This morning, I received an email from a prospective employee: “I’m so excited about having a chance to work together in a place where I am not the only trans person! It really truly gives me butterflies!” Reading this made my eyes well up with tears of joy, but it also made me think about all the other places this individual has had to work in. Places where managers perhaps didn’t stand between them and a guest, or showed them that they are worthy of protection. Pride Month is a great time to meditate on the idea of where we’ve been, and where we’re going.
When I think about Pride, I think about the hard-fought places of safety in our community. I think about the idea of progress, and how it rarely feels (or is) linear. Tales of the Cocktail Foundation’s theme of Progress was chosen this year for a reason, and the celebration of Pride reminds us of the nature of progress: it is hard-won, it is messy, and it is only brought about by building community and creating safety for each other. Progress finds its footing when we determine collectively how to push the status quo. Progress is a choice. It’s hard to watch, from either within the movement or on the sidelines, how easily we can lose our sense of direction and require realignment.
When I think about Pride, I think about my own personal and professional progress. I think about how many years it has taken me to feel a sense of pride in my own identity, and how my career in hospitality has afforded me the luxury, time, and space to discover who I am — so many other industries would stifle that self-actualization. I think about the parallels between my original career in ministry, and my current role as a bar owner: both roles are given the responsibility of creating safe spaces for people to engage with others and process the daily events of their own life. I think about how progress for me has looked like metamorphosis. There is nothing quite as queer as a human being undergoing transformation, like a caterpillar becoming a butterfly in all its truth, beauty, and joy.
Much like my former career path, in bars and restaurants, we are given the opportunity to shepherd others, to usher them into comfort, safety, reverential indulgence. As my bar, Church, opens and aims to give that gift to not only guests, but also our team (we work in an industry full of gorgeous misfits, of which I expect my team will be a shining example), I feel the immense weight of progress: how hard will the fight be to maintain this environment based in safety, stability, and love? Will the progress come naturally, as my partners and I define for ourselves, with every day actions, what being a human-minded leader looks like? Or will it feel like slowly, painfully rolling a stone up a steep, muddy hill, gaining only inches at a time? The story of the LGBTQIA+ community and of Pride itself has these ebbs and flows in its narrative; why should a bar that strives for the same level of innovation and revolution experience anything different? If we want to truly reimagine hospitality as it should and could be, then we should expect to fight, and fight hard, for something better.
As I watch the marches around the country and the world, some glistening with rainbows and glitter, and others raising a defiant noise in the name of protection and purpose, I am reminded that the fight has always been within me, and within the souls of the LGBTQIA folks around me in hospitality. Throughout history, safety is hard fought for, because we’ve felt the sting of being othered. Progress is achieved by feeling a discomfort with things as they are, and demanding better for ourselves and the generations that will follow in our footsteps. Pride is a story that belongs to all of us, the misfits in all of our souls that just want a place to feel safe and that we can authentically be ourselves, love unabashedly, and maybe enjoy a delicious drink in the process.
About Chelsea Gregoire:
Chelsea Gregoire (they/them) is the owner and consultant behind Drinkable Genius, who focuses their consulting efforts on helping their clients develop systems that support and create opportunities for their staff, while also making delicious drinks. They hold a Master of Arts in Theological Studies, which has taught them how to love and care for people and how to meet each person where they are at. They are also the Founder & Hospitality Director of Church, a cocktail bar opening in Baltimore in 2022. Chelsea was named an Eater Young Gun in 2018, and Esquire’s Beverage Director of the Year in 2019.