All photos courtesy of Leon Mostovoy
On a sunny Saturday afternoon in November, I find myself heading towards a giant rainbow flag on a busy street in West Hollywood. Turning the corner, I stop short at the entrance to LA's LGBT Center — a sprawling, multi-floor complex that includes a theater and an art gallery. Founded in 1969, it's the largest center in the world of its kind, and provides many services to the local LGBTQ+ community, including the one that's brought me here: an art program for gay and trans seniors, organized by cannabis business owner and trans artist Leon Mostovoy.
A blonde receptionist calls me "honey" as she directs me up a flight of stairs, where I find Mostovoy cleaning up the classroom where this afternoon's class just took place. Funded by a grant given to Mostovoy from the City of West Hollywood, the four-week program is taught by a rotating cast of LGBTQ+ artists picked by Mostovoy, including Amos Mac, Sam Feder, Sam Peterson, Luckie Alexander, and Michelle Patterson. All participants receive a stipend, and their multi-disciplinary work will be exhibited at a show on November 30 from 7 to 9 PM at the LA LGBT Center's art gallery.
Wearing sunglasses, dark jeans, and a shirt that says "MY GRANDMA IS A FEMALE IMPERSONATOR" in bold letters, Mostovoy is a self-described biker dude with tattoos covering both of his forearms. His tough exterior is underscored by a warm, charming personality that has obviously endeared him to his students, who pepper him with questions about their project deadlines. When they find out that I'm here to interview Mostovoy about his weed business, the conversation turns towards how to use a vape pen. "God dang, this is interesting technology!" remarks one woman, who notes that cannabis is increasingly popular amongst seniors.
After a quick dash to his car to grab his own weed pen — which he sells through a cannabis company called Pride Cannabis that he co-runs with trans porn star Buck Angel — Mostovoy sits down with me in the LGBT Center's breezy courtyard to discuss why cannabis is essential to LGBTQ+ and senior communities, the obstacles he's fighting to overcome in this space, and how art can give trans seniors the visibility that they deserve. Pride Cannabis is one of MERRY JANE's partners on Sex Week, and we couldn't ask for a more forward-thinking and progressive organization to collaborate with. Get familiar below.
MERRY JANE: How did you get into the weed industry with Buck Angel, an undoubtedly iconic porn star?
Leon Mostovoy: I started my first cannabis business after I stopped working in education three years ago. I had six months of severance pay to get another job, and I was like, Fuck this, I'll start a cannabis delivery service. One day, Buck and I were talking about how both of our dogs have seizures. I was like, "Come over, let's see if some of these CBD products are good for our dogs." Quickly we realized that we need to do this for our [LGBT] community, not just for our dogs.
So Buck and I started Pride Cannabis in April, which is a wholesale business with vape pens and topicals. We haven't done our big official launch yet, but I think our logo is cool, I worked on it with a graphic designer who works for Disney. Some people are like, "It's not gay enough!" But I'm, like, a trans biker dude… I hate that rainbow shit.
Are you over 18?
Buck is known as a porn star; he just won a bunch of AVN awards last year. He's also a motivational speaker — he travels all over the world and talks about being a cannabis activist. I was a drug and alcohol counselor, and was clean and sober for 15 years. Buck has been sober for 30 years and uses cannabis as medication instead of anti-anxiety pills or whatever that might be. So that's the intersection for Pride Cannabis and the sex industry, as well as the LGBT and sober communities.
How does Pride Cannabis give back to those communities?
Pride Cannabis supports LA's LGBT Center and its elderly services department — we give back a dollar for every product we sell. We also do lower price points for our vapes than what you'd usually find on the market. We're the first to target our community and say, "Hey look, we have all these issues in our community." Let's be honest — as a community, we suffer from a lot of shit, emotionally and physically. We lost most of our generation from HIV and AIDs — I lost half my friends. It's a real thing. So that's what we're about.
Buck Angel (left) with Leon Mostovoy
How does cannabis benefit LGBTQ+ seniors?
It's much better than pharmaceuticals. Those pills are really hard on your body, your liver, your stomach. So many seniors and medical patients use our services because cannabis is much healthier than the narcotics they're on. Some people need indica because of AIDS and HIV, to help with their appetites. CBD also really helps with inflammation, pain, and nausea control. You can't OD on marijuana, while you certainly can on other drugs, and it's not a gateway drug. That's a huge point.
Are you over 18?
What about gay and trans people in general — how could cannabis help these communities?
It's not like our bodies being trans or LGBT are different from anyone else's, but we do suffer from more [mental] health issues like anxiety, depression, and PTSD. The trans community in particular has a horrible time because of economic disadvantages. There are also so many people in our community who are on so many drugs. Many trans people can't afford housing, and it's a huge problem.
There's still a lot of sex workers in the gay and trans community, too. That's how they make a living. This area right there [points down the street] used to be where all the trans girls were. They're on the street because they're junkies. We want to advocate getting some kind of program where they can [use] cannabis instead of hard drugs. If you're going to be shooting meth on the street corner — which they are — I think it's better if you're smoking weed instead. If you wanna go fast, smoke sativas like XJ-13 — that's a very speedy weed. If you're a junkie or alcoholic, CBD and indicas are great. Cannabis really does help with withdrawals from hard narcotics.
What obstacles have you faced in entering this space between cannabis and the LGBTQ+ senior community?
Cannabis is still so stigmatized. Up until a few years ago, it wasn't even spoken about. The seniors, especially if they're conservative, don't want their friends to think they're doing it. But while vaping gets dicey for them, if they're eating a cookie that's OK — edibles don't bother them because it's not stigmatized, they don't see that connection. What's also really good is topicals. With my weed service, we have 178 items and we're gonna do edibles and tinctures, too — that's the way to get to these seniors.
Are you over 18?
When we first approached the director at the LGBT Center, he was like, "Sure, all the seniors are smoking weed." But they won't let us give out vapes at their big events because it's still too much of a stigma, and they're worried about legal things. Even trying to give money back to our community is not that easy. We presented the LGBT Center with a check on Trans Pride Day. It was a huge deal for the biggest LGBT center in the world to vet us because they have all these big donors and are hugely political.
The bigger issue is that the laws are really fucked up right now in California. They say we're going legal in January, but no one knows how or why. No one knows how to get a license or accomplish legal status. No one has put the steps into place.
Buck Angel hitting one of Pride Cannabis's amazing vape pens
You're using grant money from the City of West Hollywood to do a month-long art program at the LGBT Center. How did today's class go?
People were really into it today. They were talking about the term "elders." Some liked the idea, and others didn't think it represented who they are. One woman just transitioned four years ago, and she's re-embodied herself as this new person — you get your hormones, and go through a second puberty. She's like, "I'm young again," so "elder" doesn't represent how she sees herself. Yet other people see her as an old woman. But another woman said she considers herself a pagan, and elders in the pagan religion are very revered people. So the term did represent her, because she has gotten wiser with age and through her transition.
Are you over 18?
It's interesting how anywhere else in the world, you have to be 60 to 65 years old to be considered a senior. But in the LGBT world, at 50-years-old you're considered an elder and get senior services, like at this center. Because that's the age when those services are needed. That's also when people in the community start to feel ostracized.
Why was it important for you to do this series of art workshops for gay and trans seniors?
I felt like nobody was talking about elders. The LGBT community is really focused on young people and partying. Especially in the queer scene, a bar is where you meet someone, because until recently it had to be hidden. It was also very recent that we got marriage rights. So most seniors don't have any sense of security that the cis straight community would have. I thought it was important to do an art project where they got to say, "I'm here, I'm alive, this is what I want to talk about. Somebody hear me." It was a way to give them visibility.
All the artists are trans and get paid. All the elders who take the class also get paid. That was a big deal to me, since artists and trans people often don't get paid. So I worked that into the grant: everybody got a stipend. And at the end of the program, we'll exhibit all their projects at the LGBT Center with a big art show on November 30. You should come and bring everyone you know!
Are you over 18?
Follow Michelle Lhooq on Twitter