Cultivating A Welcome Environment For The LGBTQ+ Community
Creating a welcome environment for patients and customers is not just about a friendly “hello” – it involves building a space from the inside-out into which everyone can walk in and feel truly welcome. Creating a space centered on inclusion, acceptance, and connection is particularly meaningful to LGBTQ+ people, who may be apprehensive about walking into a new place as their full selves.
To honor Pride Month, Ethos Cannabis spoke with employees from the LGBTQ+ community who shared how they create a welcoming and affirmative environment within the dispensary.
Hannah Lanoue-Carrizo, General Manager, Ethos Fitchburg (MA): Leading by example
Visible signs of LGBTQ+ inclusion, such as a pride flag or signage in the front window, are welcome signals that queer people will be treated with dignity and respect inside. As the general manager of Ethos’ Fitchburg, MA location, Hannah Lanoue-Carrizo takes the responsibility of creating this safe environment to heart.
“I can say from experience – as a customer and as a manager — that when you put LGBTQ+ pride out there, you signal to the community that they can come in and be comfortable here,” Lanoue-Carrizo shared. “Despite everything slowly changing in our world and becoming more accepting, there is an older generation that’s nervous. They may have come out much later in life, and they’re still looking for signals that a business is openly accepting of who they are. It can make a world of difference.”
Lanoue-Carrizo emphasized that it’s not enough to just “put a pride flag up:” People who work in a dispensary need to “be the difference” at all levels.
“The atmosphere in a store needs to be truly welcoming,” Lanoue-Carrizo said. “Customers are smart people, and they will know when you mean it. As the general manager of a dispensary, fostering that kind of culture is significant to me – not just for my team, but for the customers, too.”
At the end of the day, Lanoue-Carrizo said that it’s human connection that fosters inclusivity with new patients and regular shoppers alike.
“There’s a lot of transparency and a little bit of vulnerability involved,” Lanoue-Carrizo said. “Ask questions and be genuinely interested in another human’s well-being. Letting go of your insecurities helps people connect, and that’s what we aim to do here every day.”
Hank Christy (he/him), Shift Lead, Ethos Baltimore: “Letting your hair down” in the dispensary
For customers from all walks of life – Maryland patients included – the simple act of walking into a dispensary and being transparent about their needs can be a daunting task. That’s why Hank Christy makes it his mission to foster an open, accepting, and friendly environment at Ethos Baltimore by starting out with a friendly conversation.
“As those folks come in more, they realize there’s a LGBTQ+ presence here when they meet me and other employees, and they begin to let their hair down,” Hank shared.
Hank said that simple gestures, such as asking for preferred names and remembering pronouns, signals to patients that the dispensary is a safe space to be themselves.
“Whenever anyone comes to our dispensary, we ask for their preferred name and take note of it, because bringing that up without prompting is not an easy conversation for everyone to have,” Hank said. “That open ended question lets us learn a lot about a person and obtain more information to help them.”
It’s all part of what Hank says is a concerted effort to make everyone feel comfortable and welcome when they visit his dispensary.
“Our boss asks us to make sure that every person who walks through our door feels just as welcome as the person leaving,” Hank said. “We treat everybody with the same level of respect. Everyone deserves it, and that’s what we do. We make sure every person feels welcome and accepted when they are within our four walls.”
Ashley Bill (she/her), Patient Care Associate, Ethos Pleasant Hills (PA): Professional and personal acceptance
Fitting in as an employee is just as important as feeling comfortable as a customer. Ashley Bill has been on both sides of that equation: Initially an Ethos patient, Bill is now a Patient Care Associate who treats patients with the same kindness and respect she was shown when she first received her medical cannabis card.
“It’s so important when these patients come in and see how many of us from the community are working right in front of them,” Bill said. “This makes me feel more comfortable than I felt at other places I’ve worked. It really has opened my eyes how many people in my community, however they identify, connect with the cannabis community.”
Bill said she shares a little bit of her personal life with patients, starting a dialogue that she hopes will help patients understand that they are free to be themselves within the dispensary.
“I open up a little bit when a patient walks in – I talk about my wife, our dogs, our life that we have,” Bill said. “Once I mention my wife and that I’m gay, you see it click for them. They change a little bit. They see that this Is a safe space… especially if a patient is nervous, this shows that they have permission to be comfortable. As cheesy as it is, we all care here.”
Bill said that this is particularly important for trans customers whose identities do not yet align with the name on their ID or their medical cannabis card.
“I had a patient call me and say that our dispensary was the only one to call him by his preferred name and not by his deadname,” Bill said. “I’m proud of that, because I want patients to feel safe and included here.”
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