and as a person, I love things that involve marketing, writing, sales and strategic thinking. I’m a natural entrepreneur in a lot of ways. I want to help my mom launch a business that is groundbreaking of which I felt proud of her, and which I saw a need for. I joined her in 2004. I started helping a little bit part-time. In 2005, I became a full partner in the business. That’s the time in which we acquired and rebranded as GayWeddings.com. We’re moved from being a boutique where we offered products for people planning their weddings, to much more of a comprehensive resource site so that people could come and find vendors, and vendors could find couples.
This is what moved me into the wedding space. Relatively quickly, I found myself referring to what I did as I’m a gay wedding expert, which I find hilarious. It still makes me laugh to this day. Truly my expertise somewhere is I have spent a substantial chunk of my time as an LGBTQ wedding expert, working within the wedding industry, trying to support couples, trying to support wedding professionals, and trying to shift the space. There are lots of fun stories that we can talk about within that, but I would say to you that I found my way accidentally into it, and yet in hindsight, always being 2020, I can see the path and understand quite clearly why it was a great match. Let me add one more little thing that I did along the way. I had gotten a Master’s in Social Work when I was teaching. There is a piece of clinical work, communication, and thinking from a community organizing standpoint. There were some ways in which my graduate-level studies were also well connected to this business opportunity.
I don’t think it’s too unusual that an entrepreneur would fall into a business. We’ve often been told that you should follow your passion, but if I look around the world and see successful entrepreneurs, with apologies to those who have been able to turn their hobby into a career, and I love what I do, let’s be clear on that. You love what you do, but many entrepreneurs do what they do. They start the business they do, not because they’re passionate about that particular product or service, but because they do see an opportunity. There is a void in the market, they want to fill that void, and recognize that it would be financially fortuitous if they did, and more power to them. In your case, as I’m hearing it then, two things collided or intersected in a good way. You do have a passion for social justice and social issues. You had a mother who is in need of your expertise and abilities, and then you had the desire to be your own boss. Is that a fair characterization?
I do tend to be my own boss. It was perfect timing to solve that, “What am I going to do next? Who am I as a professional?” It fit the bill to help me figure out the question of what’s next.
[bctt tweet=”Being LGBTQ-identified isn’t that different from being straight-identified. You’re still a person who has feelings and connections.” via=”no”]
I have to ask you about the need that your mother initially saw and she was working to fill at a time when gay weddings were more ceremonial than official. When you joined her, had you already gone through the experience yourself or had that yet to come?
My wife and I had our wedding, which we called at that time a union, the language was still evolving. What we were doing was relatively new. We got married. We had our wedding union in 1999. To this day, that is still the ceremony that we celebrate, even though we’ve since made it legal. I had been through the process and understood what some of the challenges were, not just from saying, “We’re going to do this thing,” but we planned a wedding and encountered wedding professionals. We understood what our challenges were. We recognized how hard it was in making choices to say, “Here’s who we are. Will you help us?” It’s what was happening at that time because any phone call could lead to hanging up, a polite decline, or some unkind words said.
Rolling back the clock for anyone that can go into the ‘90s, a lot of people weren’t out. We didn’t talk about LGBTQ communities and families in the way we do. We were often closeted at work. We weren’t all running to get married. Many people in my community didn’t even see weddings or unions. It’s such a beautiful relationship and an important relationship statement and ritual. We didn’t even see that as a possibility because it wasn’t anything that was part of what our experience could be. That’s a whole other topic that I’m incredibly passionate about and it has changed my life. The shorthand context of it was that I came out thinking I was making a choice where my family may reject me. Marriage, which is something I’d always imagined I would do and having kids, was not an option for me. This is who I am, this is what it is to be authentic and true to myself, and feeling like, “There may be these costs to accept that truth and to live authentically.”
As you were talking, I’m reminded about a gentleman who has since passed away, who was a dear friend of mine. His name is Dennis Richardson. He was a politician in the State of Oregon where I used to live and work. He was a state legislator when first met him. He became Secretary of State, which is a Lieutenant Governor, the second in line to the governorship of the State of Oregon. He fought against same-sex marriage. Many people, his followers, and those who are that ilk fought hard against it. You’ve encountered many people in your life and your career who at one time were may maybe political enemies.
The reason I bring up Dennis is I was impressed with him after gay marriage became legal throughout the country. He was asked a question on television during his last campaign, “You lost, Dennis. What do you think about that?” Rather than digging in his heels and saying, “The Supreme Court made a bad decision,” and those types of things, I was impressed with the grace in which he answered the question. He said simply, “I congratulate them that they now could enjoy marriage like my wife and I have been enjoying it for years.”
I want to say that because we’ve talked about this. You and I are the same on every issue and policy. There’s a mutual respect that we belong to the mutual admiration society. I love that about you and I hope that’s true of what I said. That’s the way I feel about you. I have to ask you though, some of the hardships that movement has experienced, can you give me some insights? I’m not in that constituency. My wife and I have been married for many years so I don’t understand the things that you’ve lived through. Perhaps you can give us a little bit of a peek into the issues that you faced back then versus now. How is it evolving? Is it better in your world? Is it still challenging in your world? I would like to learn from your experience.
It’s a mutual fan society, for sure. When you use the phrase, political enemies, maybe it’s because I live in Washington and we think about politics differently. I live in an industry town and my wife is a non-partisan analyst. There’s a different way we approach this. There are people with who I might have policy disagreements. Particularly in my work when I was working in the wedding industry, trying to support people and understanding why this mattered, approaching things from a standpoint of, “Are we enemies or friends?” It’s how I am. It’s not how I roll. I also find it doesn’t serve a higher purpose of how we take care of each in our immediate communities, our families, or our broader city communities to our national community.
I’d love to try to answer your question through my professional experience. It’s one of the easiest ways to tell that story. To me, it’s one of the things that is intriguing about watching a group that has largely been disenfranchised, sometimes treated unkindly, still being on the receiving end of hate crimes, losing jobs, losing housing, not having access to medical care, losing family, struggling in accepting a parent’s love or receiving that. The wedding space was interesting because the whole conversation is about love. Being LGBTQ-identified isn’t that different outside of being straight-identified. You’re a person who has feelings and connections. One of the differences between when I was coming up versus now is it was rare for a parent who would say, “I see you. How can I help you? Are you interested in boys or girls?”
Many kids growing up now are given the space where they may have a preference for what they want, but the parents aren’t setting the table in a way that means there’s a course correction down the road. There are ways to be more inclusive in general in language so that the kid can be who they are. To give you a personal example, which my parents know that I use this example. Not long after I came out with them, one of them said, “Secretly, we were afraid it was true.” As a young person, I was 21 so I was relatively late coming out.
While the parent side of me and the compassionate daughter’s side understands what they were saying, there is a deep part of grief I have about that because I asked myself, “God, what years were lost? If you understood this about me, in what ways did you unconsciously or without intention help to construct a reality that you hoped for me, a way that I might be, or what my life should look like? If there was a truth that I couldn’t articulate, but that was speaking to me from a place of my heart, it’s hard to describe it and understanding what it was then, what did I lose in that process?” Fast-forwarding back into the wedding industry and conversations I’ve had with a wide variety of wedding professionals, event planners, photographers, caterers, you name it. One of the most interesting groups to speak with would be the officiants. Some of whom were religiously affiliated. Some of whom were not.
I was involved in this business my mom started. It was the first of its kind. We were the first in having this conversation. In the earliest days, the wedding professionals who wanted to advertise their business and find same-sex couples, very few or some were happy to be out there with it. The majority were like, “I want to do this. I’m open to it, but I don’t want people to know because I’m afraid of what I’m going to lose. I’m afraid of the business and the clients I’m going to lose. I’m afraid of what people are going to say to me.” The work in those early days was helping people to understand the opportunity. They may feel like there’s a risk but recognize that there is a goodwill, feeling aligned with your values, and an opportunity to have customers who are going to be happy about the choice that you made to serve same-sex couples.
As the tide with what was happening from an advocacy standpoint and from a legal standpoint began to turn. People felt much more comfortable. I framed it to people like, “Your wingman has arrived. You’re not going to be the one who’s standing out there alone doing this. You’ve got an industry that saying this is okay.” One of the things that as an educator and consultant that made a big difference for me was I had a national company, WeddingWire, which now has acquired The Knot and is known as The Knot Worldwide. It had me on their main stage, front and center, teaching what I had to teach about understanding same-sex couples and LGBTQ people, and what they might need.
When you have the validation from a nationally accepted brand, it changes the game further. For those who still feel some fear, afraid or aren’t sure what to do, it helps bring the temperature down. I had this interesting perch as a business owner, educator, and a person who personally was invested in this, watching how opinions and comfort levels changed. One of the things that made it easiest was we were talking about love. When I spoke with some professionals or officiants who had some fear that was grounded in some of their religious teachings, it was easy for us to find some commonality around, “Doing unto others as you would have them do unto you,” around love, respect and relationship, that there is plenty of both to be had in the conversation.
I don’t mean to be too Pollyanna about it either because many days, it came at some cost to me. People say some hurtful things to me. I was good enough as an educator and as a listener that they weren’t recognizing that some of the questions they were asking and things that they were saying were deeply dismissive, hurtful, and less fun. I would say it was in my commitment to say, “I want to have this conversation and figure out how I can help you understand me more, which helps me hang in because I understand that you’re afraid. How can we continue this conversation? There are plenty of rooms for me to get married and for me to support love, commitment, all these values that I know most religions are about at their core.”
I cannot anticipate the questions that my readers may be having now. Perhaps you could identify or even predict their questions better than I can. Can you help me understand what are some common fears or questions people have about the gay wedding industry that you have had to overcome? If you had a chance to speak one-on-one with them and when you do, that fear is quickly overcome or never realized because they have more information, more insight from you. Can you give us an example or two of the things that you’ve encountered along the way?
I went from being in the gay wedding industry, which was more of a niche market into the wedding industry. One of the things I do professionally now is I’m a wedding pro for The Knot Worldwide, which means I provide education and support. It is built around marketing for small business owners, which many wedding and event professionals are. I like to talk more broadly about inclusion. The LGBTQ community is part of that story, but there are also many other non-dominant groups and oftentimes that’s nonwhite for example. In the wedding industry, it might also be non-female. Many of them are men who are routinely disenfranchised and shut out from conversations. They are brought up to believe that weddings are about the bride or the woman. They’re not about the couple or about him, which I spend a lot of time talking to wedding pros about.
[bctt tweet=”Never assume you understand what someone’s reasoning or motive is. ” via=”no”]
In some ways, the question you’re asking is about the old days. There are so much that have changed. I went from my first wedding conference where I said what I did, and this woman who was based out of Richmond turned on her heel and walked away from me. She couldn’t tolerate the audience I was looking to support, to being greeted and people excited to tell me about a wedding that they’ve worked, a friend of them who’s got married, or something that they’re doing that is cool. We exchange tips around, “How can I work on the marketing practices in my business? What are the relationship things I need to be aware of? How do I work through some of this cultural competence?” It’s a general framing I use.
In other words, we try to do as much as we can to know what we don’t know so that we can be more open and available to support the client who needs our services. Maybe they found us and maybe they haven’t. For me these days, it’s much broader than that. With that said, service refusal was a big contentious issue. I would suggest that even with the Marriage Equality legislation that was passed in 2015, the service refusal question was a can that got kicked down the road. I don’t have an answer about that. Personally, I had days of more grace and space to hold the conversation than others, depending on how tired can I feel.
It feels like we’re in the place of somebody has to win this fight. I’m not sure that we’ve come up with a creative solution to figure out how we provide space for everybody. The bottom line is it’s something that is true that same-sex couples still wrestle with. Not in larger urban areas but in certain smaller towns or some areas. They may say, “I’m looking for your services for my wedding.” The vendor will say, “I refuse to work with you. I don’t believe in same-sex marriage.” We can talk more about embracing and upholding where people come from in that. There is a piece of, “This is what my church tells me. This is what our community believes and supports. This is what I’ve always thought.”
It’s linked to, “I’m afraid of what might happen if I question this or I’m curious about it.” What I have come to find is never assume you understand what someone’s reasoning or motive is, but in the end, it’s hard to be someone who comes in and is like, “I’m looking for flowers,” and someone says, “Your relationship doesn’t count.” As an LGBTQ-identified person, as someone who has a wife, and we have a son, who I don’t want to know that there is the stuff out there. He does know. He understands it, but the thought that there would be this one side detail about us that might lead to being refused services or told we’re not enough, we’re not okay, or we don’t count, which is how it feels and I’m speaking personally, it’s hard.
Jumping ahead to where the question is, and that’s the unfinished business, which is about service refusal and how we coexist and how we empower each other. How do I feel about that now? With the last few years of what’s been happening, it’s even harder than ever because I’ve seen people circle up wagons and we have lost communication. We have struggled to find the bridges. We have struggled to build a relationship and to listen to one another. We’ve struggled to remember the art of compromise. There is a responsibility for those of us who are in a dominant identity group.
For example, me being a white person, how can I approach my relationships and understanding the experiences of someone who identifies as black or African-American in our country? How do we provide space if someone feels disenfranchised from an institution, community or belonging? We’re in an era where this is hard work, but this is the work. Thank you for the time to answer that. What I would say is there is a piece of advocacy, or some might say sales in that. There’s a piece of relationship building, engagement, and how we get to the end of the conversation together without hanging up on each other.
Another side of this discussion for me is the anticipation that there will be families that are coming together in a union. Let me use a simple example which may be stereotypical in nature, but one family is more traditional, as you might say. They may have religious beliefs that are ironclad. That’s admirable. For me, there’s nothing that should be dismissed about that like values. I am a traditionalist when it comes to religious beliefs. The other family though that may have more of this free spirit where, “We want to make it up as we go. We want the ceremony or the union to reflect the persons who were being married rather than the institution of marriage.” I’m asking you as an expert, how would you counsel individuals or families that are coming together because of a marriage who may have different viewpoints on how it should be executed?
It’s an interesting question along with the setup to it, which feels like there are a lot of bunny trails that would be fascinating to talk about. The shortest point from A to B on that would be my experience, what I’ve come to understand, what I valued about my wedding and that ritual. I’m a big believer in ritual. I think ritual matters. The question I heard you asking is, “Does the institution get to determine the ritual? Does the family get to determine the ritual? Does the couple get to determine the ritual? Does another family get to determine the ritual?” I’ve talked to a lot of straight couples who tell me that what’s been hard about their wedding planning or what they wish was different were the ways that the family engaged, fought and laid expectations.
I realized when I heard a few couples sharing these stories with me that one of the great benefits and opportunities I had in designing a same-sex wedding or a wedding with my wife was we had to figure out the ritual parts that mattered most. What is this union about? While we’ve developed shortcuts to represent sacrament, we have had an opportunity to build one that would be ironclad in all of what a permanent lifelong union and commitment look like. We built it around who we were as individuals, but informed by our own experiences, traditions, and understanding of why some institutions might introduce certain rituals. A lot of same-sex weddings often look like the greatest hits of various religious wedding traditions, whether it’s the stomping of the glass to a father giving away a child, to who officiates, and what the language is around who is bearing witness.
If some of your kids have got married, you’ve wrestled with some of this question. My counsel generally to the couples is to listen to what your people have to say but to remember that the union or the ceremony is about you. In my day, parents didn’t even know what to do and they weren’t paying for it so there was no tension. Whereas if you’re a couple that says, “We want to do it this way,” but one family is like, “We’re paying for it so we’re going to do it our way,” you’re not having an authentic meaningful conversation that’s about what matters. That gets into family communication. That gets into what the couple wants. I would even challenge the couple. Sometimes couples rushed to the altar too quickly. In an era where we spend less time in communities and institutions that might support how we consider lifelong commitment and what that means, we get too fast. That creates problems down the road. This is the social worker in me. There’s a multifaceted answer to that. I can’t give you a one-size-fits-all answer other than as a professional, I tend to lean in protection of the couple because I think it is a universal issue that comes up for all families.
I recognize my question was broad and every situation is idiosyncratic. There’s so much nuance and personality to it. I appreciate your answer. It’s very fair. Let’s turn to Kathryn Hamm, the businesswoman and the business owner. You’re in the wedding industry. As I understand it, the pandemic did a number on the wedding industry.
The hospitality and services industry, for a relatively resilient and constant industry, it’s taken a big hit. I have done less consulting and have been less involved. I still do a little bit around small business consulting but haven’t been under the hood in the same way that I was before. In 2008, we struggled economically and it was very interesting, that was with the rise of popularity and openness to same-sex weddings. At that time, there was a way that there was this interesting economic storyline around this market that was interested and had dollars to spend because there was pent-up demand from couples who hadn’t yet got married. I don’t know yet how this is going to turn out for the services industry.
There are a lot of people who do this part-time and I’m not sure that it would be sustainable for them. It may be that there’s a whole new batch of young professionals who enter it because they lost their other jobs. There is a difference if you’re an officiant, a wedding professional, photographer. For the people that are in catering and event rentals, it’s complicated. From a standpoint of people who are looking to think about the bottom line, it’s going to be challenging. As someone who thinks that weddings quickly get bloated and are more expensive than they need to be, this is a beautiful opportunity to help people get back to basics on what weddings are all about.
I believe that a wedding is organized from the ritual, ceremony and out, not from the reception, and then you do the rest of it. That comes from my experience specifically as an LGBTQ person. It is about my belief as a social worker around ritual and thinking about spaces. It’s wildly unpopular with a lot of people, but this is one thing that I hope becomes a good change. I want the very best for all of my colleagues in the industry. I also want weddings to have meaning. I don’t want them to be just empty exercises and money machines. That’s not the work I do.
I haven’t told you this before, but one of my sons, among his many talents and one thing he does on the side is he captures weddings through video. I recognize and he does as well that everybody who has a camera phone thinks they can do that. He is a real artist. One of the things that impressed me most about his work in 2020 was how he was able to capture the intimacy of these small scale weddings with the couple, perhaps their parents, maybe siblings at most, and the officiant. They were beautiful stories that he was telling through a video that to your earlier point, you don’t necessarily see when there’s a reception of 500 people. Tell us a little bit more about the other consulting that you do and areas of expertise that you have. I know you’re certainly an author. We didn’t talk about the book that you wrote about wedding photography. Perhaps you could tell us a little bit about that. My audience would like to know what you’re doing and what’s capturing most of your attention now?
After my days with the Washington Freedom, I’ve been in a period of trying to figure out what is it that I do. You’ll appreciate this, Rob, too. I was reading chapter two of your book and it occurred to me like, “This describes intuitively some of the processes that I’ve been going through. That is trying to understand, who am I and what is it that I bring? What is the value proposition that I bring?” I found it hard to define what I do because it’s many things. The three categories that I’ve come up with are educator, strategic thinker, and partner and empowerment. I ended up doing that in any number of domains.
[bctt tweet=”Weddings should have meaning. They shouldn’t be empty exercises or money machines.” via=”no”]
I’m on the board of trustees for a school. I’m interested in doing leadership work that’s strategically oriented. I do a lot of small business consulting. I’ve been doing some mentoring with people who might not otherwise have had the same access to resources that I did as a young person, graduating from school with no college debt, and with the network I have, how can I help promote and support them in achieving their entrepreneurial dreams? I do a little bit of consulting in the wedding industry as a wedding pro through The Knot Worldwide. I’m a parent and I also do some work supporting my wife and her business, which is a little bit of a Jill of all trades. We’ve got a couple of things cooking that will be interesting in 2021. What I realized was in this interim phase as I was doing less in the industry, I needed to explain to people, “If you want to work with me, what does that involve?”
If I want to answer the question, “What do I do for a living?” How do I answer that? It is both a work in progress. What I understand is there is still a connection to social justice. I’m interested in diversity, equity, and inclusion work. I now have had some corporate clients that are interested in having leadership-oriented conversations around cultural competence, about recognizing their blind spots, about figuring out how can they be efficient, responsible, and ethical business owners, which I love. That’s a little bit of the value of being a little older. Part of it is I have some wisdom from the various hats that I’ve worn, and having the opportunity to connect with people that are interested in engaging in conversation around that.
You talk about being a little older, you don’t look that older. I am interested in that comment because hopefully with age comes wisdom. I’m interested to know the difference between Kathryn Hamm of 2021 and Kathryn Hamm of 2000 when we first met. What would you tell the Kathryn Hamm of 2000, if you could speak to her now, that you’ve learned and experienced over the years?
There would be different nuggets of advice from the concrete to the general. As you can tell, I love themes and at that time, I would have benefited from understanding a little more of how to engage more deeply in my listening to understand experiences outside of my own. I always knew that adversity could be an advantage, but what I didn’t understand was how I was collecting all these different experiences, relationships, professional moments, and challenges that would come together and lead to the next thing. One example is you referenced my book, The New Art of Capturing Love: The Essential Guide to Lesbian and Gay Wedding Photography. I’ve loved writing my whole life.
As a kid, I was writing journals and poetry. I loved my English classes, the whole nine yards. There was a part of me that always wanted to write a book. I thought that would be cool to be an author. There is no way that I ever would have thought that what I would be writing would be a book about same-sex wedding photography. That would have struck me as completely cray-cray. There’s no way. As it turns out, my Social Work degree, my experience as an educator, my involvement in the wedding industry, my ability to recognize what small business owners needed to help them, my desire to make a difference, my desire to support marriage equality, becoming something that we stopped thinking about or arguing about, and accepted as an opportunity for dignity for all couples to participate in these unions, it was natural. I don’t think in 2000 that I would have understood that possibility.
I wouldn’t have believed you if you’d said I was going to be in the wedding industry. I would have thought that was crazy. One of the things that helped me is I delight a little more in what the universe provides in front of me and I look for what is it that sparks my interest and passion, and feels like it connects, that it’s time to show up, and here’s a great outlet for me to do what it is I do to be of benefit to my community and the people I’m engaging with. It’s also deeply satisfying for me to be able to exercise authenticity in personal challenge and growth. That’s probably the easiest way to answer that question.
Speaking of themes, you know that this show is centered around the game-changers out there such as yourself who have the ability demonstrably in influencing, persuading, and inspiring other people. I have to ask you, who inspires you now?
I have to give that honor to my son. There’s a multifaceted answer to it, but let me give you a nugget. This can be our next conversation, whether on or offline as a parent. Our kids bring great lessons to us and they also bring forward-looking lessons. When we’re in our 20s and 30s, it’s easy to look ahead and see the impact we can have. As we get comfortable in ways in which we’re empowered and the wisdom we have, it becomes easier to stay in that space and to lose sight of what the future can look like. My son has brought me many gifts, both in how he sees the world and thinks about it. He’s got this incredibly creative mind.
He says and thinks things that are opposite of the way I think. That’s a delight. As any parent will know, he also holds up a pretty hard mirror. I hear me coming out of him sometimes. Sometimes I’m proud and other times I’m not so proud. I have to go back and do a little work. The other thing that has been important in my growth is we’re an adoptive family. Beyond understanding what it is like to be an LGBTQ-identified family and parents. Our son is adopted and he is mixed-race. My growth experience has been learning a lot about adoption. Some of which is wonderful and a lot of which has some hard truths connected to it that involve a lot of grief, involve a lot of trauma, and calls me to figure out how to hold some hard things that sometimes are in competition.
As a white parent of a brown son and as a white friend to many brown and black people, it has forced me to take a look at the world differently in ways that as a white person, I never had to be conscious about. My experience as a lesbian coming out helped to inform some of that. There have been some deeper lessons that have been important to me. Through understanding what I believe my role is as a responsible parent and what my son’s experiences in the world I want him to live in, he has been an incredible teacher to me in that regard. It inspires me to do work that is uncomfortable a lot of the time.
Your son is a teenager.
I’ll call you for some advice.
I’d love that you call me but maybe call my wife.
I believe that you are an intentional parent as you are an entrepreneur and business owner. I know that’s a credit to your wife as well. We’ll have a different conversation if you weren’t as engaged as I suspect you were.
I have three sons and I am fortunate the way that they were raised and the way that they turned out. I’m sure you’re experiencing that now. I appreciate this conversation that you’ve had with us. I appreciate your honesty. As I said at the outset, you have my utmost respect and admiration. I love what you do to make the world better. I’m grateful that you’re my friend. We’ll have to do this again. I have these kinds of conversations offline and not wait so long to get your thoughts and your perspective out to my little world. Thank you for making us better through this conversation.
It has been a pleasure. I’m appreciative that you’ve carried with me all these years and that we’ve been in contact. It’s been one of my favorite professional relationships. I have a few where no one else knows this person who I enjoy connecting with. Congratulations on all that you’ve done, the way you’ve grown your business, this book that you’re launching, and this show that you’re doing. I’m proud of you and the work that you’ve put out there. I’m grateful that you’re in my world. I’m glad that fate has brought us together. Thanks for having me.
All the best to your family.
Thank you, Rob.
Curious what this diversity, equality and inclusion specialist might understand about being a sales game changer? I invite you to join us on YouTube or your favorite podcast platform for the rest of this conversation. Kathryn describes more of the means she’s involved in for those who have historically felt unheard and undeserved.
- Kathryn Hamm
- The Sales Game Changer: How to Become the Salesperson People Love
- The Knot Worldwide
- The New Art of Capturing Love: The Essential Guide to Lesbian and Gay Wedding Photography
- YouTube – Game Face Execs Podcast
About Kathryn Hamm
A dynamic small business development consultant and marketing advisor, Kathryn Hamm is an Education Expert and Diversity & Inclusion Specialist for WeddingWire and The Knot. She is also co-author of the book, The New Art of Capturing Love: The Essential Guide to Lesbian & Gay Wedding Photography (Amphoto Books, 2014).
In 2004, Kathryn joined her straight mom in the family business, GayWeddings.com (originally known as the two websites, TwoBrides.com & TwoGrooms.com) – the pioneering online wedding planning resource for same-sex couples since 1999. In 2015, under her leadership, GayWeddings announced its acquisition by WeddingWire, the nation’s leading technology company serving the $100+ billion wedding, corporate, and social events industry. Shortly thereafter, she and her mother, GayWeddings founder, Gretchen Hamm, celebrated news of full marriage equality on the steps of the Supreme Court on June 26, 2015.
A natural educator, Kathryn Hamm writes, speaks and consults with wedding professionals about same-sex wedding trends, best practices when serving today’s couples, and how to think ‘outside the box’ when considering the modern market. From 2005-2015, she managed day-to-day operations and the strategic vision for GayWeddings, and she’s been interviewed by sources such as MSNBC, the Associated Press, the New York Times, the Washington Post, ABC News, CNN, NPR’s Tell More, The Diane Rehm Show, the Chicago Tribune, the Dallas Morning News, and the Los Angeles Times, and a column for The Huffington Post.
Kathryn has a Masters in Social Work from the Catholic University of America and an Undergraduate degree in Psychology and Women’s Studies from Princeton University. Prior to becoming the President of GayWeddings, Kathryn spent 10 years as an educator and school administrator in the Washington, D.C. area. She also worked for Discovery Communications and the WUSA’s Washington Freedom. She currently serves as a member of the Board of Trustees at The Lab School of Washington.