“Welcome to Pride Palace!” Zeke Thomas shouted enthusiastically as he opened the doors for a one-of-a-kind celebration of the LGBTQIA+ community. The award-winning DJ, musical artist, and human rights advocate has long been one of the nation’s most public faces of modern queer activism. But in conceptualizing Pride Palace, an event supporting the nonprofit Phluid Phoundation and merging music, fashion, art and consumer brands for joyful expressions of love and identity, Thomas has taken advocacy to the next level - and with some groundbreaking collaborations along the way.

VIPs at Pride Palace (C) Nick Castoria @nickcastoria , courtesy of Zeke Thomas

Pride Palace: New York's Star-Studded Celebration Of The LGBTQIA+ Community

On Wednesday June 21st, New York’s classic downtown lounge The Palace was transformed into a swinging psychedelic wonderland of color, sound, and sensations. A lineup of notable hosts and artists pumped up the good vibrations, promoting the idea of gathering with loving intention. Special sets by Thomas himself, plus DJ 2Face and The Muses, set the ideal exuberant ambience. Beverages flowed, particularly in the Champagne Room, hosted by media personality Dylan Geick and transgender trailblazer Emira D’Spain. Hope Giselle, Sammy Klein, Jerome Lamaar, Devin Norelle, Andrew Warren, and Thomas himself, plus The Phluid Project founder/CEO Rob Smith and brand ambassador/multimedia icon Cory Wade, kept the evening’s fun going all night long, while also raising funds for The Phluid Phoundation.

What Are The Phluid Project And The Phluid Phoundation?

The Phluid Project is a pioneering gender-neutral fashion brand and platform dedicated to amplifying underrepresented voices. Its nonprofit arm Phluid Phoundation supports LGBTQIA+ communities by offering a wide range of programs, resources and services designed to create and develop inclusive spaces and positive social change. Particular focus is given to aiding those most vulnerable to discrimination and societal barriers, namely transgender women of color and homeless queer youth.

Who Sponsored Pride Palace?

In stark contrast to the fraught climate surrounding consumer brands’ vacillation on uplifting the LGBTQIA+ community in recent months, Pride Palace was sponsored by companies who could not have been prouder to confirm their support. From Moet Hennessy to Belvedere Vodka, crowdMGMT, Casa Del Sol Tequila and SpillIt to juggernaut Cookies and Thomas’s own Cheurlin Champagne, it was heartening to see businesses confirm their dedication to consumers who live their most authentic lives.

Zeke Thomas before his DJ set at Pride Palace (C) Nick Castoria @nickcastoria, courtesy of Zeke Thomas

Zeke Thomas Talks Pride Palace, LGBTQIA+ Advocacy, And The Cannabis Industry

Despite the joyful noise of the event, Thomas took the time to share his insights about the significance of Pride Palace - and his own advocacy - with Honeysuckle.

HONEYSUCKLE MAGAZINE: Why is tonight so important for the LGBTQIA+ community, and why does raising awareness for The Phluid Phoundation matter?

ZEKE THOMAS: I met Rob Smith a few years back and he shared with me his vision for inclusive space, inclusive clothing, really being able to amplify the community in multiple, diverse ways. Although labeled frequently as united, we have the same struggles in a micro way within our community in terms of diversity, inclusion, racism, and transphobia. So tonight being able to uplift marginalized communities within our own community, it's really exciting.

I linked with Rob and said, “Hey Rob, I've been DJing for a while and I would love to put my talents towards raising funds for the Phluid Phoundation.” And from there we brought in Cory Wade and we've created Pride Palace with the help of Andrew Warren and Sammy Klein, Hope Giselle. We're really doing some dope, dope things… We’ve got great music with DJ 2Face, myself, The Muses. Got a special guest, Will Weinbach, coming to DJ. We’re just excited to throw a celebration of Pride. Welcome to Pride Palace!

It's also important to note that in a climate like this we do have large brands participating: Cookies, Belvedere, Moet, Casa Del Sol and SpillIt along with The Phluid Project itself. It’s special to see brands uniting.

HONEYSUCKLE: It’s great to see brands sticking to that commitment, given the current political climate when there’s so much pressure with anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation in numerous states.

THOMAS: Absolutely. We are a community that’s definitely under fire in America. As a Black male who is also queer, I’ve seen and experienced [that]. I’m paying close attention to politics - Go Biden! But in times like these, as I see it, the queer community got comfortable. We let down our guard; we forgot that they’re trying to take our rights away at every moment. So now we’ve grown up, gotten stronger.

What we have to be is loud. And that’s why it’s important for [Pride Palace] to be documented and amplified. Every time you are able to see a queer person, it is a representation of progress and symbols matter in this world. That’s why it was very important at the Tony Awards to see two nonbinary people [J. Harrison Ghee and Alex Newell] getting the major awards of the night [for acting]. Brittney Griner getting freed from prison in Russia. Symbols matter. And we’re on the way toward progress again, but we can’t let our guard down.

VIPs at Pride Palace (C) Nick Castoria @nickcastoria, courtesy of Zeke Thomas

HONEYSUCKLE: What would you advise people to do if they want to help the LGBTQIA+ community combat drag bans and other harmful legislation?

THOMAS: Right now, we are facing an attack on our culture. Being diminished, being erased, being told to go stand in the corner. We have to still stay out there, be loud, be proud. But be respectful - we can’t go to the White House and take our tits out. But we can stand up and say, “No drag bans.” We’re not going to allow that. We have been here forever. We ain’t going anywhere.

HONEYSUCKLE: Some years ago, you spoke publicly about being a survivor of sexual assault and you encouraged other survivors to go to the justice system. With the political turmoil of the past few years, when there’s more distrust in the system than ever, do you still think people will want to put their faith in “The Establishment”?

THOMAS: It definitely is hard in this climate. I do want to affirm that I do trust the justice system. However, our laws as written are not for us. They’re not written in the way that we feel they should be applied. The law is being applied in the correct way; it’s just not written for us. And that is why we fight to change the rules and we elect people and we have to go through the mess of really participating in a democracy or else.

HONEYSUCKLE: You’re also advocating for cannabis consumption here at Pride Palace, with Cookies being one of the event’s major sponsors.

THOMAS: Yes, Cookies has been great enough to be kind with the community and explore ways toward partnership. I’m definitely a consumer of cannabis. I’ve got my vape; I’ll be smoking it tonight. And cannabis has a big connection with the LGBTQIA+ community. Because of the AIDS epidemic and the way that cannabis was used as one of the first medicines to combat the virus and minimize pain and inflammation, [it’s historically important for us]. My family also having an athletic background, that always led me to cannabis. I love the plant.

Jerome Lamaar, one of the event hosts, at Pride Palace (C) Nick Castoria @nickcastoria, courtesy of Zeke Thomas

HONEYSUCKLE: Your father, NBA Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas, has been a huge cannabis proponent. His company One World Products is doing some awesome things with hemp.

THOMAS: Absolutely. One World Products is doing some really cool things. And my dad, Isiah Thomas, has led with force on [the movement]. Hemp is the answer to a lot of things. It’s the natural carbon sink. We can literally suck carbon out of the air just by planting a lot of hemp. We have been able to sign an agreement with Stellantis to produce auto parts, which is really exciting to do that out of hemp… Not enough people are doing that. And eventually we can move to textiles and other products as well.

HONEYSUCKLE: And it’s interesting that you went into the champagne business with Cheurlin, because we’ve seen that compared to cannabis often based on how it’s grown and how the vintages are curated.

THOMAS: Very similar. The Cheurlin family has been growing since 1788 and it’s first press of the grape, low-sugar, with a healthy base. We’re very proud of what we did. We started in 2013 and first brought the champagne over then. Actually our first major event with it was the Democratic National Convention with Hillary in 2016 - unfortunately, you know what happened after… But we are out of the Trump years and still going strong. You can find our Cheurlin Champagne at Total Wine & More stores and we’re excited about the future.

HONEYSUCKLE: Do you foresee any potential crossover with the cannabis space?

THOMAS: We’re looking into CBD champagne or doing some infusions. “Champagne and Reefer” is an old song, so it always goes together.

HONEYSUCKLE: What else are you working on now?

THOMAS: I recently designed a clothing line in partnership with Mitchell and Ness. It was actually [a spinoff of] my dad’s clothing line, and I’m wearing some tonight at Pride Palace. We will be officially releasing it on June 27th and I’m very excited about it. So that’s what I’ve been working on, concentrating on getting that off the ground and launched, then looking forward to more things… I’m just grateful that as an artist and an entrepreneur, I’ve been able to achieve my dreams, and I’m thankful for everyone who made [Pride Palace] happen.

Zeke Thomas at Pride Palace (C) Jaime Lubin / Honeysuckle Media, Inc. @jaimelubin
Cory Wade at Pride Palace (C) Jaime Lubin / Honeysuckle Media, Inc. @jaimelubin

Cory Wade On Pride Palace, The Phluid Project, And Universal Love

These sentiments of gratitude were echoed by Cory Wade, one of Pride Palace’s co-creators with Thomas and Smith. The innovative artist, who initially became known to the public as the first nonbinary contestant on America’s Next Top Model, has worked with The Phluid Project and The Phluid Phoundation since their inception. Today Wade is an internationally-recognized LGBTQIA+ advocate who has toured the world promoting education about queer culture and issues facing the community; their debut album, Unify, was produced by legendary record producer Alan Glass and they continue to spark change through music, fashion and activism.

As Pride Palace hit its groove, Wade spoke to Honeysuckle about the event’s impact.

HONEYSUCKLE: Can you explain some of The Phluid Project and Phluid Foundation’s history?

CORY WADE: Yeah, absolutely. The Phluid Project was founded just over five years ago in 2018. We started as a storefront on the corner of Broadway and Great Jones, which was great for visibility's sake as an out and proud LGBTQIA+ organization. It was clothing and retail at the start and it was very much activist apparel. We still merchandise activist apparel. That is still our claim to our pride in what we do and everything. But since then, we've evolved and branched out into other activist initiatives.

And our nonprofit organization, which is a branch of the Phluid Project, is the Phluid Phoundation. We funnel funds to other charities, such as For the Girls, The Trevor Project, The BTFA Collective. Those are just to name a few. We've actually done a lot of charitable work and the proceeds [from Pride Palace] actually go to the same thing.

I love the Phluid Project so much. We also have an education and outreach program in which we talk to brands and businesses about LGBTQIA+ inclusivity in the workplace and how to talk to your queer employees and clientele. I have a hand in that work too, ‘cause I do a bit of public speaking on this scene. I'm very much immersed in everything that the Phluid Project stands for. That’s my part and I love [Rob Smith and the team] so much.

Andrew Warren (center) and Ryan Thomas Roth (right) in Pride Palace's Champagne Room (C) Nick Castoria @nickcastoria, courtesy of Zeke Thomas

HONEYSUCKLE: So you’ve worked a lot with Rob Smith?

WADE: Yes, I’ve known Rob for the five years The Phluid Project has been in existence and he’s just been a friend of mine honestly. I got my start as a model years ago. That was my career path and trajectory. I thought that’s what I was here to do; I was out and queer and I was on America’s Next Top Model. But I was criticized very often in the industry for my flamboyant and my feminine or whatever attributes. And Rob was running a brand that was celebrating those very things that I was being criticized for. So I jumped on board right away as a brand ambassador and model for the company. And then I think Rob got wind quickly of my passion. Then we started doing more work and more work and more work, and we've just been working a lot together in other areas.

HONEYSUCKLE: And obviously while raising funds for The Phluid Project is a big goal of Pride Palace, another aspect of tonight is merging all these elements together - music, fashion, art - for self-expression. Would you say that’s the essence of what makes Pride what it is?

WADE: I agree wholeheartedly. I think the mistake people sometimes make is subcategorizing individuals within the LGBTQIA+ community in a way that separates us and makes us unrelatable to one another. And tonight this party is a reminder that we have so much more in common than what sets us apart and that we need to stand together, now more than ever as a queer community, as the LGBTQIA plus community. So people of every sect and every representative letter are here tonight and that's what we're most proud of.

HONEYSUCKLE: What do you think people most need to concentrate on now as we go forward in a difficult political climate?

WADE: Love! Acceptance. Unequivocal inclusion. And just respect for one another regardless of our differences. Because you know what? At the end of the day, we all want the same things. We all want to be seen and heard and we all need the same things. We all need air to breathe, food, water and shelter to survive. It's way more basic than we've made it. As we've developed through our differences and trying to sort them out, and as our identities, as we as queer people are continuously politicized, it's important for us to remember that. That we are rooted in a truth, a deeper truth that connects us all. I think that’s what Rob honestly, more than anything. believes in and wants to put out into the world. I can attest to that based on our conversations.

(C) Nick Castoria @nickcastoria, courtesy of Zeke Thomas

HONEYSUCKLE: How would you encourage people to advocate for more inclusivity and equality and combat some of the political dangers to the LGBTQIA+ community?

WADE: Vote. Definitely vote, but vote in a strategic way. Sometimes it seems like the candidate who’s more representative of us isn’t really for all of us.  But I would urge for everyone to strategically look at the opposition and understand that we are in a place and time societally that requires us to band together on a socio-conscious level and effect change with our votes. Also, just educating people and seeking education on your own terms. All of this education about queer identities is accessible for people just through a quick internet search and you can verify which sources are valid by the way the community responds to the information. So it's on us, you know what I mean? We do have more power than I think we would ever give ourselves credit for.

HONEYSUCKLE: That’s why it’s great to see brands like Moet, Cookies, and others showing up at Pride Palace.

WADE: Yes, these people are showing up for us for a reason because they know what is really going on. And these political games are just distractions to derail us from the grander picture, the greater picture, which is our unity and our connection with one another.

(C) Nick Castoria @nickcastoria, courtesy of Zeke Thomas

HONEYSUCKLE: With Cookies being part of Pride Palace, do you want to talk a bit about your own relationship to cannabis and consumption?

WADE: Sure. I just feel like this Earth has its gifts that it bestows upon us. So anybody who has any aversion to cannabis consumption, I would just urge them to keep in mind that things that are naturally of the Earth, are meant for us as inhabitants of the Earth. And it's kind of crazy to try to deny that. It's very natural and it's helped me a lot with my anxiety, my mental health and everything like that. So I just feel like the Earth is giving us natural resources that we can use to empower ourselves and feel better in whatever we're going through. And we shouldn't shy away from that or feel afraid of that. It might seem scary, but that's only because of the societal structure that's been built to make you think that's not real. Everyone should be cool with it, honestly.

HONEYSUCKLE: Especially because New York is the cannabis consumption capital of the world, the fashion capital of the world, and so on.

WADE: Yes, yes! So express yourself. Do what makes you feel happy. Do what makes you feel like you and whole, as long as it’s not hurting anybody. You get one life. And I feel like whatever helps you in your go at this life, your one shot, you should feel free to take part in that.

HONEYSUCKLE: And how can people continue to support The Phluid Phoundation after Pride Palace?

WADE: Go to phluidphoundation.org and thephluidproject.com to see more about what we’re doing in a retail sense. We are an activist apparel brand in addition to all of our activist initiatives. And also, talk to your loved ones about what you might be afraid of. Get awareness. Seek education.

HONEYSUCKLE: Is there anything else we should know?

WADE: Only that I’ve got nothing but love for you and Honeysuckle Magazine. Everything that you’re doing is great. I love how your magazine looks - it’s so cute and pretty and everything inside is so cool. It’s got my stamp of approval.

You can support The Phluid Project and The Phluid Phoundation by visiting thephluidproject.com and phluidphoundation.org. For more about Zeke Thomas, follow @zeke_thomas on Instagram. To learn more about Cory Wade, follow @corywadeofficial on Instagram.

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Featured image: Zeke Thomas at Pride Palace (C) Nick Castoria @nickcastoria, courtesy of Zeke Thomas