José Rolón is an out gay man and single father of three who specializes in making couples in love achieve their dream wedding day.
José Rolón, a New York-based wedding planner and LGBTQ activist honed his skills in event planning through his background in hospitality — he opened two high-end restaurants in the early aughts), talk about pressure!
José, 46, knows all about creating a picture-perfect yet authentic and memorable event. Growing up as a young gay Gen X man, José never assumed same-sex marriage would become a reality. But, also, growing up in the state of Massachusetts, he knew that favorable legislation might be possible. On November 18, 2003, Massachusetts became the first state to allow same-sex marriage. On June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the states’ bans on same-sex marriage, legalized it in all fifty states, and required all states to honor out-of-state same-sex marriage licenses
José fortuitously stumbled into wedding planning when he decided to take the reins organizing his own big day at The Foundry, one of the most coveted wedding venues in New York City. Passionate about the venue, José joined their staff and quickly became a crucial and beloved member of the events team. His marriage in 2010 was only legal in Massachusetts for five years. Nevertheless, he “was inspired by planning our own wedding. I was inspired by moving away from tradition. We know that is one of the benefits of LGBTQ people being able to get married—we don’t have to do things traditionally, we don’t have to have a flower girl or a walk down the aisle a certain way. So I wanted to create that for other couples… People come to us because they want something different and not so traditional.”
After making a name for himself, José branched out to start José Rolón Events where he plans and executes weddings of exceptional and enviable standards.
For any couple who wants to be formally united in the eyes of the world, whether straight, bi, trans, or gay, a wedding ceremony comes with pressure and stress, as well as the hope that everything will be perfect.
Now considered one of New York City’s top wedding planners, José also attracted a following on his personal Instagram account, NYC Gay Dad. This is how he was tapped to be the co-host of Crackle’s new hit Wedding Talk with hostess Tara Lipinski. In her introduction to the show, Tara mentions that along with his roles as wedding entrepreneur and father, José is an LGBTQ activist. “None of us are just one thing,” José shares with me. “I didn’t want to be presented as just a wedding planner. I thought it was important for people to see that I was an LGBTQ+ advocate and a father — all of these other things that make me who I am.”
Currently, José lives in Brooklyn Heights, which he describes as an “open, loving neighborhood” that features other gay parents. “Surprisingly none of my kids seem to get any flak from anyone.” Those kids are a son Avery, 9, and twin daughters Lilah and London, 8.
Just being a gay man who is a gay parent is political, says José who is also a Latinx figure and in that culture, ‘gay’ and ‘dad’ are not supposed to go together. “I think I’ve been able to break through that a little bit and change some minds,” he says.
“Even though gay men and same-sex women have been having children for a very long time…one of the criticisms I have gotten is, Why do you have to be a gay dad? Why can’t you just be a dad.’ For me NYC Gay Dad, that handle I’ve had for nine years now, my reason for it at the time was so gay dads would be able to find each other. Every year I host a Father’s Day brunch for other gay dads, and it’s grown over the years. Last year we had over a hundred people,” says José. “With current political events I actually think it’s more important now than ever to allow ourselves to be as visible as possible.”
José’s own path to single fatherhood is both heartbreaking and heartwarming: he lost his beloved husband Tim Merrell, with whom he was raising a baby son, to a heart attack just 11 weeks into the pregnancy for twins who were to be born via surrogate. In this article, José tells the incredible true story of how that happened, what it was like processing that loss, being left as a widower, following through on the pregnancy while grieving, and what came afterwards. Nine years later, José has learned some huge lessons: we all grieve on some level whether it’s a death, a divorce or a horrible breakup—and his wisdom as well as his instincts currently feed into his business practice and parenting skills.
José boiled down his heartbreak to three strong survival skills, or three essentials to get through anything:
- A strong support system;
- Be unapologetically selfish;
- Have a sense of humor
These three things will help you persevere personally and professionally and get to the other side. “It took me a long time to bounce back but that’s where I am now,” he says.
With Tara mentioning on the show that José is “looking for a husband,” I ask him how that’s going. (There is some irony, perhaps, in the fact that José works full-time to unite other couples while having this aspect of his own life unfilled. “I have recently met someone and I’m hopeful,” he reveals. “So far it’s going really, really well. It looks promising.”
When it comes to the content of Wedding Talk, one of José’s (and mine) favorite couples exemplify what he seeks in a wedding ceremony—originality and authenticity. Enter Jonsi and Sumarlidi, who eloped to Geldingadalir Volcano in Iceland and spent 90 minutes hiking to the crater for their ceremony. Such a unique ceremony came about because the men had their wedding planned and paid for and then Covid hit. Using their remaining funds they eloped to the volcano and invited 10 people (including the vendors) to hike with them and witness their vows amid rivers of lava. “For me, it was the epitome of what commitment looks like,” enthuses José. “It was a massive gesture and symbol: Not only are we committed to our love; we are going to show you through action. They worked their butts off for it. Just how creative and resourceful they were, even changing their outfits when they got to the top.”
There are numerous LGBTQ+ couples featured on Wedding Talk, and they are seamlessly integrated with all the other couples, which is a plus of the show. This is the beauty of the show, says José: “That we get to see beautiful luxury weddings from all over the world” featuring diverse couples, sometimes same-sex, sometimes with mixed cultural or racial backgrounds — with acceptance.
As a television host, social media influencer, public speaker, and an advocate for LGBTQ+, Latinx, and BIPOC visibility, José makes a fabulous, dapper and discerning addition to a fun, colorful and enlightening show but he also adds to a new and growing body of knowledge about the customs that we can apply creatively to same-sex weddings.
With Valentine’s Day coming up, I’m curious about what he thinks of the pressure on couples in love to propose on February 14. Should they or shouldn’t they?
“It’s such a commercialized holiday but it is romantic when it comes around and if a proposal does get attached to a date that’s important and about love, then go for it,” says José whose birthday is coincidentally on Valentine’s Day.
In terms of other customs and rituals, I ask José if there are any wedding traditions that it’s time we left behind. “Where do I start?” he laughs. “The bouquet toss needs to be tossed into the garbage bin. I think it’s a ridiculous thing. I also think the garter toss. The cake cutting ceremony is ridiculously cheesy. Who cares, it’s just a cake. Those are three that stand out to me.”
That already feels so much lighter, I think. But what would I know? I got married in City Hall and divorced eighteen months later. I can’t imagine getting married again but if I did, I’d seriously consider using José to plan my big day!
“There are two moments in a wedding where all eyes are on you, and that is: The ceremony and the first dance. After that, why do you want to interrupt the party? people just want to have a good time, socialize,” José explains.
With so many ceremonies under his belt, I ask him what is the most exciting and joyful part of planning a wedding ceremony—for him?
“The stuff that turns me on is building a relationship with this couple who are in love; to build around that, to build around their story,” he says. “Another favorite part is, of course, the food tasting—breaking bread, getting to know each other.”
I can’t actually think of a better person than José Rolón—wise widower, loving dad of three, hopeful romantic—to be a wedding planner of choice for our community and making memories for LGBTQ+ couples that will last a lifetime.