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New York City is the birthplace of Pride, the launchpad of self-defense against the criminalization of the LGBTQIA+ community. Today, it’s a month-long celebration of progress and ongoing advocacy for queer and trans folks everywhere. Queer history is also inextricably intertwined with the cannabis legalization movement. So naturally, Pride means a lot to us here at The Travel Agency, and who better than our LGBTQIA+ team members to explain just how much?

Pride means we build an inclusive and accepting environment

The LGBTQIA+ community is not a monolith, and queer identity is expressed in any number of ways that are personal to each individual. Representation and inclusivity, then, is not as simple as hanging a few rainbow flags and changing profile pictures on social media. It’s an ongoing effort to deliberately create a welcoming and safe environment that encourages everyone to be authentically themselves.

 

“Pride has always been about representation to me, in different ways,” said Mike Conway (he/him), VP of Retail Operations at The Travel Agency. “I’m very happy to work for an organization that is focused on diversity and uplifting brands and team members that are BIPOC, women, queer, and LGBT. Our mission is very forward with that in mind.”

 

For Jim McCormick (he/they), a budtender at The Travel Agency, the experience of an inclusive and supportive environment at work has been a new and welcome one. After experiencing feelings of erasure or misunderstanding in previous jobs, McCormick said he feels able to unabashedly embrace his identity as an asexual person in his role at The Travel Agency.

 

“For most of my life people assumed I was a cishet white guy. This is the first time I’m in a job where I feel comfortable saying this is my identity, wearing a Pride pin and an asexual pin,” McCormick said. “We make sure everyone knows it’s an inclusive space … that you can be comfortable with your orientation and identity. We don’t judge other employees, we don’t judge customers.”

 

Lorena Ambrosio (they/she), a budtender, echoed those sentiments.

 

“The majority of folks here are Black, indigenous, or queer, and that brings me a lot of comfort and safety in the workplace,” said Ambrosio, who is part of the indigenous Andean diaspora, their parents originally hailing from Peru.

Pride means showcasing LGBTQIA+ owned and operated brands

Part of creating an inclusive and representative retail environment naturally extends to the products on the shelves. As an ongoing part of our core mission, The Travel Agency regularly looks to partner with queer-owned brands and showcase their products in our dispensary.

 

“As an inclusive space, we have a lot of queer-owned and BIPOC-owned brands [in the store], and we actively seek out more,” McCormick said.

 

Of course, there are other marginalized communities that were disproportionately affected by the War on Drugs and cannabis criminalization. While Pride is set aside for the LGBTQIA+ community, intersectionality should be top of mind.

 

“It doesn’t just stop at the LGBTQIA+ community,” Conway said. “For us, one of our main focuses … is on BIPOC-, women-, and LGBTQIA+ owned brands and accessories. We’re making space agnostic to what month it is.”

Pride means remembering — and honoring — the queer community’s role in cannabis legalization

The fact that a legal cannabis industry now exists in some form in most U.S. states can be credited in significant part to the LGBTQIA+ community. Queer leaders were major drivers of the movement to legalize medical cannabis, including iconic names like Dennis Peron and Mary Jane “Brownie Mary” Rathbun. They co-founded the San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club, the first public medical cannabis dispensary to operate in the U.S. and figures in the frontlines during the HIV/AIDS crisis of the 1980s and 1990s.

 

The advocacy of figures like Peron, Rathbun, and so many queer community members unknown to history, set the stage for the passage of California’s Compassionate Use Act of 1996, the first medical cannabis legalization law in the U.S.

 

“People who were advocates for the queer community were also the same ones fighting for legalization of cannabis,” McCormick said. “Cannabis was illegal; being gay was illegal. It makes sense that queer advocates would also be advocates of decriminalizing and legalizing cannabis.”

 

For Conway, the New York market could serve as a celebration of that history and a model for markets in other states on how to build a truly representative and equitable space.

 

“There’s a long way to go, but I’m hoping the New York market can be a beacon of representation for queer people and communities of color, in the highest places in cannabis,” Conway said. “And hopefully, other states will follow suit.”

Pride means celebrating, educating, and advocating

Pride 2023 remains a celebration of progress, love, and acceptance, but it also comes amid a rise in anti-queer and especially anti-trans counter-movements throughout the U.S. And while it’s important to celebrate the victories, it’s also critical to acknowledge that many members of the LGBTQIA+ community remain vulnerable and in need of support.

 

As a result, for many members of The Travel Agency team, Pride serves as an opportunity to advocate for one another and provide material support in a variety of ways. This means attending Pride events, donating to organizations working on behalf of queer and trans folks, and supporting queer-owned and operated businesses.

 

“Pride this year means being a little bit louder and getting out there to advocate for people in our community who are going through a tough time, especially in certain parts of the country,” Conway said. “It’s important to do what we can to uplift voices that may not have been uplifted previously — specifically, trans women of color and queer people of color in general. I want to make sure that I’m making the space and doing what I can to uplift those voices and continue to drive change,” Conway said.

 

Celebratory moments like PrideFest and the many events happening throughout the city in June are important markers of the progress the LGBTQIA+ community has made. But, Ambrosio said, Pride is also a chance to redouble efforts needed to defend and support the queer and trans folks who remain vulnerable.

 

“Pride is always a very exciting and full time of the year,” Ambrosio said. “It’s a very busy and joyful time and I do want to take pride in my identity and community and who I love. At the same time, I feel like I can’t fully do that because there isn’t liberation for all of us right now.

 

“I very strongly feel I need to show up for the trans community, who are under attack with certain laws that are being proposed,” they added. “Right now is a telling moment in how we can show up for trans communities and make sure we support them.”

 

That work extends well beyond the boundaries of Pride month. Although Pride invites us to pause and reflect on LGBTQIA+ history and the community of today, the real work to build inclusive and representative spaces never stops.

Our ongoing commitment to build a welcoming space

Pride is an opportunity for those of us in cannabis to honor that history and continue to build toward an inclusive, representative, and equitable industry. Progress requires more than just lip service. It’s an ongoing commitment to learning from the past, supporting one another, and finding new ways to build strong communities based on acceptance and respect. Our goal at The Travel Agency is to build a cannabis dispensary with these values at heart, so everyone’s experience is a positive and affirming one, no matter what walk of life they come from.

“At The Travel Agency, I found a home that shares my values and where I could create a team that reflects what I want to see in cannabis,” Conway said. “Here, I’m reinvigorated in the industry and now I never want to leave.”

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