To celebrate Pride Month, Honeysuckle hosted LOUD AND PROUD, an event that honored LGBTQIA+ culture and the importance of being true to oneself. The two-part program included a panel featuring some of the coolest young professionals to discuss how queerness has shaped their lives, and how cannabis has played a role in their own self discovery and career goals. Following the panel, Honeysuckle had the privilege of welcoming renowned social activist IAMQUEENS– Larry Malcolm Smith Jr.– and attorney and activist Jason Starr, Chief Impact Officer of On The Revel, in a fireside chat to discuss surviving the foster care system, homelessness, and PTSD, particularly as experienced by the queer community. IAMQUEENS also paid tribute to the memory of his foster brother Jordan Neely, who was killed on May 1, 2023 by being placed in a chokehold while riding on the subway.
Watch the full LOUD AND PROUD LGBTQIA+ Cultural Panel:
Watch the full LOUD AND PROUD Fireside Chat featuring IAMQUEENS and Jason Starr:
LOUD AND PROUD: An LGBTQIA+ Cultural Panel And Fireside Chat
LOUD AND PROUD was held at Housing Works Bookstore– New York’s iconic bookstore in the heart of Soho where all product is donated, all staff members are volunteers, and 100% of the profits go toward Housing Works’ mission. The long-running nonprofit, which has been operating since 1990, serves people living with HIV/AIDS and homeless populations, making it the perfect backdrop to a discussion on the intersection of cannabis and queerness. The nonprofit made history when they opened Housing Works Cannabis Co, New York’s first legal adult-use cannabis dispensary, in December of 2022; those who attended the event could sign up for the dispensary’s new delivery service and to learn more about its product offerings.
Pride Panel: Cannabis Consumption Across Queer Communities
Moderated by Honeysuckle’s own Kally Compton, ELA teacher, model, and culture writer, the panel featured three LGBTQIA+-identified professionals making major cultural strides: Serge Fils-Aimé, Project Producer; Wyatt Harms, co-founder and CEO of FLAMER; and stylist Phil Gomez (also known as “StyledByPhil”), Editor-in-Chief of LADYGUNN.
Who Are The LOUD AND PROUD Panelists?
Serge Fils-Aimé, project producer, model, and photographer, is a creative dedicated to inspire others to chase their dreams. At only 22 years old, Fils-Aimé has modeled in Vogue, Kaltblut Magazine and LADYGUNN, acted as creative director, art director, and event coordinator, photographed models like Cara Delevingne, and more. He’s become an enthusiastic cannabis advocate, hosting fashion and art-based events that incorporate plant elements such as this spring’s You Deserve Flowers party.
Wyatt Harms, discussing his cannabis brand FLAMER, shared the story of the young company, formed just this year. Inspired by New York City nightlife, FLAMER was “born out of New York’s Queer community”– the co-founders met during the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests throughout the month of June. Proudly built and operated by “chosen-family,” the company “fosters and empowers our community of artists, creatives and innovators through premium cannabis.”
Pioneering stylist and creative director Phil Gomez, a proud queer Latinx artist, has built his career on fashion and artistic innovation. Having won awards for his work with Swiss fashion house AKRIS and the UNIQLO brand, he has collaborated with artists such as Susanne Bartsch and Nelly Furtado, and styled some of the hottest creatives including SZA, Tinashe, and Jared Leto. Just about two years ago, Gomez was announced Editor-in-Chief at LADYGUNN Magazine, “an independent publication and art collective” showcasing authenticity, creativity, and overall good vibes.
Cannabis x Queerness: Where Is the Intersection?
“Cannabis became legal medicinally thanks to the AIDS activists,” Harms said near the top of the panel.
Harms described this intersection in a few different ways, stating that in a society that has ritually demonized the queer community and has systematically criminalized cannabis, it’s nearly impossible not to see the history of that intersection. The push for legalization in the latter half of the 20th century did in fact come largely as a result of queer activists who saw that cannabis helped alleviate nausea, anxiety, pain and other symptoms that AIDS patients suffered in the 80s. In 1996, the queer community’s aggressive activism in California helped pass legislation making the state the first to legalize cannabis medicinally.
The ostracization of both the queer community and cannabis users has allowed for “a sort of subculture” to arise, said Gomez. Harms likened it to a sort of counterculture element in the both of them.
In either case, “Queerness is connecting, and cannabis has always connected,” said Harms, so it would be inevitable for there to be an overlap in the push towards acceptance and freedom.
That’s what Fils-Aimé pointed out, that “Legalization adds to freedom,” and although Fils-Aimé may have been referring more toward cannabis, the same sentiment goes for the queer community.
Gomez, who had never discussed his cannabis consumption publicly before, referred to the plant as a tool for productivity. He recalled, “I always smoked with the intention of doing something… For me, it always correlated to doing something,” whether painting or taking pictures. “I was a late bloomer in every possible way,” he added. “But once I made up my mind of who I am and I was confident in myself, that included my cannabis usage. It was just easier for me to be myself in front of my family and friends.”
“In the fashion industry, [cannabis] is fake taboo,” Fils-Aimé noted. “Everybody smokes, but nobody blasts it out.”
As the conversation turned to the anti-LGBTQIA+ legislative measures sweeping the country, Harms grounded the discussion in activism. “We are at the moment where culture has turned against us,” he stated. “What we are experiencing now is openly homophobia and transphobia.” However, he and the other panelists agreed that the hate and anger directed at the queer community speaks to larger societal problems that must be addressed through healing, creativity, and love - which is why they all work so hard to showcase the truth of LGBTQIA+ identity in every way.
“To anyone that wants to express themselves in any way, do it through storytelling,” Gomez encouraged. “It becomes a tool for you to use your brain.”
What Does A Queerness x Cannabis Future Look Like?
“It’s queer as fuck in this industry,” Harms declared of the cannabis space, to which the audience cheered and snapped in agreement. Shouting out Housing Works, Union Square Travel Agency, and other state-licensed dispensaries, he explained, “There’s a ton of queer people in management, and there’s even more selling the products and working as budtenders. There’s already this queerness sort of infused into the New York market.”
Fils-Aimé agreed, explaining his vision of the future, “I want gay everything: gay brands, gay pieces, gay dispensaries…” Speaking for Gen Z and younger generations, he emphasized the importance of open and honest discussions with young people about identity. “I don’t believe we should behave in a way that ‘Let’s not say anything because they’re kids. They won’t find out.’ They will, and they’ll probably find out misinformation from kids at school… Instead you can explain it to them properly and safely, in a way where [they’ll be confident].”
The first step to getting to queer everything is by removing the stigma that surrounds cannabis. And we can do so by being authentically ourselves. At least, that’s what Gomez practices, stating that by being, “True to yourself,” we can create a more equitable and inclusive environment.
And these panelists are doing just that: staying true to themselves to create and hold space for their community. A chosen-family founded and operated cannabis brand, an arts, events, and creative director celebrating individuality and authenticity, and a magazine highlighting creatives and community are actively building the future they want to see.
LOUD AND PROUD: Fireside Chat With Social Justice Activists IAMQUEENS And Jason Starr
IAMQUEENS is a social justice activist, movement strategist and foster youth advocate in New York City. He endured the child welfare foster care system, forced to move between more than 23 homes and shelters, surviving emotional, physical, and sexual abuses. At age eight, IAMQUEENS attended his first protest and has since been attending, organizing, and fighting to ensure that no other child goes through what he did.
He and Jason Starr– Chief Impact Officer of On The Revel and founding Director of Litigation at the Human Rights Campaign– sat down to discuss PTSD, homelessness, and the dangers LGBTQIA+ youth, in particular young trans people of color, face in living their truth.
Remembering IAMQUEENS's Foster Brother Jordan Neely
The 24-year-old spoke with heartbreaking eloquence about the impossible traumas he’s experienced, from the horrors of foster care to seeing LGBTQIA+ friends killed in front of him, and losing others to overdoses and health conditions brought on by homelessness. Opening with an almost prayerful expression of gratitude for being able to speak to the audience, IAMQUEENS honored his late foster brother Jordan Neely. “I mentored him, but I was also the mentee,” he said. “When Jordan would go through train stations as Michael Jackson, he did that while being homeless and houseless.”
“We understand that Daniel Penny [Neely’s killer] was the last link in the chain,” Jason Starr commented. “But we can trace Jordan’s death back to systems failures like foster care and homeless shelters.”
IAMQUEENS On Foster Care Failures, LGBTQIA+ Homelessness, And Mental Health
Delving into the stressors on the LGBTQIA+ community, particularly those who have come through the foster care system, IAMQUEENS pointed to this country’s severe lack of accessible resources for when those from low-income backgrounds struggle with mental health. “It’s very hard to find an LGBTQIA+-identified therapist. It’s very hard to find a therapist who is Black, transman-identified, or even someone who is a person of color. It’s very hard to find these things… LGBTQIA+ youth matter. We shouldn’t feel like we’re disowned. We shouldn’t have to be kicked out of our homes. We shouldn’t feel like we have to be kicked out of our schools, out of our churches, and when we go to the streets to find work, we can’t even live there.”
The activist took the opportunity to destigmatize every aspect of those marginalized, including sex workers. “Let’s understand that sex work is work,” he asserted. “Sex work is survival. We don’t know what other people go through in their lives. We don’t know the pain and the suffering that they go through, but the least we can do is just have a good heart to listen.”
“The only spaces I’ve been able to build community with are the folks who are completely out about their homosexuality, queer sexuality, our trans siblings, as well as those who identify as nonbinary,” he continued. Creating those support networks is how many LGBTQIA+ people who are homeless are able to survive, because they have found only rejection in other more traditional spaces.
How Can You Be An Advocate For LGBTQIA+ And Homeless Youth?
As he spoke, he exhorted those listening to become advocates in any way they could, including asking them to consider someday adopting a child rather than participating in the corruptions of the foster care system. “There are places you can go to speak for foster care youth, and you don’t even realize it sounds better coming from you than me. I’m currently apartment hunting, and I’m getting housing discriminated simply because I have an EHV [Emergency Housing] voucher that I got accepted for just a month and a half ago… and I feel like I would have been accepted if I wasn’t speaking about Jordan Neely… Be an ally, an accomplice, a co-conspirator, and stand the fuck up! More siblings are dying, more youth are dying. Anybody who is LGBTQIA+-identified is predominately homeless, and they are being harmed.”
Concluding the fireside conversation, IAMQUEENS mentioned the numerous LGBTQIA+ icons who have inspired him over the years - Marsha P. Johnson, James Baldwin, Bayard Rustin, Audre Lorde, Sylvia Rivera, and many more. The time has come to unite and get on the front lines with our brothers and sisters. With a decisive tone, the activist stated simply, “We said we’re not going to be there no more.”
Honeysuckle thanks Housing Works Bookstore, Housing Works Cannabis Co, and all our speakers for a powerful panel! To learn more, visit housingworks.org and follow @hw.cco on Instagram. For more about IAMQUEENS and helping LGBTQIA+ and homeless youth, visit iamqueens.nyc.
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Featured image: LOUD AND PROUD Pride Panel at Housing Works. Left to right: Moderator Kally Compton, Serge Fils-Aime, Phil Gomez of LADYGUNN, and Wyatt Harms of FLAMER. (C) Sam C. Long / Honeysuckle Media, Inc. @tissuekulture