Michael Stuckey’s personal commitment to equitable treatment for all people made a Pride Month initiative for Kansas City distillery Lifted Spirits a no-brainer, he said — even as multinational brands like Bud Light and Target have seen backlash to pro-LGBTQIA+ campaigns.
“It’s not a complex issue to me, honestly,” said Stuckey, founder of Lifted Spirits. “I look at it and think, ‘This is the way that humanity should be, and could be, and that’s what I want to see in the world.’ … At the end of the day, it’s about how we treat other human beings, and we get to say, ‘We think everyone should be treated equally, and well.’”
As part of the June Pride Month effort, Lifted Spirits Distillery has teamed up with the Kansas City Center for Inclusion (KCCI) for the “Be Brilliant, Be You” awareness and fundraising campaign, an effort to support the local LGBTQIA+ community.
Throughout the month, Lifted Spirits will donate $1 from every sale of its Brilliant Vodka in Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska to KCCI, a nonprofit that provides resources, support groups, education, programming, and affirming spaces to Kansas City LGBTQIA+ community members.
Click here to purchase a bottle of Lifted Spirits’ Brilliant Vodka and support the “Be Brilliant, Be You” campaign.
The fundraiser is part of the distillery’s ongoing commitment to uplifting marginalized communities and providing a welcoming environment for all, Stuckey said.
“Something that we really, really believe in at Lifted Spirits is treating people like people,” he added. “It’s also something that needs to be talked about, because people who have been marginalized for a really long time — and are continuing to be marginalized — need to be lifted up.”
Though the campaign’s name also matches the product, Stuckey noted that Lifted Spirits chose to emphasize the word “brilliant” intentionally.
“We really want people to be brilliant, and we think people are brilliant,” Stuckey said. “That’s part of this campaign, too. It’s not a ‘Be better, humanity,’ it’s a ‘Be yourself, humanity.’ Human beings are brilliant, amazing creations. … This is an opportunity for us to say, ‘Let’s be good to each other.’”
“I think by making spirits, we can make the world a better place,” he added. “And this is a way for us to do that.”
Challenging a climate of fear
Both Stuckey and Keaton Vaughn, president of KCCI, emphasized the importance and value of visible support of the LGBTQIA+ community from businesses and individuals.
“LGBTQIA+ people need your support every day, and we need it at this time more than other times because of the political climate, and all of the backlash, and state legislatures right now taking our human rights away,” Vaughn said.
“The opportunity to have this partnership now, while that’s going on, [and] giving us visibility, helping to put our message out there so we can connect with our community and let them know that they can reach out to us for resources that they need is super important,” Vaughn added.
Stuckey agreed, noting that he knows many people in the queer community are afraid — a feeling he’s passionate about correcting.
“I look at the current climate, and people are living in fear,” Stuckey said. “They’re scared about how they’re going to be treated, and I want to see that change.”
Though Vaughn said support of the LGBTQIA+ community during Pride Month is welcomed and appreciated, they underscored the need for allies to maintain that commitment year-round.
“It’s important all of the time, because we are here all of the time,” Vaughn said. “As LGBTQIA+ people, we are in the community every single day, living our lives, doing our jobs.”
“As someone who helps to run a nonprofit, we can’t do that without funding and without buy-in from the community,” Vaughn continued. “Partnerships like this lift us up and allow us to complete our mission. We operate 365 days a year, so we need that type of support all throughout the year.”
Stuckey again echoed those same sentiments, calling on other businesses to step up during Pride Month — and beyond.
“The need doesn’t go away just because June is over,” Stuckey said. “I’m glad that we have the opportunity to do this during Pride Month, but I’d very much like to see more than just Pride Month. I’d like to see some effectual change in the way we treat each other.”
Vaughn said that businesses can do a variety of things to show LGBTQIA+ community members that they are welcome in their spaces, including displaying Pride flags and stickers, having inclusive restrooms, and promoting their values on social media and their websites.
They added that organizations should keep their donations local in order to ensure that the impact stays within the community.
“There are a lot of organizations that help on all kinds of levels, but if you’re giving back at the local level, the impact is local,” Vaughn said. “The work that we do is helping LGBTQIA+ people who live here in Kansas City, who need our help today. … So if you’re a business that gives out donations, think about giving them locally, making sure there’s a local impact.”
We’re all still kids on the playground
In addition to the “Be Brilliant, Be You” campaign, Lifted Spirits plans to host the Pride Patio Party at the distillery 2:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, June 24.
The event will feature a live DJ, food truck, raffles with prizes, as well as burlesque and drag performances from VAMP KC.
Click here for more event details.
“Let’s be aware of what’s going on, but let’s also have some fun with it, and create a safe place for people to come together,” Stuckey said about the event. “It’s going to be crazy; it’s going to be fun and beautiful and quirky. I think it will exemplify some of the best things about humanity — that we get to play — and it’s a good opportunity to raise some money for KCCI.”
Vaughn said that KCCI representatives will be in attendance to share with guests about their work and mission, and reiterated that the nonprofit couldn’t complete its mission without partnerships like this one.
Stuckey’s goal is that Lifted Spirits can serve as an example for others on how to create a welcoming, safe space for all, especially those in marginalized communities.
“I want to see more safe places … where people don’t have to be afraid anymore,” Stuckey said. “It takes more than just a sticker; it takes intention.”
Ultimately, Stuckey hopes all people will internalize the lesson of treating others with respect, kindness, and decency, no matter what.
“At the end of the day, we’re all still kids playing on the playground,” Stuckey said. “Some of us want to play kickball, and some of us want to play on the swings, and some of us want to play on the monkey bars.”
“There are still bullies out there,” he continued. “Instead of bullying, we should go play kickball if we want to play kickball; we should go play on the swings if we want to play on the swings. But if you want to play kickball and your friend wants to play on the swings, then let them play on the swings.”