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Pride Stories: Maria Ortiz

Respect, Honesty, and Openness As Foundations For Community

It takes a village to foster a compassionate environment, especially one that’s representative of the people it serves. And for Maria Ortiz (she/her/hers), that vital task is central to her role as General Manager of Ethos – Pittsburgh.

“The most important part of my job is creating a community that works together well, but also respects and supports each other,” Maria explained. “New team members find out right away that I’m queer and I’m open about it. Being visibly true to myself in a leadership role leads to both our team and our patients feeling that sense of community.”

With the aim of creating a “vulnerable, positive, honest, and open culture,” Maria said that she encourages dispensary staff to come as they are. Notably, she believes that positivity goes beyond simply a cheerful demeanor, instead encouraging dispensary staff to openly communicate and build strong ties among one another.

“As humans, we’re looking for that connection, and that can be especially true at work because you’re spending so much time with your coworkers – you want to feel like you belong there,” Maria said. “If you foster a community of people in a positive work culture that respects them … it helps us thrive as a whole.”

Fostering a community of professionals who embrace the LGBTQIA+ community goes beyond “surface level acceptance” for Maria. While someone can learn queer history or culture, she said it takes a strong sense of empathy to embrace the values of honesty and respect she anchors in everyday interactions with patients.

“For us queer people, we look for places where we can be accepted and that we’re OK with being who we are,” Maria said. “When LGBTQIA+ patients walk in the door and they see themselves represented in our staff, they’re even more comfortable being here.”

In the dispensary, this notion of a respectful and supportive community takes a few forms. Beyond just a “vibe” upheld by a welcoming staff, typical everyday interactions are anchored in protocol that puts the patient’s comfort and safety first. 

One such example is the way dispensary personnel greet guests. For trans and non-binary patients, presenting the required ID and medical cannabis card to enter the dispensary can be an intimidating endeavor, especially if their preferred name and pronouns don’t match their ID. To make this process easier, Maria trains team members at the Pittsburgh dispensary she manages to ask every customer their preferred name upon check-in. 

This opens the door for patients to share their preferences upon check-in, signaling that dispensary associates support and accept customers however they identify. They then keep a record of the preferred name and dispensary associates know the proper way to address the patient at their next visit.

“We are very attentive to pronouns and names and the power they carry,” Maria said. “We have conversations on the floor reminding team members [of] preferred names and pronouns. That’s important because we accept everybody as they come.”

These kinds of efforts don’t go unnoticed. Maria said patients recognize – and appreciate – the work put into creating an inclusive environment.

“The positive feedback we get about our team is overwhelming,” Maria said, “and the number one factor we get is that our patients come here knowing they will be comfortable.”

Maria’s passion for LGBTQIA+ advocacy extends beyond the dispensary doors. A political science major in college, she said her advocacy extends to the digital sphere. She regularly posts and shares content amplifying information about issues that affect the queer community, and particularly trans and non-binary people. 

“I’m vocal because I want the next generation to have a better future,” Maria said.

She also has a tight-knit group of friends she met through Pride clubs in college, who she calls her “chosen family” and community.

“They’ve had my back from the very beginning,” Ortiz said.

Maria takes great pride in her role in building a space where LGBTQIA+ customers feel connected and safe. For these patients, Maria explained, the importance of experiencing community, even in a place like the local dispensary, reaffirms that they are OK to show up as they are.  

“For us in the dispensary setting, we are breaking stigmas just by doing what we do,” Maria said. “We’re working with cannabis, a plant whose stigma we’re breaking down. We’re doing the same thing as queer people, a group of people who have been stigmatized and told that their lives aren’t correct. Now, we’re seeing an age where it’s truly OK to be who we are. It’s a super positive and supporting community … and this visibility speaks volumes.”

Read more Pride Stories here


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