Cannabis Industry Leaders Reflect on Pride Month

As the rainbow flags come off the corporate logos, buildings, and ad campaigns, pride month has come and gone. We interviewed people involved in the cannabis industry about the importance of lasting pride, allyship, and how cannabis intersects with the LGBTQIA community.

Cyo Ray, CEO and Cofounder of Quim: Please tell us your name, pronouns, and role in the cannabis industry:

Christine De La Rosa; She/Her, CEO The People’s Dispensary

Isa Pérez; she/her, Head of Business Development and Operations at Meadow, Board Member of Supernova Women

Maxwell Greenberg; He/him/his; consumer!

Quim: What does “pride” mean to you personally and professionally (within the cannabis industry)?

Christine: Pride was a riot. It was about not letting our government dehumanize and abuse us. Unfortunately we see the same thing happening 50 years later. We are in a moment in time where we have to stand up for ourselves and others in the face of great adversity. Pride to me, both professionally and personally is about standing up when everything points to us to sit down. This is the same in the cannabis industry. As we see grave injustices happening we must stand up against corporate greed and bad behavior and fight for the very people who started this industry. We must make sure that small farmers, small businesses, and patients are centered in this industry.

Isa: Pride is celebrating the differences between us, and working together regardless of them. It’s remembering all the queer activists before me that made it possible to be out and to gladly tell people I’m a gay, Puerto Rican woman working in cannabis. Pride is actively contributing back to my community not because I feel obligated, but because I feel empowered and fortunate to have had so many others do the same for me.

Quim: How has the LGBTQIA community impacted the cannabis industry?

Christine: We were a catalyst to making medicinal cannabis legal in California. When the government did not care that we were dying by the thousands during the AIDS epidemic, our elders fought to get us access to cannabis to treat ourselves when there was no other treatment available. It was absolutely compassionate care that helped create this industry and we should never lose sight of that.

Isa: *you can google this one*

Max: Honestly, the intersections between the LGBTQAI community and the cannabis industry aren’t something I’ve thought a lot about! Though, I think for marginalized, or de-centered groups, like the LGBTQAI+ POC community, having access to wellness products like cannabis — without the threat of criminalization — is really important. There will always be extra layers of psychological and physical stressors that folx in our communities will have to navigate daily, which makes decriminalized access to these types of wellness resources quite relevant!

Quim: Do you think the cannabis industry is doing enough to honor/celebrate the contributions of queer activists?

CR: Absolutely not.

Isa: Absolutely not. Most new companies and investors are concerned with how they are going to make money, not about those that paved the way for this industry in the eighties and nineties. It’s shameful that LGBT activists aren’t celebrated or acknowledged at every single cannabis event. And I mean every single cannabis event. Black and brown communities were decimated by the War on Drugs and LGBT HIV/AIDS patients and activists pushed for medical cannabis regulation for decades to get us where we are today. Companies need to create funds and scholarships in the name of past and current activists and carry on their legacy by supporting LGBT activists, youth organizations, founders, and people in the cannabis community.

Max:Is any industry ever doing enough to celebrate/honor the contributions of queer activists? Never! But it’s cool to see that it’s starting.

Quim: How do you feel about corporations, large or small, participating in pride?

Christine: I think corporations should give the money as tithings but not expect to be given sponsorship status or participate.

Isa: Pride should not be pay to play, or pay to gay. Companies who simply slap a rainbow flag on things to sell and create more consumption and waste are not serving the queer community, they’re taking from it. If your workforce isn’t representative of the same community you are paying to be a part of, you need to put in the work there first. The Pride Parade is one day a year, but hiring and supporting queer employees and staff requires effort 365 days a year. I’d like to see those same companies make year-long commitments to increase LGBT employment and promotion and make donations to LGBT organizations as well as outline ways they are contributing long-term. Do they have leadership summits for their LGBT staff, do they provide trans healthcare, how many queer executives do they have, do they plan activism from within their company? It takes more than a few thousand dollars and a float to actually be participating in Pride in a meaningful way, so if they want to do that, prove your worth before and after as well.

Max: I think the largest myth that corporations fall back on during pride month is that representation is compensation to the queer community, specifically compensation that is ethically and morally equivalent to economic compensation. My challenge to that lazy and frankly insulting approach to “allyship” is: who is this representation for?

Corporate representation of queerness often serves to educate and expose “us” to people outside of the LGBTQAI community (hello, Queer Eye). This “exposure” approach is doubly harmful, as it assumes that queer liberation is dependent upon corporate investment in our bodies, and in turn, our bodies being tolerated, normalized, and understood by non-LGBTQ folks. Following this logic, corporations have done their part in fighting for our “liberation,” as they’ve participated in making us legible and visible. In stark opposition to cultivating an “anti-capitalist framework of self-worth,” this form of corporate investment also signals to me that my worth as a human is measured by my worth as a consumer and/or marketing object.

*big sigh*

However, I think there is a lot of untapped potential for corporate participation in Pride. We are not going to dismantle capitalism anytime soon, so I think it’s a matter of strategically reorienting capital to underserved / under-resourced spheres of our LGBTQAI community. How can corporations actively generate economic opportunity and more equitable forms of access to LGBTQ folx, all year round? Pride month could be the time to showcase the work that companies have been doing consistently, rather than a time to swoop in and tell queers that they value them as consumers. Bitch, we know you like money and we like fancy wellness products!

Quim: What does authenticity look like as it relates to celebrating Pride? (Either from corporations or individuals)

CR: Imagine if a corporation like Google gave $100,000 in the name of St. James Infirmary and the infirmary got all the perks that a sponsor at that level would get. That is authentic. That is a true ally.

Isa: Allyship is being honest with yourself about what you are capable of doing for a community versus and what you have actually done, and then filling in the gaps.

Max: I want to suggest that we throw out the term authenticity as a measurement of….anything really. For me, the term feels binary adjacent and assumes a few dangerous things: (1) there are only two ways to be; (2) there is a right/wrong way to be; (3) any of us can assume a gatekeeper role to determine these right / wrong ways of being and assign them value in a hierarchical manner. Rather, I’ll share how I’m thinking about and navigating how pride can be tender and generative just as it can feel disappointing and dangerous.

As we celebrate the 50 year milestone of the Stonewall rebellion, we’re reminded that our modern day LGBTQ rights movement exists because of the unpaid, often criminalized labor and sacrifices made by trans women/femmes of color. Ethically, Pride should be a time to honor the queer elders and ancestors on whose shoulders we’re standing. Rather, we’re forced to confront the reality that Brooklyn Lindsay’s murder in Kansas City MO on Thursday June 27 2019, marked the 11th black transgender woman to be killed in the US this year. The loss of one of our sisters reminds us that in the year 2019, trans women of color continue to have a life expectancy of 35 years. Ostensibly, this could be a moment to think actively about what support and allyship looks like for the spheres of the LGBTQAI community who are most harmed by systemic racism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, patriarchy, the global migrant-refugee crisis, abilism, etc. However, who is consistently centered by our country’s explosively profitably Pride industry?

Increasingly, Pride events and parades are marked by the presence of police, military, banks, politicians…Taylor Swift (don’t @ me). These symbolic and active agents reflect the very things Stonewall and its connected movements were resisting half a century ago. We cannot think about the meaning of Stonewall, nor to the meaning of Pride more broadly, without considering this context and these cruel contradictions.

So what’s the generative Pride energy I call in to keep me gay and thriving? Lena Waithe’s iconic line from her Emmy 2017 speech: “the things that make us different, those are our superpowers.”

Quim: What does allyship mean to you? Both from corporations and individuals.

CR: See my previous answer.

Isa: Allyship is being honest with yourself about what you are capable of doing for a community versus and what you have actually done, and then filling in the gaps.

Max: Another myth that corporations and individuals fall back on during pride month is that allyship exists on a timeline. Allyship can and should be a year round, daily practice that is integrated into the structure, hiring practices, and culture of a corporation and the interpersonal, behavioral toolkits for individuals. We are inundated with harmful, toothless and exploitation examples of corporate allyship throughout the month of June, so I’d like to highlight an example of what LGBTQAI allyship looks when successfully and effectively be integrated into a corporate business model.

Quim: What are you hoping to see change in the industry (as it relates to pride or not) in the next coming years? How can LGBTQIA and allies within the industry support this shift?

Isa: We need more LGBT people actively working and building the industry. Companies need to be transparent about their hiring numbers as it relates not only to LGBT employees, but also people of color, handicapable people, veterans, and women. I want to see investors giving money to more LGBT, POC, and women founders and businesses making it part of their core mission to support the communities who suffered the most from prohibition. It needs to be a very clear, visible change in how the industry is currently being shaped. Accountability and transparency is the only way the cannabis industry is going to avoid excluding people like tech and every other growing industry. Hiring and investing in LGBT, people of color, women, and other underrepresented people is the only way to make a lasting shift in cannabis so that we are not just consumers, but changemakers.

Quim: How did YOU be celebrate Pride this year?

Christine: I celebrated Pride by spending time with my most beloveds.

Isa: I marched alongside all the beautiful humans at Trans March and Dyke March and danced to my favorite Latinx jams in between.

Max: PRIDE has meant holding space and being tolerant of the messiness within my own chosen, magic community of sweeties.. Also spending some quality time gay panicing, processing and pu$$y worshiping at Dyke Day LA, Pony Sweat–my favorite feircely non-competative aerobics class–and with my spooky queen Kim Petras, on her BROKEN tour.

Quim: What’s your Pride/Summer Anthem of 2019?

Christine: Tempo by Lizzo

Isa: Amara La Negra “What A Bam Bam”

Max: (when I’m feeling gay, as in sad and DTF) “Personal Hell” by Kim Petras, (when i’m feeling gay, as in embolded and DTF) “Want You in my Room” by Carly Rae Jepson, (when i’m feeling gay, as in transcendent and DTF myself) “Stand Back” by Stevie Nicks

~

The fact that Pride grows increasingly mainstream reminds us that in some ways, our society has come a long way. But it also smoothes over the complexities and discrepancies in how Pride operates for different people. Now that Pride month has ended, we’re working to remain conscious and active in creating allyship and remembering those that came before us, those who walked so we could run. Thanks for your help in keeping us accountable.

forever yours,

Cyo