Being part of the cannabis industry made my decision to come out professionally an easier one

Being part of the cannabis industry made my decision to come out professionally an easier one

VicesOctober 23, 2018 By Spencer J. Ward

Why am I doing this? Why me? Why now? So rang the universal chorus of indecision. That familiar feeling gripping me as I hunched over my laptop, eyes darting to and fro, plugged into a network of 6,000 cannabis professionals on Facebook. Although not one of them could physically see or hear me, their collective weight was crushing. Either I would come out to these people, and I would be a weirdo and killed professionally. Or I would be okay. In times like these, we think in hyperboles.

On no special day, as I killed time between work and my nightly stint at the coffee shop, I fitfully made the choice to identify as “not straight” in a Facebook post to Colorado Badged Network, one of the largest groups of cannabis professionals in existence. Besides the obvious “Why the fuck am I doing this,” there was very little thought or planning that went into my actions. Like the eruption of lava, the forces that set my decision into motion were as old as me, maybe older. I didn’t have to know why. I was simply at a point in my life where I couldn’t hold it any longer. 

Since that day, I have tried to answer two questions. First, whether being part of the cannabis industry made my decision to come out easier. And second, whether being part of the industry has further helped me as I adjust to this new life.

Before I can answer these, I should confess one thing. This was not my first time to come out. 

My first time was in a desperate attempt to fight a battle of depression. A long battle of depression that stemmed in large part from confusion over my sexuality. It happened right before I moved to Colorado. It was also through a Facebook post, but went comparatively unnoticed and was immediately swept under the rug. It’s complicated, but there were nuances I didn’t want to explain. Whatever conclusions people were going to draw from this, I could live with them for now. This is what I thought as I left Kansas and tried to restart my life in Colorado.

Since coming out this second time, removing the need to ever do anything like that again, I’ve really had to make the pieces fit. Who am I now? Can I be the same person despite this label I gave to myself? What will this mean to my best friends? Of course, all of these questions are being answered in the context of my new career. 

Being part of the cannabis industry definitely made my decision to come out professionally an easier one. 

The amount of diversity in the cannabis community is pretty remarkable, and the industry is often lauded for its strong representation of people of color and women in leadership positions. Among my professional colleagues, including some in management positions, are many members of the LGBTQ community.  So my friends and peers, whether they knew it or not, were a key support system ahead of my decision.

Besides minority representation, there is a general vibe that the industry is made up of marginalized people for marginalized people. Diversity, tolerance, and empathy are not in short supply. I believe for all these reasons that I felt empowered to come out to the great number of people I did. I didn’t have to come out to 6,000 people, I chose to.

Has it been easy since? Coming out in the workplace is one thing; fitting into the workplace afterwards is another thing.

Yes, it has been easy since. 

I haven’t encountered a single troll or nasty message. No one has treated me differently at work or in my personal life. In fact, very few of my friends in the cannabis community reached out to say anything. At first, I didn’t know if this was because they didn’t know how to react. Was the fact that I was dating a trans woman make it less approachable? I was falling in love with this beautiful woman, and I didn’t care what anyone thought.  My conclusion, though, would become that they didn’t care either. Now that’s the crux of matter. 

Since the cannabis industry is or seems to be LGBTQ-friendly, its biggest problem may be in having a rose-colored perception of the issues facing most gay people. I, for one, can’t imagine being who I am if I were working at the local refinery in my small, conservative hometown in Kansas. 

It should not be lost on me, or anyone who shares a similarly positive experience about coming out, that it sucks and is difficult for some. That it does ruin careers. Burns bridges. Even destroy families. Nor should it be forgotten that protections for LGBT employees still don’t exist in law like they do for other minorities. You can still be fired for being homosexual in many states. 

So have I been lucky? Or did I choose this industry for the right reasons?  I want to believe I chose this industry for the right reasons. Of course, time will tell. I’m still a nobody in a business that is about to be taken over by corporate titans. Anything can happen. Nothing can happen. I’m betting on good things, though, and my heart is invested.  As one of the great cannabis mantras goes, One Love.