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  • Writer's pictureNeldon Hamblin

InclusiviTEA for PRIDE: Creating an Inclusive Communitea for All

Hey friends! This is a very different post from my usual ones on here, but it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while now. Let’s get this out of the way right now, just to be clear: this is not a “coming out” post, but for those who don’t know, I do identify as bisexual and have been out since 2017. I’m open about it on my social media accounts but haven’t really discussed it here on my blog before- but that changes today. Being an openly queer man, I’ve had many great experiences while also struggling to find acceptance in different spaces- with the communitea being that exception. With my first post, I felt openly accepted and celebrated for who I was- and ever since then, I’ve been an active advocate within the communitea for making it as inclusive as possible. So, why am I talking about this now? Well, my motivation for this post comes from Utah’s recent passing of HB0261, or the “Equal Opportunities Initiative,” which effectively shuttered DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) programs statewide at a time when we need them most. This means that LGBTQ+ resource centers, African-American student centers, Indigenous American student centers, etc. all have to close their doors by July 1st, 2024. With so many safe spaces coming under attack in recent years, I felt it was important to do a post on creating a safe and inclusive environment within the tea community as a whole, to make sure that it remains a community of passionate and accepting individuals for years to come.

As a caveat, belonging to a community does, by no means, guarantee authority on the subject, nor does it mean that I speak for everyone here- I speak for myself and myself only. These are just my opinions and do not represent the views of everyone, but are ideas and opinions that I think benefit the community as a whole.

Now, as I’m sure most of you are aware, June is Pride Month- by now, corporations have replaced their usual branding with rainbow frames, posted rainbow photos, or highlighted their LGBTQ+ employees- while these are all great things, going with the flow of the rainbow is but one step taken- creating actually inclusive spaces is another entirely. So, let’s get into what the community can do to be a more inclusive and accepting space for all, year-round, not just for June.

a tea cup with the Pride flag colors
LGBTQIA+ Pride and Tea

Barriers to Inclusivity in the Tea Community

When I conducted my academic study on gongfu culture in North America, there were two big barriers to joining and enjoying the communitea experience: 1.) knowledge and snobbery, and 2.) lack of inclusivity in physical and online meetups. As far as the first barrier goes, the biggest issue is that tea is such a large and diverse field and the English language resources, while beneficial, can come across as products of snobbery rather than true educational pieces. People like to speak in absolutes when it comes to creating tea guides, which can come across as off-putting to new members of the communitea. When someone reads a blog post or a r/tea thread and the commenters act like the original poster (OP) or someone else is stupid, or if they act condescending in general about the way someone enjoys their tea, it can leave a real sour taste in the mouths of newcomers. 

The second one is a bit tricker to deal with, but covers all sorts of ground. One of the biggest barriers to people participating in tea was a lack of inclusivity in physical and online spaces; for example, if the event were virtual, no efforts were made to be accessible to those with hearing or vision impairments, or closed-captioning were not available as an option. For physical spaces, it’s important that we create more laid-back experiences that both the seasoned tea drinker and newcomer could enjoy. Spaces should not have prerequisites for owning teawares or cater solely to those who have more refined palates. Tea events should be comfortable spaces for everyone to join in- after all, we all started somewhere. I guarantee 98% of you who read this did not start your journey in tea with the highest quality dahongpao or sheng puerh on the market- so why should tea events act like we did? An example of an LGBTQIA+ friendly tea meetup would be the ones held by Stephen Alvarado (“Stephen Arcane”) at the Garden Tea Lounge in San Antonio, Texas. Stephen strives to make his sessions comfortable for tea drinkers of all ages, backgrounds, and experience- by creating an inclusive environment, Stephen helps introduce people to the wonderful world of gongfu in a professional yet inviting environment. 

We need to work on creating events that welcome everyone, at any level, and do not discriminate based on identity or present barriers to open inclusivity. Only then can we truly be an inclusive community for all. Now, how can we do that? This can be accomplished through inclusive marketing and creation of community spaces as well as true allyship vs. performative allyship. 

Inclusive Marketing, Donations, and Community Spaces: 

Representation in marketing is important- it might not seem like it, but seeing yourself or others like you in a commercial or marketing can greatly impact how you feel about something. With the case of tea, several companies already do a great job at highlighting queer representation; some examples include Volition Teas in Chicago, DavidsTeas in Canada, Harmony Tea Bar in California, Friday Afternoon tea, and countless others. With Volition Tea, they have held Pride-oriented live streams in the past (which I was very grateful to be a part of, alongside Cody of TheOolongDrunk) and are very vocal about supporting their local queer and minority communities. A queer and woman-owned company, their mission highlights “Cultivating empathy through storytelling and AAPI & queer representation,” and they currently donate 10% of the proceeds from sale of their “Humanity Behind Your Tea” shirts to Brave Space Alliance, the first Black-led, trans-led LGBTQ+ Center located on the South Side of Chicago. 

Harmony Tea Bar in California strives to be allies for the LGBTQIA+ community and boy do they live up to that. For the entire month of June, 20% of their loose-leaf tea sales are donated to the Trevor Project. 

DavidsTeas, one of the largest online retailers of tea blends, has long been an ally and supporter of the LGBTQIA+ community. Every June, they partner with a different LGBTQIA+ cause and donate proceeds from their sales. This year, DavidsTea has partnered with RainbowRailroad, a global not-for-profit organization that helps at-risk LGBTQI+ people get to safety worldwide. They will be donating 10% from all sales of their Pride Ambassadors’ tea picks to the RainbowRailroad. 

Friday Afternoon is known as the “West Coast’s Gayest Teahouse” and they strive to be a socially active safe space for all. Throughout the month of June, Friday Afternoon will be hosting various Pride events, including bilingual events in Spanish. They are a truly accessible location with a lovely reputation for being proud allies and supporters of the LGBTQIA+ community and merited mentioning here. 

Eli Tea Bar in Chicago does a great job at being a queer-friendly space, holding LGBTQIA+ events like drag story times while offering great teas. They are highly regarded in their local communitea as being a beacon of inclusivity. 

World Tea House in Halifax, Nova Scotia, does a great job at promoting inclusivity in their tea space. The owner, Phil Holmans, does a spectacular job at making sure that their tea house is a safe space for all groups- for more on this, check out the great spotlight done on him a few years back in World Tea News

For community spaces, they are one of the best when it comes to providing a safe space for all to gather. 

Adagio Teas has been known to support LGBTQIA+ causes and events through various initiatives. They may offer special Pride-themed tea blends or donate a portion of their proceeds to LGBTQIA+ organizations during Pride month.

Harney & Sons has participated in Pride celebrations by offering Pride-themed tea collections. They may create special tea blends or packages during Pride month and support LGBTQIA+ causes through their sales.

Smith Teamaker has shown support for LGBTQIA+ communities by offering Pride-themed tea blends or special editions during Pride month. They often collaborate with local LGBTQIA+ organizations for these initiatives, which is a great way to avoid pinkwashing or performative allyship on their end. 

Art of Tea has been involved in supporting Pride events and causes. They may offer limited-edition Pride tea collections or donate a portion of their sales to LGBTQIA+ charities during Pride month.

Another great group is The Republic of Tea. While primarily known for their expansive tea collection, The Republic of Tea has participated in Pride celebrations by offering Pride-themed products or donating to LGBTQIA+ organizations.

Each of these companies demonstrate a commitment to diversity, inclusivity, and supporting LGBTQIA+ communities through their Pride sales and initiatives. Checking their websites or contacting them directly during Pride month can provide specific details on their current offerings and how they support LGBTQIA+ causes, but for now, those are the top companies in my opinion for allyship. Speaking of that, let’s get into what allyship really is vs. what performative allyship is, and how we can avoid performative allyship in the communitea. 

A few friends under an archway of rainbow colored balloons.
Friends and I at Pride in 2021

Allyship and Advocacy vs. Performative Allyship

Aside from inclusivity in marketing, allyship and advocacy are the next important steps to take. For tea shop owners, creating safe spaces for the LGBTQIA+ community benefits everyone in the local community; while it might seem counterintuitive initially, creating a space where individuals feel free and safe to openly be themselves broadens the horizons of the existing community, increase social bonds in the community, and can serve as an ethical beacon as an example of positive leadership by promoting the values of equality and human rights. There are also studies on the economic and social impacts on businesses being LGBTQIA+ safe spaces. For example, in their 2013 study “The Business Impact of LGBT-Supportive Workplace Policies,” authors Badgett et al. found that some benefits are “increased job commitment, increased customer base, and increased positive relations between coworkers” (Badgett et al., 2013). 

Now, let’s talk about allyship vs performative allyship (“pinkwashing”). True allyship is a show of support for individuals year-round, maintaining an LGBTQIA+ friendly workplace in every month, not just June. Performative allyship is when a company tacks rainbows onto existing packaging and sticks pride flags out during the month of June, but promptly removes all signs of the rainbow by July 1st. They “support” the community for June and while it’s convenient for them to make a quick buck, then turn straight back to ignoring LGBTQIA+ issues. To give credit where credit is due, I’d prefer performative allyship to bigotry or ignoring LGBTQIA+ issues in general, but there are more steps that can be taken to show actual support. The businesses listed above are great examples of taking that extra step to ensure that their Pride efforts are not just seen as empty, pinkwashed attempts at scoring another dime, but instead directly impact and support the LGBTQIA+ community. 

A group of friends posing for a Pride photo
My Best Friend, My Brother, and I after SLC Pride 2019

So, what now?

While the online communitea is one of the most open and accepting groups I’ve ever been proud to be a member of, there are still ways it can improve to become a place welcoming for all people. We need to work together to create a safe space where everyone can feel welcome, and that means we need to constantly be aware of how we both convey our information online and how we conduct events. If our events are online, we need to make sure that captioning and audio issues are fixed before the event starts to accommodate all. For in-person events, having things like a simple pride flag on display can make individuals feel more comfortable and welcomed in a location- it’s all about how the area portrays itself and wants to be seen. In such uncertain times for many, creating safe spaces for people to feel comfortable is of the utmost importance and should be a vital concern with any member of the communitea. After all, tea is supposed to be a communal, social drink- what use is it if, while drinking the drink that unites us all, we turn as bitter as a delicate green scorched by boiling water? I’ll leave you all with this- if anything, please work to be more inclusive. The tea community is such a great group of humans from different, diverse backgrounds, and we should make sure we recognize that without minimizing our human experiences. While the communitea itself is always mostly positive, there are a few souring experiences that can occasionally occur. 

Happy Pride, y’all, and may you all walk with confidence in your daily lives. Thanks for reading! 

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