Friendly Stranger gives back to community with a digital drag show

The cannabis retailer wants to do more than just fly a rainbow flag after opening a store in Toronto's LGBTQ neighbourhood.

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Most Pride festivities have been moving to the digital realm this year, and cannabis culture shop Friendly Stranger is hosting one it hopes will show it is a positive force in a neighbourhood it has recently expanded to.

Friendly Stranger will be hosting a virtual drag show on June 16, with funds raised from the ticketed event going toward Glad Day Lit’s Emergency Survival Fund, directly supporting members of the LGBTQ community who are out of work – namely, artists, performers, and tip wage earners – after the book store and performance space in Toronto’s Church and Wellesley neighbourhood announced it would be closing.

The show will feature 12 performers, and will be hosted by Brock McGillis, an LGBTQ activist and the first openly gay male professional hockey player, and Brooke Lynn Hytes, a finalist on season 11 of RuPaul’s Drag Race and judge on the show’s Canadian spin-off.

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Friendly Stranger has been active in the Toronto community since opening its first store on Queen Street West in 1994. But since the legalization of recreational cannabis in 2018, it has been pushing to expand its retail footprint with new locations. Some of them are focused on the accessories that the original location is known for, but others have been licensed to also sell recreational cannabis – including one in Toronto’s Church and Wellesley neighbourhood, a hub for Toronto’s LGBTQ community, on May 14.

“Back when we were planning this store, it was very important to us to really do it right – to be involved and [do] more than just put the rainbow flag on the front of the store,” says James Jesty, president of Friendly Stranger Holdings. “For us, it was making sure that we’re representative of the community as well as involved in what was important, because it is a unique part of Toronto.”

Friendly Stranger has been involved with the communities it served since first opening, but that has become a brand pillar it has stood on throughout cannabis’ arduous journey toward legalization in 2018 in Canada.

Jesty says Friendly Stranger has always been “at the forefront” of cannabis culture and the cannabis community by campaigning for the legalization of cannabis, hosting legalization parties and raising money for its own “Breaking The Stigma” initiative – aimed at educating people about cannabis – as well as raising money for cannabis amnesty efforts through in-store promotions and age-gated events.

Since legalization, Friendly Stranger has been securing funding to grow, which including new stores in London and Burlington, Ont. in March, which means it now has a physical presence in several more communities.

“Writing a big cheque is not really our idea of being involved in the community,” Jesty says. “Part of our approach is that cannabis is very much a personal experience and very one-on-one. So, it would seem odd that that’s the business we’re in, and to not be embedded into our community.”

“If you think of drag shows and drag queens and how they make their living, a lot of them are out in public, making a living in restaurants and bars that are currently closed. So it all just made sense for us, as the ability came together, to do a virtual show,” Jesty adds.

Those interested can watch the show on Friendly Stranger’s official website.