“Just existing is a protest:” A Conversation About Pride with House of Thrive

May 31, 2022

Last year, Thrive Market Art Director JP Danley was tasked with designing new email signatures for the company. “Naturally I included pronouns,” he recalls, “which I felt was obviously necessary.”

Public declarations of pronouns not only help prevent misgendering, but also serve as a signal of safety to gender-queer individuals: acknowledging one’s own pronouns welcomes others to share theirs. For Danley and many other Thrive Market employees, the email signatures were a seemingly small detail that spoke volumes about Thrive Market’s commitment to inclusivity and allyship. 

A House United

The conversations that sprang up around the email signatures grew into a learning opportunity for the entire organization about the importance of gender-inclusive language — and specifically, a lunch-and-learn event hosted by House of Thrive, the company’s resource group for queer employees and allies.

Affectionately known as HOT, House of Thrive was established in 2021. (It’s named in the tradition of ballroom culture, in which drag performers form “houses” of chosen family members.) The group’s founder, Head of Creative Operations Oliver Palan, says he noticed a desire among his coworkers for a formal group soon after joining the Thrive Market team. “I just asked [the dedicated LGBTQIA+ Slack channel] if there was interest in making it into something bigger,” he says, “and there was a lot of positive feedback.”

HOT’s mission is to cultivate a safe and inclusive experience for LGBTQIA+ employees at Thrive Market, while giving back to the community. Palan reports he’s especially proud of one of the group’s initial endeavours: working with Thrive Market’s HR department to secure full, equal paternity leave for queer parents, as well as an adoption benefit. 

Danley experienced the value of the group first-hand while working on the email signatures, sharing that he was able to use the group as a sounding board. “We could band together and have a conversation about it as a queer community, and also take action,” he says. 

“That was such a big win for us,” says Kristin De Simone, Thrive Market’s Senior Manager of Mission, of the lunch-and-learn. Palan adds that he was moved by the enthusiasm and allyship of Thrive Market co-founder and CEO Nick Green, who initially suggested the event.

“It was so great to see the amount of engagement, and people that were eager to learn about gender identity,” De Simone adds. “That was really inspiring.”

Allyship and Action

Externally, Thrive Market is continuing to put its mission message — access to healthy living for all — into action, with a special focus on the queer community during Pride month. In June of 2021, the company worked with the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Pride Pantry to donate groceries to those in need, and this year, it will partner with FoodCycle LA to support the Pantry again. “One of the amazing things at Thrive [Market] is that there have been a lot of allies that have shown up and that care,” Palan says. “Honestly, the whole company is one big ally.”

This kind of commitment — to creating safe spaces, to taking meaningful action — is especially urgent in the current political climate. Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill and policies targeting transgender youth in Texas create a hostile atmosphere for the queer community. 

Palan manages to find a bright side. “I am a true believer that evil always loses and good always wins,” he says, explaining that debates around anti-gay legislation could end up drawing attention to these important causes, “in the way that nobody knew what [critical race theory] was and now everybody’s talking about it. They’re creating conversations that are going to lead to change…I think we are going to see more support coming out of this dark moment.”

“The legislation and action that’s happening around the country, if anything, has gotten me motivated to do more with [HOT] and to make sure that we are seen and our voices are heard,” echoes Danley. 

For more from our roundtable with the HOT leadership team, read on.

The following conversation has been edited and condensed.

Kirby Stirland, Thrive Market Editorial Lead: Has anyone been a part of an LGBT resource group before? Have you ever been in a situation where you wished there was a resource like HOT? 

JP Danley: I have never worked in a company that had ERGs [ed note: employee resource groups] before. So that whole landscape was really new to me. And I don’t think I even understood the impact or importance of ERGs. If you think back to when we were creating this, we were still coming out of the pandemic. And so selfishly, I just wanted to know, who are the other queers? I wanted to have some kind of queer community at Thrive[Market] because I knew that there were a couple of out people. It wasn’t until the ERG was established and I saw how much of a support system it was, and the problems that we could tackle together as a group, that I kind of saw the benefit.

Kristin De Simone: Before Thrive [Market], my background was in coaching women’s basketball and teaching. So without even having an ERG, just being surrounded by athletes it’s very common to have LGBTQ representation and ways to feel included. I think I had it really lucky, just being a basketball player and an athlete, and automatically having a family and teammates that I could lean on that identified the same way that I did.

Oliver Palan: For me, I kind of worked for gay men for most of my life. I worked in the film industry, and a lot of people that were working [in that industry] were queer. When I started [my next job] at Ticketmaster, that was the first time I had an official ERG. And it was really fun. It was way more focused on social events to bring LGBT people together at the company. It wasn’t really focused on advocacy [but] it was a really nice way to get onboarded to a really big company and get to know a lot of people. But I did feel like it missed that advocacy-mission component. And I wanted to take it there.

JPD: Yeah. I mean most of my previous experiences were small startups or freelance. So I was literally “the only gay in the village.” It was cool to be at a larger company and actually have an opportunity to have queer coworkers — just having power in numbers. 

KS: In what ways do you think HOT helps create a safe space for queer employees at work, and why is that important?

OP: Someone told me that the pronoun lunch-and-learn happened during his first week at Thrive [Market], and it made him feel really welcomed. He mentioned that he works on the tech team, and there really aren’t a lot of queer people there, but having the lunch-and-learn really showed that there is a community at Thrive[Market] that he can belong to. It was awesome to get that feedback. To me that made it all really worth it. If you can impact people’s experiences and make them feel like they have a place at the company…the mission is there to bring that. So it was really successful in that way.

KDS: Yeah. I mean, we spend so much of our days amongst our colleagues. Can you imagine having to go through that experience and not feel included and not feel like you can come to work as your authentic self? And a lot of folks don’t even have support from their own families. So to have to deal with that, and then have to hide at work… It’s such a huge benefit to be able to feel supported and included amongst people you’re spending 8 to 10 hours a day with. 

JPD: Something that kind of struck me, talking about Pride, is [that] just merely by existing it is a protest, right? Just being here, being out, even making the ERG and being seen, is such a move in the right direction. What I think is so important is that we collectively want to make sure that the next wave has it a little bit easier.

KS: What makes the difference between brands hopping on the Pride bandwagon in June in a performative way, and actually taking meaningful action?

JPD: My biggest thing is, if a brand is just putting out some rainbow apparel, that’s always kind of a red flag. As a brand, you have to practice what you preach when it comes to Pride. And the authenticity comes from what you’re actually doing for the community, right? Not to say that all apparel activations for Pride are bad ones, but are you using a queer designer? Are proceeds benefiting the community? For me, that’s what I need to see from brands for them to have that trust and for me to see them as an actual partner.

OP: A lot of companies that do Pride stuff donate to a lot of people who are really against LGBTQIA+ people. When it’s performative to the level that behind the scenes they’re actually doing things against us, I get really angry. So it really is about, are they just doing it during June, is it just a Pride flag or are they using pronouns in their email signatures? Are they talking about gay issues outside of Pride month? Are they doing things later in the year that are Pride related? 

KDS: Yeah. I think it’s important when you’re planning these campaigns that you are getting feedback and buy-in from internal queer employees. Luckily I manage our Pride campaign. This stuff does not get finalized until it’s been run through HOT. 

KS: What’s making you feel optimistic or inspired right now?

OP: I feel very optimistic and inspired by Kristen and JP — working with you on HOT has been amazing. It’s just fun to not be doing this alone and have people we can lean on. And also our Pride activations, and realizing we have a full month of things planned — that makes me feel really optimistic and inspired.

JPD: I have to echo what Oliver said in terms of being inspired by my fellow Thrivers. I think it was Oliver who realized there wasn’t paternity leave for queer parents at Thrive [Market]. And I remember when he first brought that up, I was just like, “Oh my God, this is going to take years for them to even start taking action.” And then, it’s been updated — what was it? Within the year, right?

OP: Not even, yeah. We get full equal paternity leave to maternity leave and also an adoption benefit.

JPD: Yeah. And seeing the progress that Thrive [Market] has made just in terms of being open and allowing conversations to happen has been really inspiring. 

KDS: I’m super pumped and inspired by all the stuff we’re doing [for Pride in June]. Additionally, we are officially signed up for JEDI Collaborative: Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. We got executive approval to start a four-month Jumpstart Program to formalize everything we’re doing in the DEI space, and to figure out areas of opportunity and set public-facing goals. We’ve been doing a lot of stuff behind the scenes, but I think this is an opportunity for us to learn, and present all the learnings to our executive team and just really formalize all of our work around DEI, which includes the LGBTQ community. So I’m really excited about that.

JPD: It’s just really cool to see this perfect storm of having an ERG, our marketing plans reflecting more vocal affirmation of inclusion, along with working with some awesome queer people. It’s unlike anything else I’ve experienced in any other workplace.

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Kirby Stirland

Kirby Stirland is a writer, editor, and New York transplant living in Los Angeles.

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