With Pride Month fast approaching, it’s only a matter of time until massive corporations hop on the LGBTQ bandwagon and promote a “gay” product for the entirety of June. Cards Against Humanity hilariously summed it up last year, when they unleashed their Pride Pack.
“It’s Pride Month, the time of year when companies put a rainbow on their products to capitalize on gay culture. Fabulous!” they jokingly wrote on their website.
While it’s undoubtedly great that multi-million dollar corporations donate a large portion of their pride product proceeds to LGBTQ causes — queer people — myself included, easily see through these companies' so-called “commitment” to the LGBTQ community.
Slapping a rainbow on a pair of shoes for one month of out of the year, but not giving a damn about queers for the other 11 months doesn’t make your company an ally. Neither does naming a strain of weed Laganja Estranja or dyeing a nug rainbow-colored (although, to be honest, that would be pretty cool).
I caught up with Patrik Gallineaux, Stoli Vodka's LGBT National Brand Ambassador (yes, they are in fact the only company I know of in the liquor or cannabis space to have such a position), to find out the best way for an emerging cannabis or liquor company to get more involved with the LGBTQ community — authentically. “Well, first of all, be sure to figure out who the most fabulous and powerful drag queen is in town because she’ll know everything," he replied. "Find out which amazing events she’s hosting and see if you can't integrate your brand into them. That way, you automatically have an endorsement and credibility. It's a great way to open the door.”
Emerging companies in the cannabis space may want to take note of Stoli as an example of a company in another "adult use" industry that clearly cares about the LGBTQ community, and has for decades.
Stoli first started advertising to the LGBTQ community in the early 90s, and by the mid-1990s, Stoli was regularly advertising in gay and lesbian magazines. By the 2000s, they were known as a “gay liquor,” so to speak. Their marketing occured around the same time as Subaru's famous campaign to corner the lesbian market, which is why Subaru, still today, is seen as a car for queer women.
But to become a brand allied with the LGBTQ community, you need to do more than market to queers. You need to give back, and not just financially.
Stoli does just that. “Today everyone wants to market to the LGBT community and why not? It's smart from a business perspective, but within all the clutter you have to be authentic,” Gallineaux says. “You have to speak truthfully and do more than just check a box on a list of things that, as a company, you think you need to do to get those dollars.”
The LGBTQ community absolutley has “those dollars.” In 2016, the U.S. Treasury department revealed that same-sex (male) couples have an average household income of $176,000, roughly $63,000 more than opposite-sex couples. Lesbian couples earn $11,000 more than opposite-sex couples, confirming that there is some truth to the age-old myth that gays, particularly gay (cisgender, white) men have disposable income. Gay couples are also traditionally less likely to have to children, which to put candidly, are money-suckers.
In fact, if the LGBTQ community were a country, it would be the world’s fourth-largest economy in the world, with a GDP of $4.6 trillion.
Still, the queer community craves to see authenticity and support for more than a few weeks out of the year. “Finding ways to interact and actually present and produce things that make our community better creatively is as important as donating financially,” explains Gallineaux.
Since Stoli Group USA was formed in 2013, Stoli has donated well over a million dollars to LGBTQ charities and causes. Their donations, however, don’t come without giving back creatively. They always come with an event that promotes queer community.
The Stoli Key West Cocktail Classic is now in its sixth year. Having begun on March 6 in Dallas, the competition criss-crosses the county through 15 cities, looking to find America’s best LGBTQ bartenders. Each event is a kiki. There are drag queens galore, entertainers, music, videos, and the audience gets to vote and sample the cocktails. The finals are held in Key West from June 4 to 10, coinciding with Key West Pride. This year’s theme is “Visibility: Making It Loud and Clear,” aligning with Stoli’s new brand campaign. At the end of the Classic, the winner will get a total of $10,000 to donate to a hometown LGBTQ charities along with the title of Key West Grand Marshall. The second place winner is given $5,000 to donate to a hometown LGBTQ charity of their choosing. An additional $10,000 is donated to two worthy LGBTQ Key West non-profits by the first and second place winner in conjunction with the Key West Business Guild.
Nearly three years ago, the timing of the Orlando shooting coincided with the Key West Cocktail Classic. Still, all the bartenders and staff showed up to do their job, and Stoli, quietly, without a press release, donated an additional $3,000 to LGBTQ causes for every bartender that attended.
But the Cocktail Classic is one of many ways Stoli gives back.
Last year marked the 40-year anniversary of Harvey Milk’s assassination. In honor of the gay icon, Stoli commissioned a mural of Harvey Milk. The vibrant mural, painted by Paraguayan artist Oz Montania, overflows with rainbow colors. It reads, “Hope will never be silent.”
In conjunction with the mural unveiling, Stoli also released a limited edition bottle with Montania’s image of Milk on the label. Needless to say, Stoli also donated a large sum of the bottle proceeds to the Harvey Milk Foundation.
Given the shared history of the cannabis movement and the LGBTQ movement — those who pioneered medical marijuana in California were AIDS activists from the gay community fighting for the right to use their medicine — it's only right that the cannabis industry pay homage to its LGBTQ roots. Cannabis companies have a unique opportunity, given the industry's uniquely queer history, to integrate that narrative and those values into their brand. So thinking back to my conversation with Gallineaux, and given that there are plenty of fabulous cannabis queens in nearly every city across the country, working with them would be the perfect place to start.