Brothers. In Arms. And Out
A Different Coming Out Story
by Carl Fillichio, Vice President at Weedmaps
I’ve been talking to my older brother Chris a lot more lately…ever since I got a job related to the cannabis industry. Chris is passionate about the subject.
Aside from sharing a surname, we haven’t had much in common of late. The last time we were this close and talked this often, I called him Batman and he called me Robin. That was more than 50 years ago.
Cannabis does that. It brings people together.
When we were growing up, Chris was the coolest kid in the neighborhood. So cool in fact that one of the neighborhood boys would actually chauffeur him around on a tandem — style bicycle — Chris on the back of the two seater, with his legs hanging off the handlebars; and the other boy, feverishly peddling from the front. Eighteen months younger, I was geeky, gawky and awkward. But kids never bullied or bothered me. If they knew me, they knew Chris. Enough said. And if someone was actually foolish enough to make trouble for me, Chris would “take care of it.”
As a straight ally, our community doesn’t have a better one in my brother. “Isn’t that great,” he’ll say when he hears that a childhood friend or neighbor has come out. And if that person has a family member who doesn’t think it’s great, Chris will likely say something like: “I see her father at the gym all the time. I’ll take care of it.”
During a recent, every-other-day, hour-long phone call, Chris didn’t say, “Not much” when I asked: “What’s new?”
“I needed to get a document notarized,” he explained. “When the notary asked for my government-issued identification, instead of my drivers license, I showed my State of Florida Medical Marijuana Use Registry card.”
“At first he refused to take it. We got into a thirty-minute debate about medical marijuana. Long story short — I got the document notarized, and the notary is going to check with his doctor to see if medical marijuana might be good for his arthritis.”
He’s doing this all the time now, he said. He actually seeks opportunities that require presenting government-issued identification — like using a check (instead of a credit card) to pay for groceries at the supermarket. He pulls out his medical marijuana card instead.
“I make them say no. And then I don’t accept it,” he said, almost defiantly.
“Congratulations.” I replied. “You came out.”
“Wait. What?” he said. “I don’t say I’m gay. I just tell them I’m a medical cannabis patient. That’s all. You don’t ‘come out’ at Trader Joe’s.”
Yeah. Sometimes you do.
Changing Hearts & Minds
Cannabis has always been wherever outsiders are. As a result, the cannabis legalization movement and the LGBTQ rights movement share some history. Both movements’ started in earnest around the same time. The first cannabis dispensary in the United States was founded by gay people (Dennis Peron and others), in a gay neighborhood (San Fransisco’s Castro District), specifically for gay people (predominately gay men, suffering the debilitating side effects of AIDS medications during the first years of the pandemic). Whether viewed through the lens of privacy or individual rights, the LGBTQ community has played a critical role in the history of cannabis legalization. It will continue to do so in its future.
And something else: as my brother learned, both the LGBTQ rights movement and the cannabis legalization movement use the powerful act of “coming out” as a tool to change hearts and minds.
“Both the LGBTQ rights movement and the cannabis legalization movement use the powerful act of “coming out” as a tool to change hearts and minds.”
For LGBTQ folks, “coming out (of the closet)” means self-disclosure of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The 19th-century German philosopher Karl Heinrich Ulrichs introduced the idea of coming out as a means of emancipation. Historians believe he was among the earliest individuals to out himself.
The value and benefits of coming out for an LGBTQ individual and for the LGBTQ community are immeasurable. Harvey Milk, the American politician assassinated in 1987 said it best: “I would like to see every gay doctor come out, every gay lawyer, every gay architect come out, stand up and let that world know,” Milk said. “That would do more to end prejudice overnight than anybody would imagine. I urge them to do that, urge them to come out. Only that way will we start to achieve our rights.” He added: “And you will feel a lot better.”
“For legislators to be really moved about legalization,” my colleague Bridget Hennessey — who leads Weedmaps’ Government Relations department — has said, “we must put a human face on the issue. Real people telling real stories.” Those are the heroes of the legal cannabis movement — the patients and users who disclose: the veteran suffering from symptoms of PTSD; the grandfather recently diagnosed with diabetes; the mother treating her child’s epilepsy — in consultation with doctors — using medical grade cannabinoid oil.
The Ups and Downs. The Ins and Outs.
For individuals from both communities, coming out reveals to the world their whole and complete self, not a heap of compartmentalized parts.
Yes, they share the joys that are a result of coming out. But both the LGBTQ community and advocates for cannabis legalization also share the pitfalls and unintended consequences that are sometimes a result of coming out.
Despite a Supreme Court ruling that says otherwise, there are still many instances where a person can lose their job because they are gay. And just because medical and/or adult-use cannabis is legal in your state doesn’t mean your employer can’t fire you for using it. One can lose the roof over their head for cannabis use, and for identifying as LGBTQ. Either can still result in losing custody of children.
It takes courage to come out . . . whether you do so as a medical cannabis patient, adult-use consumer, or as someone who identifies as a member of the LGBTQ community. I came out as a gay man about 35 years ago, so I know its scary and difficult. So I can say without reservation and from experience: my brother has courage.
My courageous brother still lives in the city where we grew up. He and his wife raised a terrific family about a mile away from our childhood home. He graduated from being the coolest kid in the neighborhood, to coolest dad in the neighborhood. He’s enjoying his most recent title: coolest empty nester in town. And me? Well, I’m still awkward.
And if anyone has a problem with that, Chris will take care of it.
Carl Fillichio is a Vice President at Weedmaps.