Every year, June rolls around, and companies rush to change their logos into rainbow versions, leaving members of the LGBTQIA+ community to try to figure out the authenticity of the gesture. While many people see June as a celebration (which it obviously is), the true origin of Pride is based around the fight for equality. Sadly, that equality is never guaranteed, and this past year we have seen several examples of concerning legislature that seem to threaten basic rights for the LGBTQIA+ community – including attempts to restrict health care, marriage, mental health and even access to sports and competition.
MainStem is an evolving company, and as we have grown in both number and offering over the past year, we are working hard to build a culture of inclusivity, authenticity, and acceptance for everyone on our team. This year we defined our company values around the acronym “Grow Bold” with each letter signifying an attribute of our company ethos. As our internal pride committee worked to establish our external campaign around Pride, we looked at our values for alignment and guidance, and found these ones particularly resonated for us at this time of year:
· Blaze trails: If it weren’t for the brave people at the bar in Stonewall who stood up and rioted for rights, we might not have the pride parades we have now and so much more. They were the pioneers(and heroes) of the gay rights movement.
· Own our destiny: LGBTQ folks have an acute understanding of society’s pressures to conform but refuse to tamp down the basic desire to live and find love in their own way, not according to some morals and doctrine some want to push onto them.
· Leadership: It takes leadership to make a group of people who are subjected to hatred and bigotry feel comfortable tocome out and live their truth. From Ellen saying “Yep I’m Gay” in Time Magazine or Harvey Milk who helped push legislation to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation, leaders of the gay movement have helped move the needle and push us forward.
· (do the)Right thing– This speaks for itself. Advocating for equal rights is just the right thing to do. All day and every day.
The MainStem Pride Campaign Comes to Life
We did not want to just change the color of our logo without providing a safe space for our team to openly talk about Pride month and the LGBTQIA+ community. With all of that in mind, and specifically with the company values above as guiding principles, we invited everyone on our team to share what Pride means to them.
Over the past few weeks, our employees have been sharing their experiences and feelings about Pride and their experiences with and in the LGBTQIA+, with moments of vulnerability, celebration, and even fear over what the current political climate means for their rights, and the rights of their loved ones. We have been sharing excerpts of these conversations on our social media channels but wanted to give the space here to celebrate and support the members of our team who felt compelled to share.
We are proud to have a diverse and open team, and as we celebrate all the voices that make up the LGBTQIA+ community and their allies, we are happy to share some of the amazing thoughts and experiences of the MainStem leadership and employees.
From Alen Nguyen, MainStem's Founder & CEO
What does PRIDE month mean to me as an ally?
The LGBTQ community is a reminder to me of humanity, both how ugly it is sometimes but also how beautiful it can be. A few things come to mind when I think of PRIDE month:
The FIGHT. The courage, the struggle. Having to constantly face people who don't accept you, make laws against you, and to still stand tall and fight for equality. Incredibly admirable, a mountain of bravery.
The GRIT. To continue, the strength to persevere and not give up. To stand proud everyday of who you are even when it feels so hard because you're tired from people trying to tear you down, but you keep your head up high.
The Empathy. You are the most empathetic when it comes to other humans, your personal fight and journey has built an amazing character and understanding of what humanity really means and should be.
These are all virtues, experiences, and qualities that I relate with and deeply appreciate. As a person built from a multiracial family, being unique has given me my scars and strength to be proud of who I am today and PRIDE month reminds me of that and perspective on your journey. As an ally, I will always have your back in the fight for equality.
From Erin Stearns, CRO:
The LGBTQ community has illuminated the way for people; past, current and future, to fight for the right to live authentically, in the purest form. How incredible is that? Most of the world, if being honest with themselves, likely do not pursue that same goal mainly due to fear and perceived impossibility. PRIDE, to me is a reminder to all of us how important support of that goal is and how important it is to feel proud out loud. Regardless of sexual orientation, gender identification, race, religion, age or social eco status ... acceptance starts from within and next comes the right to be able to live out loud. This shouldn't be a fight but sadly it is. It starts with honesty, then courage and continued with strength - especially in the face of hate, discrimination, judgement and unacceptance. The LGBTQ community should be celebrated, not just this month but every day, for being role models to all of us; as living authentically applies to all in different shapes and forms. PRIDE should be a time where everyone stops to take notice of that, acknowledging that pursuit and rally together in celebration of a community who embodies all the qualities we need more of in this world - courage, honesty, perseverance, passion and compassion (to name a few). We, as humans can, should and need to do better. I look at the LGBTQ community as being beacons of hope and PRIDE as a celebration of the brave souls that seek to live their truth, as we should all be doing in earnest.
From Garrett Hampton, CTO:
Being an LGTBQIA+ ally means connecting, supporting, and caring for those around me who still face adversity. Throughout my life I have seen the struggles of partners worrying about their future and the right to marry. In 2015, it made me incredibly proud that the White House was lit with rainbow colors to mark the high court's decision for equal marriage. This small, but powerful stance, catapulted our culture into acceptance and freedom to express their true selves.
I have always believed in the power of action. In 2004, my volunteer work for "Aid for AIDS of Nevada - AFAN" introduced me to some incredible people with remarkable stories. I took those personal stories and turned them into a multi-media software program that was entered into Nevada’s high-school programming competition where we won for "Most Thought Provoking.” Fast forward almost 20 years and the idea of supporting a community member who shares a difference in opinion or lifestyle remains thought provoking. It is 2022 and we are still defending a basic human right to love who you wish. It should go without saying and it is unfortunate that we must continue to have this argument.
Every person has their own journey to go through. In the last 7 years we have had folks - from different generations - feel safe enough to come out to their world knowing there is a community that openly accepts them. There is something to be said about the courage it takes to share this intimate experience with family and strangers. It pains me to think that some of my own family members are at risk of more bigotry. Because of this, I feel more inclined to act and fight for those who don’t have a voice in their own home. I am inspired by the strength, courage, and determination the LGTBQIA+ community is faced with. I am proud to be an ally.
From Adrienne Bailey, Head of Finance & HR:
First let me tell you, I am so excited for Pride this year! After 2 years of no pride parties, no drag queens, and no celebrating with friends, I am ready! We are ready. Let’s get serious though, this is honestly the first time since Obergefell that I am truly nervous for my marriage. I don’t say that hyperbolically. I’m nervous that a Supreme Court decision that has only 7 years of legal precedence isn’t enough anymore. In Washington, yes, my marriage is safe. But, is there going to be a time when my marriage is treated like the old days of cell phone service, where there are areas that we just don’t have good coverage.
June is also a pretty dark month for me and my friends. Our worlds were turned upside down on June 12, 2016. We were woken up in the middle of the night to frantic phone calls from friends telling us that there was a mass shooting at Pulse. One of my best friends, Kate was there that night. Kate was one of the first employees hired at Pulse. She was there the night it opened and ultimately the last night it was ever open. Miraculously Kate was not hit. The bartender next to her was shot and one of the two customers she was talking to as the bullets started to fly, did not make it out of the club that night. His boyfriend made a split second decision and hid behind the bar with Kate. They both held each other under her ice well. Police rescued her that night because the shooter took hostages in the back of the club. Thankfully the others we know that were in the building that night, made it out too. Some people lost friends and family and we all lost a place. Pulse was where I first met my wife. Kristen and I got to know each other after hours on the back patio one night while Kate closed the bar down. It was also where we had our going away party before we moved to Seattle. I can’t tell you how many nights we spent running around that place while Kate (over)served us. Gay bars and clubs are a big part of our community because it’s that first place where you can feel free. Free to be who you are, and free to be with who you love. It’s a safe space and it all came crashing down that night.
All that being said, this pride month in particular feels really important. There’s plenty of room for fun, and we should celebrate but we also have to understand what’s at stake here because for some of us it’s everything.
From Janaya Fix, Head of Product Management:
Love is Love - What does Pride mean to me
Pride is not all glitter and confetti, yes we love to have fun, but the root of it is about the ability to unapologetically celebrate, to live safely and without judgment in our authentic truth.
As part of the LGBTQIA+ community, Pride gives me hope. During this time, we should reflect and re-energize our commitment to stand true. But, Pride is not just a month, it is a commitment between us that we acknowledge each other's experiences and that we appreciate everyone for their right to love. Not who they love or why, but just the right to love - period.
As a mother, Pride month is an opportunity to talk and showcase acceptance, openness and love. Children are brave and proud by their very nature and by bringing them up in love and inclusivity, we teach them not to be afraid of their true selves, whatever that looks like for them.
As an ally, I support the LGBTQ+ community in many ways, whether it is as a mentor to an LGBTQ+ child or supporting LGBTQ+ artists and businesses, I stand with the community, side by side with an open heart and an open mind. We are living in tough times, where the government believes they can control a woman's choice to procreate. It is like we got on a slide and went back 50 years. But there are more liberties at stake here. So many more. Being an ally is not about being there one month a year, but standing beside the community 24/7/365!
From Matt Neiland, Senior Software Engineer:
As an LGBTQIA+ ally, I’ve been proud to see social justice issues become status quo or the norm in our culture. But the recent signals from the Supreme Court on women’s reproductive rights has me worried for our LGBTQIA+ citizens. Something we thought was “settled” law suddenly seems in question.
These concerns have taken on deeper meaning for me in recent years. In 2019 I got married and as usually happens, your friend group or “chosen family” gets a little bigger. Our Ohana is lovingly referred to as the “band of misfits” because whether we are neuro-divergent, Ace, Pan, Gay, or just too smart for our own good, we don’t fit in everywhere. My wife’s Ohana has become my Ohana, and suddenly I feel threatened too by these signals.
This is especially important to me because two of our dear Ohana friends recently got married in Vegas this past month. As we prepared for the ceremony I couldn’t help but feel how normal it all felt. What’s more American than a Vegas elopement?!
But I know the fight is not over. It continues and though it feels like we’ve won and can’t go back, it’s going to take a consistent voice and resistance to these ideas in order to win for good.
I love that my company has reached out to ask us our thoughts on Pride and it makes me prouder than ever to be part of MainStem.
From Andrea Sampson, VP of Marketing:
What Pride Means to Me - As a Mother and an Ally
It is hard to put into words how important this month is to me. As a single parent living in a different country from my entire family, I rely heavily on my chosen family, and over the years that family has grown to include numerous humans that represent almost all the letters of the LGBTQIA+ community. My girls and I are so incredibly blessed to be surrounded by these people, who love us, support us and lift us up when we falter. This community of ours is comprised of true and pure love, and when I think of the discrimination, ignorance and hate that exists in this country towards these amazing people, I am shattered.
So Pride is a complicated month, because I want to honor and celebrate this family of mine, but more and more I feel like we are back to needing a riot and a revolution more than a parade. Its personal on a level that I viscerally feel every time I read the news and see legislature that seeks to harm and ostracize the people I love, because beyond this chosen family, I have my biological family that includes an LGBTQ daughter. When I look at her and her generation, I try to hold on to my hope for the future, because their acceptance of other is far more beautiful than what I see from their elders. I can only place my faith in their ability to rise above the bigotry that defines the older generations, and hope they have the wisdom and the strength to define a culture of love and acceptance that cannot be stricken away with the tide of shifting political agendas. Equality for all should be an unwavering and indisputable right in this country, not something given and taken away at the whim of the presiding majority.
So for me, Pride is beautiful and brutal, a reminder to celebrate and a call for action. It is a revelry and a riot, and I am here for it all - for my daughter, for my community and my coworkers, and for all the people in this country fighting to be respected and seen as the beautiful HUMANS they are.
From Kevin Jones, Head of Customer Advocacy:
I remember the first time I knew I was “different.” It was a normal day for a 13-year-old. Breakfast at the table, parents talking about the news, my older sister picking a fight with me for no reason. I remember in between the typical sibling screaming match, I overheard my parents; catching words like “lure,” “fence,” “torture,” and “dead.” Then, the word I had learned to fear the most: “GAY.” I remember hearing the word, immediately pained. That word made me feel dirty, ashamed, and, even sadly, mad. Why? Because it was a word that kids had associated with me in the past, never as a jest or a joke, but always as “you’re different and don’t belong.” I was confused though, by the words they had uttered before “that” word. What did they have in common? I don’t know exactly what my reaction was, or who explained it first – but that was the day I learned about Matthew Shephard.
For the next five years – school dances, first kisses, graduation and college acceptance – I told myself I was not different. I was not… gay. I would not end up like him. Sadly, my fear outweighed my compassion. It didn’t matter that my dad, a hippie famously known for wearing tie dye daily, spent my high school years telling me that gay people were people… that civil rights were inherently human rights. Or that my mom had fallen in love with Will and Grace – secretly praying for a gay best friend to drink cosmos with and take with her on exotic vacations.
I finally went to college – a very catholic college. Maybe part of me thought going straight up catholic would help me be straight up, straight. But that’s where I learned the Jesuits love to sin… and I also met someone who helped me realize that I couldn’t be that 13-year-old boy. I couldn’t fear living my authentic self. This was the scariest decision I ever made. Will and Grace was what I had growing up. There wasn’t much real representation. It was scary, lonely, depressing, but had to happen. I couldn’t not be myself any longer – because the only other alternative was suicide. I can admit, I was one of 60%+ gay youths who thought that suicide may be a better alternative then to be honest with the people around me. What if they didn’t like me anymore? What if I lost everyone I knew? I came out in a drunk dial, refusing to talk to my parents and family after. Two months later, I had to return home because Fordham was closing for Easter break. I avoided my parents and went directly to the laundry room, where I noticed a box labeled “Gay Chair Covers.” Frustrated, I ran upstairs to question my parents screaming “What the actual F is this”. My dad, without missing a beat, calmly turned and said, “we wanted you to know that we are proud to have many gay things in this house.”
That’s what pride is to me. That I don’t have to be that scared, ashamed, 13-year-old boy living in a world of fear and darkness. It’s not about being gay or straight. It’s about when you finally get to leave that darkness, be your authentic self, you finally get the opportunity to see every color of the rainbow. Do I still struggle with various stages of internalized homophobia? Absolutely. In the past two weeks alone, pundits have called “me” a groomer, abnormal, and disgusting. The largest single state political party has denounced gay marriage and the gay “lifestyle.” Crimes against the community have increased 40% over the past two years. And sitting congressmen are actively calling for members of the LGBTQIA+ community to be put to “death by firing squad.” In all honestly, this year, I bought rainbow socks for our pride fest in Denver. I’m terrified that if I walk down the wrong street in them, I will end up on a fence. But that’s why we have pride. To know that this is all noise. That there are other people, an entire community, who have felt a similar fear in that same darkness. That there are allies ready to ensure no one has to feel alone. Some may call corporations “pride month” logo changing pandering. But to me, a proud gay man, it shows me that I belong. I can take pride in my company, my community and my companions.
MainStem is proud to support all our employees in living their authentic selves. We are honored that members of our team felt supported enough to be vulnerable and open in their contributions, so thank you to everyone that participated. As we approach the last few days of Pride Month 2022, we invite you all to remember that Pride is not just a single month of the year, nor is it just about displaying a rainbow, be it a logo, a flag, a shirt or what have you. Pride is a commitment to inclusion and equality. It is about respect, love, and the continued fight for justice and acceptance for all people in the country.
We invite you to think about how you can show up for your community not only in June but throughout the year, and share examples of support with us. For our part, we will be sharing the MainStem commitment to social equity throughout the rest of 2022 and beyond as we work to be a partner for equality and representation not only within the cannabis industry but in many ways throughout the communities that are meaningful to our team.
We wish everyone a very happy, safe and joyful Pride month, and please know we are celebrating along side you! Grow Bold(ly) Everyone!