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Pride Stories: Derek Croissette

Building Community Through Authenticity and Trust

Derek Croissette (he/him/his), Shift Lead at Ethos – Philadelphia, believes being your authentic self is the best way to build a community based on trust and vulnerability, and he strives to bring that philosophy into the dispensary environment.

“Being your truest self helps patients be their authentic self and divulge why they’re coming in: why they need cannabis and what they’re really trying to alleviate,” Derek said. “When people see your authenticness, they let their walls down because they know, ‘this person really wants to help me.’”

For Derek, that’s a critical aspect of serving both cannabis consumers and LGBTQIA+ customers, many of whom may have trepidations the first time they’re entering a new environment. For two communities that were long stigmatized and marginalized, knowing there’s someone across the counter with shared experience can be a major source of comfort, he said.

“When people come in and see they have something in common with the person who’s helping them, that’s super helpful to break down the walls,” Derek said.

Learn more about Derek’s cannabis journey and how medicinal cannabis has been an important source of healing and camaraderie in his life.

The cannabis and queer communities have long been intertwined. Advocates from the LGBTQIA+ community were especially instrumental in the movement for access to medical cannabis amid the AIDS epidemic. These are figures that Derek reflects on as a cannabis professional who is part of the modern-day effort to build on the advances these figures achieved.

“Mary Jane Rathbun, known as Brownie Mary, made pot brownies for HIV patients in hospitals and helped them cope with end of life treatments,” Derek said. “Back then, it was a pioneering thing. It’s people like that who make the strides; they don’t necessarily fall into the mold but know and believe in something [like medical cannabis].”

Establishing an inclusive and welcoming environment is not limited to what he does at work, Derek said. Living authentically means embracing yourself in every community you participate in. From his participation in Stonewall Sports, a recreational sports organization for the LGBTQIA+ community and allies, to his mentorship of youth leaders with the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership (HOBY) program, Derek aims to encourage and comfort others by expressing himself openly and unapologetically. 

“There have been a couple of HOBY volunteers who have come back and told me that being my authentic queer self made them realize that it’s OK to be comfortable and that there are other people like them,” Derek said.

That authenticity-first approach has spurred conversations with others about accepting and loving themselves for who they are. It has also helped Derek and his team at Ethos – Philadelphia establish a more inclusive environment for everyone.

“I always lead by example here … and the [product associates] lead by example to show people kindness and authenticity,” Derek said. “Even if they’re not in the queer community, everyone who works with us is an ally. We accept everybody who comes into the dispensary as they are.”

Whether inside the dispensary or outside, Derek said it’s clear that authenticity is a critical part of developing any community because it allows people the security to be vulnerable and build trust with one another when they know they’re speaking to someone who is genuine and compassionate. That trust is a precursor to fostering the type of community Derek is focused on building.

One way in which the Ethos – Philadelphia team embraces the wider community is by ensuring they know and interact with patients using their preferred name, gender, and pronouns. Anyone who comes into the dispensary needs to show a valid ID, which doesn’t always match a trans or non binary person’s birth name, sometimes called their “deadname.” Making sure these patients are known by their correct name and pronouns is of critical importance to Derek and his team, he said.

“I think it’s setting the initial foundation when you first check-in as a new patient to ask your preferred gender and your preferred pronouns, and then putting it in [our system],” he said. “It’s really about talking to each person as an individual.”

By honoring each person as their own unique whole being, establishing and strengthening a community becomes that much easier. For Derek, doing so goes well beyond basic customer service; it’s about recognizing that many people who come into the dispensary environment, whether they are queer or not, has been through a lot and that their journey is respected and they are cared for.

“It definitely helps people because there is still a stigma unfortunately of going to a dispensary and using medical cannabis,” Derek said. “Some people have a little bit of anxiety planning it out and going there … but it’s definitely easier for people to come in and recognize someone who is in their community, whether it’s the queer community or the cannabis community.”

Read more Pride Stories here


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