Andrés Rigal and Taylor Bazley of Green Qween: “Queer All Year!”
“Many people don’t know that the cannabis industry was founded by queer people,” said Andrés Rigal, co-owner of Green Qween, a queer-owned downtown Los Angeles dispensary that opened last month with a mission to increase queer and QTBIPOC (queer, transgender, and BIPOC) representation in the cannabis industry, “We are reclaiming our story. We are coming back and educating people. We want Green Qween to be the intersection of queerness and cannabis.”
“It’s Important to Tell the Story of How We Got Here”
While BIPOCANN is of the mind that we need to authentically celebrate and elevate the contributions of LGBTQ2SIA+ and QTBIPOC people in our community in all we do year-round in the cannabis industry, Pride Month provides us all an opportunity to pause, reflect, recognize, and celebrate the importance of this group’s advocates for our industry.
Thus, we couldn’t think of anyone better than Andrés Rigal and Taylor Bazley of Green Qween to remind us why the queer voice is so important, and that beyond Pride Month, our colleagues are “queer all year” which forms one of the retail brand’s taglines.
Indeed, the industry owes so much to the efforts of Dennis Peron who saw the positive benefits of cannabis on HIV/AIDS patients, having lost his partner to AIDS in 1990. A year later, he opened the San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club and went on to coauthor California’s Proposition 215 which allowed Californians the use of medical cannabis. “It’s important to tell the story of how we got here,” adds Rigal.
Business partners Andrés Rigal and Taylor Bazley have very personal reasons for entering the cannabis space with Green Qween. “Taylor and I looked at the cannabis industry and didn’t see ourselves in it,” explains Rigal. “It was important to create a vehicle that properly represents queer people in the industry.”
And represent it does! Rigal says that the design intent was “ queer, colorful, and fluid, as everyone expresses themselves in different and beautiful ways.” The building itself, located on S Broadway in DTLA, can’t be missed. The outside is adorned by a colorful mural by notable artist Patrick Church whose works are renowned for exploring the queer identity. The interior aesthetic screams good taste with its sleek and sophisticated design, attention to detail and the customer experience, and intentionally chosen color palate. The interior and exterior colors represent those of the trans pride flag, and the store’s queer flair shines through with a moving disco ball installation on one of the shop’s walls.
Motivated by the Need for Safe Spaces for QTBIPOC in Cannabis
Both Rigal and Bazley bring to Green Qween impressive business backgrounds and histories of service to the QTBIPOC communities. Rigal, who is originally from Puerto Rico, got his professional start as a Hollywood talent agent and transitioned into a queer nightlife event producer, holding everything from Club Kid parties to Drag Shows, and everything in between, over his long and remarkable career. Bazley started his professional journey serving in public affairs for the City of Los Angeles. After earning his MBA from UCLA Anderson, he began working in social enterprise as a means to support the QTBIPOC community.
Both Rigal and Bazley are accomplished and experienced business people, but both admit that the cannabis industry has never felt like a safe or inclusive space to them as proud gay men. After all, it’s no secret that the cannabis industry is largely made up of cisgendered white men.
“A lot of cannabis events are boys’ clubs,” explains Rigal, “There is tense, heterosexual masculine energy. While I can think ‘If people have a problem with me, tough shit!’, I still go into these events and feel a bit uncomfortable.” These occurrences led him to conclude to himself “Maybe I just need to build my own space!” and thus began his business partnership with Bazley and the path to building a QTBIPOC owned and curated cannabis dispensary in the heart of downtown Los Angeles.
Yes, the Queers are REALLY Here!
Last year it was discovered by the Census Bureau that up to 8% of the American adult population identify as gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, or transgender, which represents 20 million people in the country, with potentially millions more having other identities such as pansexual, or asexual. Of this group, 42% identify as people of color.
Needless to say, the queers are here in cannabis, and they’re here all year!
“LGBTQ people are often overlooked in the BIPOC community,” says Bazley, “If people are fragmented, they disappear. When you’re [queer or trans] and you add in BIPOC, you only become more invisible in a community that centers around the white community and the male community.” Bazley notes that the black and brown stripes were added to the Pride Flag to recognize the experiences of being silenced in a small community, which is something Green Qween strives to fix within cannabis.
“In cannabis, [QTBIPOC people] are all that kid in that small town who is by themselves. They feel alone. They need a safe space, and a family, and a network,” says Bazley, “The only way anything is actionable and moves forward is if we do it together.”
Part of Green Qween’s mission is to be an incubator for QTBIPOC brands to launch within the greater cannabis space. “It’s difficult enough to break through the industry, nevermind if you’re BIPOC or queer,” says Rigal, “We’re creating an ice-breaker ship to break through the glacier of cannabis,” he adds, referring to the pervasive favoring of cisgender white men for industry opportunities.
Giving Back to the QTBIPOC Community of Downtown Los Angeles
The company is very serious and intentional when it comes to not just talking the talk, but walking the walk when giving back to their community.
Green Qween recently signed an agreement with the Chrysalis program that helps people with barriers to entry to employment, job-readiness, and workforce re-entry services, demonstrating that they want to go above and beyond the required “good faith” hiring efforts required by the City of Los Angeles. While the company cannot discriminate on sexual orientation, gender, or gender identity for its staff, Andrés and Taylor say they are “creating an exceedingly open workplace where employees can be who they are.”
In addition to this, Green Qween will donate a percentage of their profit to the DTLA Proud Community Center which holds a homeless youth drop-in center, mental health services, and testing for LGBTQ+ people in the area.
Authentically Celebrating Pride in Cannabis
With Pride Month being a time where many companies will simply put up a rainbow flag or change their logo to the rainbow on social media, Rigal and Bazley remind us that celebrating pride has to be authentic, and again, honoring queer and QTBIPOC employees is a year-round thing.
“Creating safe spaces starts at the top,” says Rigal when asked how businesses can be more inclusive to the QTBIPOC population, “Having a space where their teams and employees can represent themselves in an authentic way so that they don’t have to hide who they are. For instance, hold events with queer vendors, create moments or events, and or products that are queer-leaning. Have that moment where they can be themselves and also transform and grow and be a higher version of themselves.”
The company noticed that at last year’s MJBiz Con, there was not one queer vendor or speaker represented. “We’d love to see a Hall of Flowers type event featuring queer brands, or even a convention of queer,” says Rigal. Bazley adds that the QTBIPOC community can be supported all year through donations to queer charities, queer product activations, and speaker series’ focused on QTBIPOC experiences. “It’s not us against them, the idea is that we’re all working together,” adds Rigal, “When the tide rises all the boats rise together.”
Rigal and Bazley recognize that opening Green Qween is just a small start towards creating truly safe spaces within a cannabis industry that is actually representative of QTBIPOC people. These goals require the efforts of not just the QTBIPOC community itself, but also the entire cannabis community at large. “It’s hard work, and a lot of responsibility,” says Rigal, “It’s a canvas that is not yet finished and we’re holding a paintbrush. We can finish painting this together.”