#42: Expert Interview with Dr. Ronni Sanlo [Podcast] - Jenn T. Grace—Book Publisher, Speaker, and Author Skip to the content

#42: Expert Interview with Dr. Ronni Sanlo [Podcast]

As always I thank you so much for taking the time out of your day to listen to this show. I really appreciate it.

Today’s show is an interview with Dr. Ronni Sanlo who has an incredible past as it relates to LGBT history. She’s been in the movement for a really long time and has been doing incredible work. She shares two stories during our conversation that are so moving that I had chills. I would consider her to be a true pioneer in LGBT rights. And because of that she has some really interesting thoughts around how to market to the LGBT community.

During the interview today one of my announcements was asking you to send your pictures of you reading my new book! 🙂

Here are some links mentioned in today’s episode:

Listen to the podcast by clicking the play button below!

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Thanks for listening today, I hope you enjoyed and found value in this episode!

Would you prefer to read the transcript than listen to the podcast? No problem! Read the transcript below.

AUDIO TITLE:  Episode #42 – Ronni Sanlo Interview

Intro:

Welcome to the Gay Business and Marketing Made Easy Podcast where you’ll learn how to do business with and market to the LGBT community in an authentic and transparent way. We’re talking about the $790 billion lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender community. We’ll help you grow your business, gain market share and impact your bottom line. And now your host – she’s an entrepreneur, a marketing maven and an advocate for the LGBT business community. Jenn, with two N’s, T. Grace.

Jenn T Grace:

Hello and welcome to episode number 42 of the podcast. I am your host, Jenn- with two N’s- Grace. And as always I thank you so much for taking the time out of your day today to listen to today’s show. I have a great guest coming up and I’m super excited to have her on. And one of the random things that I want to ask you right out of the gate, and I think by now you probably actually associate me with random because I do throw a random thing here and there for you. And I think you may know this, but I am a total podcast junkie. So I listen to, it’s probably about eight different podcasts right now, and I find value in all of them for very different reasons. And whether I’m in the car by myself I’ll be listening to them, if I’m out running I’m listening to them. Even sometimes if I’m just kind of in transit going from store to car or anything like that, I’m usually listening to a podcast. So I have found over the last couple of weeks that I have very specific podcasts that I listen to for a very specific timeframes. So if I am going to be in the car and I know it’s going to be a quick thirty minute drive, I have a thirty minute episode I listen to. And then also if I’m going to go out for a run, I know that I need one that’s usually about 45 to 60 minutes.

So what I want to know from you, is when and where are you listening to this show? I would love to hear it. I know from, actually a great deal of you, that a lot of you listen to it on your way into work in the morning. So I’m curious to know what your commute length is like, or if you’re going to the gym and listening to this, what that might be like too. I’m really just a curious person in general, but what I would love to do is to find out when you guys are listening to them, and what your ideal episode length would actually be like. Because I do have episodes that range from thirty to sixty minutes, and I know there’s other podcasts out there that are far more routine with the length of their episodes. So I’m just curious to know when you’re listening to it. Because if there’s a way that I can make it easier for you, I would love to do that. So like I said, just completely random as I was thinking about that as I was preparing for today’s episode. I thought, ‘You know what? Instead of just thinking about it, let me ask them.’ So here I am asking you.

So if you have a preference, just please shoot me an email, go to Twitter, go to Facebook; wherever you feel most comfortable finding me, by all means just head there. I’m at Jenn T. Grace in almost every single place you could possibly find.

Today’s episode is an interview with Dr. Ronni Sanlow who has an incredible past as it relates to LGBT history. She has been in this movement for a really long time, and has been doing incredible work, just downright incredible work. During our conversation she actually shares two stories that are so moving, I had the chills and I feel confident that you will as well. And I feel like she’s really one of those true pioneers in LGBT rights, and I don’t think I’ve had anybody in the past in terms of my guests that I could compare to the longevity that she’s had doing what she does. So I think it will be a really interesting interview for you to listen to just from kind of a historical perspective in a lot of ways, in terms of just the amount of things that she’s been through personally as it relates to LGBT equality. And the amount of impact that she as one person has been able to make throughout her career. So it was a really, really great talk and I’m so excited to have had her on here.

And of course I always ask my guests about marketing to the community and she brings up some really interesting points, and what I would love for you to just kind of be thinking about, is imagine if she were your target audience. She were your LGBT target. How would you try to market to her given the amount of experience and information that she has in her mind. Just kind of think about that, and it very may well be that she is not your ideal target audience in any way, shape or form, but she also could be. But even if she isn’t I would love for you to just kind of sit back and think about how would you market to her? Because I think that you might end up having some really interesting insights of your own around that.

Before we get into the interview, here are a couple of announcements…

I’m really excited to share this with you, but as always before we get into the interview I just want to give you a couple of announcements. Today I’m going to go with lucky number three for the amount of announcements. The first one is as always, I have a new webinar coming up. As you may know if you’re a long time listener, or maybe this is your first episode, I do webinars and they’re on a monthly basis. And they’re always just designed to teach you how to reach the LGBT community in your marketing and communications efforts. I pull relevant information that’s going on in the news, and I have a lot of open time for questions and answers; so if you have any question that’s on your mind that’s just burning, just head on over to the webinar because it’s your opportunity for us to converse one-on-one. Of course there will be plenty of other webinar participants, but you can certainly ask your question to me privately, or you can ask it in front of the audience of other webinar attendees.

I love doing webinars for this purpose, because I always get to find out what’s on your mind, which then of course helps me decide what to talk about in the next podcast, it helps me decide what I’m going to write about on the next blog post. All kinds of great stuff. So I would love for you to check that out and you can do so by heading over to www.JennTGrace.com/webinars; and you can sign up for the next one that’s coming.

Note number two is I have a fun task for you, and yes it is a task. I would love to see your smiling faces holding my new book. This might seem like a crazy request, but I have received a handful of pictures from people who are listening to this podcast or people who are reading the blog, and they are sending me pictures of their smiling faces holding up my new book. So I think it’s awesome, and you know by now that I love hearing from you regardless of what you’re reaching out to me for. So if you just want to say, “Hey, I love the show,” I love to hear it from you and I love to have conversations with you when you do reach out.

So I thought this might be a nice low-key way for you to just take a picture of yourself with the book and send it over to me, throw it on Facebook, put it in Twitter, however you want to do it. And I can actually highlight you. You know I’m always talking about being engaged with the community and being involved with the community, and if I can help one of you out, or ten of you, or however many of you want to submit a picture, I would love to. So I would love to show you in a featured blog post, talk about you on any of my social media outlets, wherever it happens to be. So for the sake of today, if you are listening to this and you’re in your car, if you go to www.JennTGrace.com/42 and that is for episode number 42, you will see the handful of pictures that I have received; not all of them but a couple of them, of listeners who have already done this. So you can get some inspiration from there. And then of course perhaps I can add you on to that same blog post. So future listeners can see your smiling face holding my book. And of course if you don’t have the book already you can head over to www.NoWaitYouDoLookGay.com and you can find out all of the information you need right from that page.

And my final thing to mention, and this does not have any particular action for you to take, it’s just more of an update because I have heard from a couple of you kind of wanting to know what my running progress has been. So again, for people who have been listening for awhile, you’ve heard me yammer on from time to time about my half marathon training. And I got an email just the other day from someone saying, “Well what’s the deal? How far have you gotten? What’s going on?” So it occurred to me that it’s been probably a good amount of episodes since I’ve even mentioned it. So I am still on track to run the Run Disney Half Marathon in November, it’s at Orlando and it’s going to be fun because you get to run through the theme parks and all that kind of stuff. And part of me really kind of wants to freak out that I’m going to be running 13.1 miles. But the other part of me feels really confident and really certain that I’m going to be completely fine.

The last run that I did with my running partner was about eight and a half miles and we were able to carry on a conversation the entire time, which I think is half the battle from what I’ve read. And we have about seven weeks or so, I think it’s just about seven weeks before we have to get 13.1. So I do have a ten mile run planned this weekend and I think I should be fine. Even if I have to crawl on my hands and knees across the finish line, I will be doing it.

So thank you for those who have reached out and have been curious of what’s going on with that. I am injury-free, let me find some- oh I don’t even have any wood nearby. That’s not good, I will have to pause and go knock on some wood. Hang on a moment.

And I’m back, as I hit pause I realized that the- which is irony at its best, the piece of wood right next to my desk says, ‘Strive for progress, not perfection,’ and it’s the thing that holds all of my racing stuff. So I do have wood right nearby to knock on. So yes, injury-free, happy as can be, very healthy, very active these days and thank you for your interest in knowing what’s going on with that. So I really appreciate it.

That’s enough with the small talk for now, and we can just hop right into today’s interview with Dr. Ronni Sanlo; and as I said before, I’m really certain that you are going to enjoy this one. So when you’re done listening, please feel free to send me a comment in any way, or reach out to her directly because I’m sure she’d love to hear from you as well.

Thank you and enjoy!

I am talking with Dr. Ronni Sanlo today, who is an educator, an author, a professor, a speaker, a woman of many, many trades. And I’m really excited- actually I would say that you are probably also a professional lesbian, would that be a fair assessment?

Ronni Sanlo:

Yeah, you know my colleagues used to call it a Promo Homo.

Jenn T Grace:

It sounds about right. You have quite a background so I’m really interested in talking with you today to learn more about your story, and just kind of hear more about who you are and what you do and how you are advocating for the LGBT community. So let’s just go right into talking about maybe your past. And maybe just give us a little bit about yourself and what your story is, that kind of led you to where you are in the point in your life where you are right now.

Ronni Sanlo:

Oh my gosh, there is so much. I knew I was a lesbian when I was eleven, but I didn’t want to be different from anyone else, I didn’t have the word, I didn’t know, it was 1958. But I fell in love with Annette Funicello, the best Mouseketeer ever.

And so that’s how I knew. And I just kept it hidden for years, and when I graduated from college I never acted on it. When I graduated from college a couple years later my grandfather said, “You’re almost 25 and you’re not married, what are you funny or something?” I thought, ‘Oh my God, it’s leaking out of me!’ So I called this guy who was like my default date in college and I asked him if he still wanted to get married because he’d asked me at one point. And he said, “Yes,” even though we hadn’t seen each other in two years.

Jenn T Grace:

Wow.

Ronni Sanlo:

And so we got married within three months of my grandfather’s remark. And pregnant immediately after that, and I’m thinking, ‘Now no one will ever again ask me if I’m funny or something,’ And I’m from Florida, so all of this is in Florida. So I got married, I had two children and 1971 is when I got married- at the end of ’71. Anita Bryant did her thing in Miami in 1977 and I came out in ’79. And promptly lost custody of my three year old and my six year old. So I was one very angry dyke. And that’s really what threw me into activism and to learning more about my history and what it meant to be a lesbian, I didn’t know. And I became very involved in Florida LGBT- well then, Lesbian and Gay politics, national gay and lesbian politics. Got fired from job after job for being way too open, apparently, and found myself- finally found myself homeless at one point. A friend came to me and said, “There’s this job with the state of Florida working in the Aids office and nobody’s applied for it-” it was an epidemiology job. “Nobody applied for it, so why don’t you?” I couldn’t even pronounce epidemiology. So I applied for it and I got the job and I was immediately the highest ranking lesbian in Florida government, and they sent me to CDC to learn how to pronounce epidemiology and how to do the work because I only had a Bachelor’s degree in music. So I did the work and I did it for seven years, and I loved it. It was a privilege really to do that work. And that job paid for a Master’s degree and a Doctoral degree in education. And all this time I’m harboring this really intense anger, it’s anger that’s pushing me forward of having lost my kids and not trusting anybody. And so it just was a very challenging time for me emotionally, but my work was really powerful and positive for me. And in 1994 I was invited to come to the University of Michigan to run their lesbian and gay office. And that’s really- I didn’t even know that universities had those, and actually not many did. There were only about four or five of them at the time. And so I accepted the position and I got into higher ed, and doing LGBT work in higher ed which really nobody was writing about. And I ended up publishing a tremendous amount of body of work. Got recruited by UCLA to grow their LGBT center, became a full professor at UCLA, and that’s the work that I did. I mean in a nutshell that was my journey up until I retired a couple of years ago. And I’ve always taught LGBT history, and it’s become very clear to me that we have a whole generation of people- I’m 67, and we have women who are ten, twenty, even thirty years older than I- and men as well; and if we don’t capture their stories we’re going to lose their stories and our history will continue to be lost. And so I’ve developed a little company, Purple Distinctions, where I help people write their stories; that’s what I do now.

Jenn T Grace:

I have so many questions, I don’t know where to begin. So your company Purple Distinctions, I feel like is absolutely fascinating in terms of capturing the stories of the older LGBT generations who- like you were just saying, if we’re not capturing them now we’re losing them.

Ronni Sanlo:

Right.

Jenn T Grace:

Do you have any- and this is me going rogue, I warned you. Do you have any like one particular story that you’ve helped capture that was just one of those mindblowing types of, wow I don’t know what would have happened if we didn’t capture this particular person’s message? Because I feel like every single person has a really interesting and unique story to tell, but oftentimes they’re just not given the platform or opportunity to tell it.

Ronni Sanlo:

Right, exactly. Or they don’t know how to write. They’ll say, “I want to write it but I sit down and I can’t figure out how to start, or I don’t know what to say next.” And actually they’re all interesting to me, and they’re all very powerful. I’m working on one right now with a man who- you know I’m a University of Florida alum, and he was at the University of Florida ten years before I- actually about eight years before I. And he was one of the people- you know, part of our history unfortunately, our higher ed history, is that the State of Florida created just very intense lesbian and gay witch hunts from 1956 to 1964. And the universities were the primary targets, and the University of Florida was the primary target of the universities. And so they were “searching” for homosexuals. And students were getting kicked out of school, faculty and staff were being fired; a number of them committed suicide, and they went after this one guy. And the only reason he survived it I’m sure, is that he didn’t go to college right after high school; he went into the Marine Corps. So here’s this big gay guy, a Marine, who’s now at the University of Florida and they’re trying to nail him- I mean they followed him, it was a horrible experience. But he made it through and he graduated and then got the hell out of Florida. But his story is just so profound to me, and he’s been reluctant to write- some people have told his story in some ways as they’ve talked about what was called the Florida Legislative Investigation Committee. And his name has always come up, but he’s never told his story. And now he’s in his eighties, he’s got two nephews- his partner died of Aids years ago. He’s remained single and he’s got these two beautiful nephews who he now feels very strongly about leaving his story as his legacy. And so that’s the piece that we’re working on right now, and as he writes this stuff- and he’s southern, he grew up in the south. I mean every piece of his story is so profound I just sit there and cry every time he sends another chapter to me. It’s crazy.

Jenn T Grace:

Wow.

Ronni Sanlo:

So there’s that- and all of the stories where people talk about the labeling that they used or didn’t use. You know the older women didn’t use the word ‘lesbian.’ That was a very challenging word for them, they were all ‘gay girls,’ if they used a word at all they were gay girls or they were gay. Or they were in the life. But the language has changed. And the other thing that’s changed that our young people really don’t get anymore; and I guess that’s really good. Is that we older folks needed our communities, our isolated communities. We created villages and towns and the West Hollywoods of the world and the Castro districts of the world. We created those places, the Pagoda in Florida, Discovery Bay Resort in Washington, Apache Junction in Arizona. We created these communities of people just like ourselves. And this younger generation, the millennials don’t want or need that anymore; they just simply want to assimilate and live in the burbs with their legally married spouses and children. And that’s a good thing, and I think that movement is all really a lot like immigration theory. We were going to study from a theoretical perspective. But our younger people don’t really understand why we needed those isolated places. You know and I’ve got a gay son who’s in his thirties, I’ve got two bisexual granddaughters who are teenagers, and my gay son has two sons with a lesbian couple; and I want to make sure that all of the children in my family are learning about all of this history. You know I as a Jewish child learned that if you forget the Holocaust it will surely happen again. And I think for we LGBT people, especially the older generations, I think we have an obligation to share our stories so that people understand why we did what we did so that they can live the ways in which they’re living now.

Jenn T Grace:

I find that it’s always interesting when you’re talking to somebody like yourself who really has a lot of experience and knowledge of what it was like. And then talking to somebody now who is nineteen or twenty and they haven’t a clue as to why they are almost equals; I wouldn’t say that we’re quite there yet. But with marriage equality just kind of like a domino effect right now, it’s not too far in the future where I feel like things will be fairly equal. And it’s always interesting to me when there’s just such a disconnect. And I think by having somebody like yourself who’s acting as an LGBT historian and capturing these stories, I would hope that there’s somehow a way to get these stories in the hands of the younger generations who in a lot of ways just have no respect for those who came before them, who are giving- basically are the reasons why they have the rights they have today.

Ronni Sanlo:

Exactly, and it’s because they don’t know the history that they don’t have the respect. They don’t know that they’re supposed to. The interesting thing is it works the other way around, too. The older people just don’t get the younger people. And the younger people have some challenges because in 29 states in this country, regardless of the status of marriage equality, in 29 states there is not protections in the state law around sexual orientation or gender identity. So in a state like Utah for example, which they’re about to finalize I think the marriage equality thing, they’re going to be able to get married legally on Saturday, so the work that we really need to be doing is how do we get sexual orientation and gender identity and expression in the federal non-discrimination laws? To me that’s where the movement should be going; and being able to get married- anybody should be able to if they want to, but that’s not what defines my civil rights. You know I can still lose my kid in some states, I can still be fired in 29 other states. You know all that stuff. So I just think that we need to be looking well beyond marriage equality if we’re looking at being fully equal in this country.

Jenn T Grace:

I was actually going to go right down that road, so I’m glad that you did instead. Because it is ridiculous when you think about the fact that it is 29 states and it’s almost baffling as to how everyone’s so hell bent and focused on marriage when our basic rights as employees, in certain states, are challenged on a daily basis. And it doesn’t even matter, you could just be fired for no reason whatsoever other than the fact that you got married over the weekend.

Ronni Sanlo:

Right, right.

Jenn T Grace:

It seems insane to me.

Ronni Sanlo:

Not for the fact that you got married but for the fact that you must be lesbian or gay, we can presume that you’re lesbian or gay because you married someone of the same sex.

Jenn T Grace:

And now we can do it without any type of repercussions coming back to us.

Ronni Sanlo:

Right, exactly. Exactly. You know when I did my Doctoral dissertation, I looked at the effects of silence on lesbian and gay educators in northeast Florida. And had anybody been identified in my study, they would have been fired from their job; and that was- you know my study came out in 1996. Today if a teacher comes out as lesbian or gay, they can still be fired.

Jenn T Grace:

You would think that something would have changed in the last eighteen years. And it hasn’t changed enough.

Ronni Sanlo:

No. So there’s still a great deal of work to do when we’re looking at the concept of equality. And we also have to look at it in a broad intersectional way. It’s just not us white people having to deal with this, that are undocumented students, the dreamers. There are a lot of those kids are lesbian and gay as well. I just read a study from the Williams Institute that 25% of children in foster care in southern California are lesbian or gay. So we’ve got to look at all of these other identities that we have as well, and see how one is impacting the other; it’s not just one thing to say, ‘Yes, lesbian and gay people now have their civil rights.’ It’s how do we do all of this to make sure that we’re working as allies for other populations who hopefully are working as allies for us as well.

Jenn T Grace:

Allies are such an important topic. And I know that when you and I were emailing, I actually made a note to myself to somehow talk about allies because I know that you had said that when somebody, a straight person, became an LGBT center director that there was some pushback but you were one of the few I would imagine that were really fully supportive of this person.

Ronni Sanlo:

Exactly.

Jenn T Grace:

So do you want to talk about that a little bit, because I know a lot of my audience are allies to the community that are genuinely trying to just learn and educate themselves so they can actually approach the community in that really authentic way that I like to talk about.

Ronni Sanlo:

Right, exactly. LGBT people don’t have to be the only ones that do LGBT work; just as African American people don’t have to be the only ones to do non-racist work. We’re all in this together and I don’t think any population can move forward in any way without their allies. I know we as LGBT people certainly can’t. Some of those most powerful people who’ve spoken out for us have been our allies. And in doing LGBT work on a college campus I think it’s an outstanding role model to let our young LGBT people know that there are many, many, many non-LGBT people who are willing and able to do the work alongside of us. So you know, I think that piece is really important. The other thing too about LGBT allies, is I know a lot of people who identify as allies, when in fact they’re lesbian or gay and they’re not out. And that allows them the space- and that’s okay, coming out is a very singular journey and however a person wants to do the work to make life better for other people, great. Have at it.

Jenn T Grace:

It’s almost like a testing ground, right? So if you’re saying that you’re an ally to this community of people who are marginalized, then you can at least get a sense of how other people might- what their perceptions might be if you then come out. And I’m sure there’s plenty of people who are part of our LGBT community who would have a problem with that being the case. But like you, I say it’s a singular journey. If that’s what helps you come out and get to that place, then do whatever it takes to get you there.

Ronni Sanlo:

Right. The other thing too is, these days it’s a lot easier to come out; the visibility is there and all of that stuff. And more and more people are out certainly, and there’s more LGBT visibility in the media and all that. But the reality is, and I was just emailing with a former student just over the weekend. He’s an adult, he’s a professor at a university, he was one of my Doctoral students a number of years ago. And he’s just now coming out as bisexual and he is having a difficult time. And it just reminds me that regardless of the visibility, regardless of how easy it is to be out now, that process of coming out, of acknowledging our differences; no matter what our age is, whether its 12 years old or 43. That process of acknowledging who we are in our full, honest humanity when our family and friends think something else of us, is very, very difficult. And I think we need to always be cognisant of, what I’ve always called HomoBiTrans 101. That there’s always somebody who’s about to take that very first baby step that every single one of us took at some point in our lives. And it’s just as scary today, that first baby step, as it was for us thirty, forty, fifty years ago.

Jenn T Grace:

Because it’s still an evolution of you as a person. It’s not necessarily just because of your sexuality. It’s no different than the growing pains of adolescence. That’s how I would compare it. It’s still going to happen whether you’re 12 or 43. And coming out I feel like is such an interesting topic, and it’s something that I’ve been talking to a lot of people about lately because everyone’s coming out story is just so interesting and unique. And sometimes they are absolutely gut-wrenching and you just want to curl up in a ball and sob. And other times they’re just so incredibly powerful. And a lot of times I think it’s depending a lot of different circumstances. But I would imagine that you probably have a whole- and of course the fact that coming out stories, it isn’t just one. That you have them sometimes on a daily basis.

Ronni Sanlo:

Absolutely. And not only that, it’s not just our coming out as lesbian, gay, bi and trans people, it’s also our loved ones who also have to come out once we give them the information. They have to come out as parents of, or siblings of, or best friends of- and that’s a journey for them as well.

Jenn T Grace:

And I don’t think enough people give the credit, or give the time, for people to process that when they’re coming out. Obviously if you’re coming out you’re focused on yourself. But when your parent or someone in your family has that immediate reaction where they’re just caught off guard, I feel like you have to give them time to process and to be able to get to that place. Because it’s changing their lives at the same time, it’s not just your life that’s now different; it’s everybody around you as well.

Ronni Sanlo:

Right. I mean I was in the closet for twenty years, I had twenty years to play with this idea. And I told my family, expecting them to love and embrace me instantly, was unrealistic.

Jenn T Grace:

I feel like when you’re younger, those who are coming out may be in their teens or early twenties. I think there’s less of an understanding that the person on the receiving end needs to process this. But I feel like as you get older, I would imagine it’s something that you’re more conscious of. Like you know, I’m dropping this on somebody. Now they need to just kind of- in a lot of cases, grieve. Just grieve over what they thought was going to be your life and your path forward. And it’s not; and not that it’s bad, it’s just different. And they need time to kind of get their head around that, I respect that. I came out when I was nineteen and I feel like I was a little bit mindful of this then, but not certainly to the degree I would be if I were coming out now. So do you have a coming out story, whether it’s family, friends, in the workplace, or just any kind of coming out story that’s one of yours, that’s one of your more memorable ones? Good, bad or indifferent?

Ronni Sanlo:

I actually have two, maybe three. But this one, this was an interesting time. I do a lot of consulting on college campuses, and I travel all around the country, and I’ve been doing that for years. And this one time I was on the red eye, it was 3:00 in the morning, 32,000 feet up in the air. And I’m sitting in a middle seat and this big guy Bubba is sitting next to me, and he gets chatty. And he asked me what I did for a living; I’m like half asleep and I’m thinking, ‘Okay do I tell him I’m a professor at a university, or that I’m a head dyke at UCLA?’

Jenn T Grace:

Decisions, decisions.

Ronni Sanlo:

Yeah. Well and sometimes you have to come up with those answers. And I decide, ‘What the hell, I’ll give him the big one. Maybe he’ll leave me alone and go back to sleep.’ So I told him I ran the LGBT center at UCLA and he just looked and me and he started to cry. And he said that he was flying home from having just visited his son who just came out to him as a gay man.

Jenn T Grace:

Wow.

Ronni Sanlo:

And he didn’t know what to do. He didn’t know how to feel about it, how to think about, how to deal with his son, how to approach his son. He was just lost. And we spent the rest of the night talking, and it was one of the most memorable evenings- nights, really, I ever had with a man. And it was magical- it was magic for both of us. You know, it was a privilege for me to hear his story, and I think by the time we landed he had a better understanding of his child, his adult child.

Jenn T Grace:

Wow, that is so fortunate for him and his son, that you happened to be that one sitting next to him.

Ronni Sanlo:

Nothing happens by accident, I’m sure of that.

Jenn T Grace:

I 100% agree with that. Wow, that is amazing. That is such a good story.

Ronni Sanlo:

It is, and this other- actually, really there are so many. But the other one that comes to mind right now, is this kid who was a high school kid. And his parents kicked him out of their home, they were Mormon and it was March of his senior year of high school, and they kicked him out. And he was couch surfing as just staying on friends’ couches, and that started in March of his senior year. At the end of April of his senior- so a month later, he broke into his home to get his mail. And he gets his mail and he sees that he had been accepted to UCLA but it was past the deadline, and there was a registrar’s email address on the letter and so he sent an email saying he had just come out as a gay man, he wanted to go to UCLA, he didn’t know what to do, he didn’t have the money for the late fee, and could they help him. Well because he said he was gay they sent his email to me, and I contacted my colleague who was vice-chancellor, and by the end of the day we had him admitted without a late fee, we had a bed reserved for him in Residence Hall, and I was going to hire him to work in the center so he’d have an income because his parents had probably cut him off. And I email him back and his email was cut off. And so I was talking with one of my students, I was just so perplexed about this, and the student said, “Look for him on Facebook.” And I was just learning how to do Facebook, I really didn’t even know what to do with that. This was a number of years ago. And luckily he spelled his name a strange way, his name was Michael but he spelled it in a weird way, and I was able to find him and told him that we’ve got him covered. And a couple days later this kid walks into my office at UCLA, and he just throws his arms around me and he starts crying. And I said to myself, ‘I’m thinking this is Michael.’ And it was.

Jenn T Grace:

That is amazing.

Ronni Sanlo:

So he started school- we let him start early during the summer, he started working for me, he was an amazing kid, I loved this kid. And so I submitted him for a Point Foundation Scholarship which he got, and they paid for the entire rest of his undergraduate career and he is now a law student at Columbia for which Point Foundation is also paying.

Jenn T Grace:

How amazing.

Ronni Sanlo:

And he still has had no contact with his parents. And so at graduation I was his surrogate mother.

Jenn T Grace:

Oh, that’s so sweet.

Ronni Sanlo:

And it was. It’s just amazing, it’s just amazing. I mean- so these kinds of things happen and these are the gifts of doing the work that I’ve been able to do and my own son came out to me on my birthday one year. I knew the kid was gay from the time he was a year old, but he didn’t know. It’s just fascinating stuff. And then my granddaughters come out as bisexual teenagers in Florida and to them it’s like no big whoop.

Jenn T Grace:

It’s amazing. And feel like there’s- going back to the generation gap, I feel like the generation gap from Baby Boomers to millennials, that’s a very clear and obvious gap. But then I think there’s also kind of a generation gap somewhere in GenX versus millennials, too. Because I feel like if you talk to somebody who’s in their mid-thirties even, coming out is so incredibly different than somebody who’s in their mid-twenties. And it’s really only a ten year difference. But yet that ten years has been so pivotal in terms of the amount of change that’s been happening across our country that I think that’s probably why there’s such a huge difference.

Ronni Sanlo:

Well one of the seminal points was in 2003 when the Supreme Court rolled back the sodomy law. You know, because now all of a sudden it’s okay to be sexual with a consenting adult again, it was not okay for years. From what, 1987 maybe, was Bowers v. Hardwick? You know that created that law. And so now in 2003, the sodomy law is repealed and- which really paved the way for marriage equality in 2004 in San Francisco.

Jenn T Grace:

It’s impressive what’s happened since 2003 to today in 2014; it’s a lot.

Ronni Sanlo:

It’s a lot.

Jenn T Grace:

So I’m sure that you’ve had probably a lot of ‘ah-ha’ moments throughout your life doing this type of work, but do you have one in particular that you just kind of can remember having that moment where you were just firmly planted and just knew that this is what you were supposed to be doing?

Ronni Sanlo:

From the day I walked into the office at the University of Michigan in 1994. I had such an incredibly strong sense that I was called to do the work. And I wasn’t a particularly religious or spiritual person, I am now. But I wasn’t then, but yet the sense of being called was so profound to me and I never was afraid. I walked into that space, it was Michigan which still has a lot of anti-LGBT stuff going on. And yet, I wasn’t afraid. I knew that I had work to do, I didn’t have my children but I was being custody of other people’s children for a short period of time, I felt. And I was going to protect these kids with my life. And I think that was the piece that moved me forward, I mean there are lots of other pieces but there was that one- the day I stepped foot in, that I knew that any fear that I had, any reservations that I had, had to go out the window because I had young people that I had to protect, and for whom I had to help create a path.

Jenn T Grace:

They were depending on you.

Ronni Sanlo:

And the following year, I developed- actually I feel like it’s the legacy I leave to higher ed, it’s the event of my heart. I called it Lavender Graduation. And it was graduation time, 1995 at University of Michigan. And I knew that the students had had a really crappy time going through school, I mean everybody who was lesbian or gay did back then. And I wanted their last taste of their college experience to be something that was positive. And so I created this ceremony called Lavender Graduation to honor their lives and their achievements and their gifts to the academy. And that was the first one in ’95 and now there are probably over 400 institutions around the country that do some version of Lavender Graduation. And every year I’m invited to be the keynote speaker at different Lavender Grads all around the country.

Jenn T Grace:

That is awesome.

Ronni Sanlo:

And every time that I hear that another school is having a Lavender Graduation it just reminds me of why I was there, and why I did that work.

Jenn T Grace:

And it’s incredible to think how you as one person have been able to impact and make change throughout so many other peoples’ lives. It’s incredible to think about if every person just really made some kind of concentrated effort to do something good for others; how much different things would be.

Ronni Sanlo:

You know Cory Booker who’s the new gay senator from New Jersey, one of the things he said as he was being sworn in was, “One person can’t do everything. But one person can do something.” And I think we all have a responsibility to do something to leave this world a little bit better off than when we came into it. And right now this world is really screwed, I mean there’s a lot of crap going on all around the world. And now Putin is hollering that he’s got a large nuclear stash and stuff like that. And another guy was beheaded today. It’s like, come on we can do something; those things are overwhelming and they’re probably way out of our control but we can do something that’s in our control in our personal lives, in our personal communities, that will help create change.

Jenn T Grace:

Absolutely. I’m sure that you probably feel this way, that you just feel like there’s some kind of innate responsibility that you have. Because I know I feel that way; for some reason I just know that this is what I’m supposed to be doing, is helping others in the LGBT community. And it’s like it’s not a burden per say, but occasionally you get in those moments where you’re like, ‘This is a lot of work and this is emotionally a tasking type of thing that we’re doing.’ So do you have anything that just keeps you motivated when you have maybe days like that where you’re just like, ‘It’s such a heavy lift for just myself, or just a small community of people around me.’

Ronni Sanlo:

It’s funny that you ask that, nobody else really has; but I’m retired. I have my retirement income, I have social security. I’m nowhere near being a millionaire or anything like that, but I have gracious plenty to live on for the rest of my life; I don’t have to do anything.

Jenn T Grace:

And you are doing a lot.

Ronni Sanlo:

And every time I get frustrated with what I’m doing or what I’m trying to do – because sometimes that happens – I think, ‘Why am I doing- I don’t have to do this! I do not have to do this, why am I doing this?’ And I stop what I’m doing and the next day I’m right back in it again.

Jenn T Grace:

Of course.

Ronni Sanlo:

I was brought up as a little Jewish kid, I’m the oldest of all the grandchildren on both sides of the family. And my grandfather was a Rabbi. And when I was a little kid I wanted to be a Rabbi but it was long before girls were allowed to be Rabbis; which really angered me as a kid.

Jenn T Grace:

I’m sure.

Ronni Sanlo:

But my grandfather always talked about ‘Tikkun Olam,’ Repair the World. And the other piece of that was the Hilal saying that says, ‘If not me, who? If not now, when?’ And I was brought up with all of that. It never occurred to me to not do something. So it’s just the way it goes, you know my mother is 88 years old and she still does all this stuff. She’s involved in so many community things, which is probably why she’s 88 years old; it keeps her alive. I mean she’s just so involved in so many things and it’s impressive to watch her, and to see her passion in the stuff that’s important to her. And I realized that that’s just simply part of my family dynamic.

Jenn T Grace:

Yeah, I feel like I’m right there with you in terms of it’s just kind of an innate thing. Some days I wish I could just kind of sit still and let the world be going on around me without having to be so active, but that’s not the case and it’s certainly not who I am. I feel like there’s no such thing as downtime in my world, I really sometimes wish I could find a better balance. But this is what makes me tick and it’s stuff that you enjoy doing, and you love doing so much that oftentimes it doesn’t feel like work. So the fact that you’re retired and doing all of this, clearly there’s so much of a reward there that it doesn’t actually feel like a job that you’re doing.

Ronni Sanlo:

Right, exactly. You know and it’s funny about that whole concept of balance. My professional association would ask me to be on panels to talk about balance because they knew I had none. But now, I mean I work a lot now but I work when I want and how I want to, and I travel a lot and I play a lot. Like I was out kayaking yesterday; yeah I did some work yesterday, sure because I wanted to, and then I wanted to go kayaking because I looked out the window and the water’s perfect. So I feel like I do have a tremendous amount of balance in my life now, and I’m not as multi-tasky as I used to be. But I do what I want to do when I want do it, and that’s actually a really strong motivator for me.

Jenn T Grace:

I feel like that’s almost better. If you can’t say that doing what you want when you want isn’t balanced, I feel like that’s the best way to be. Whether you consider that to be balanced or not. Because I feel like I operate the exact same way; so while I bust my hump on a regular basis, if I feel like being done working at 3:30 because that’s when my kids get home from school, to spend some time with them before the chaos of dinner, bath and bed occurs, then I’m going to and I don’t really care what anyone else around me has to say about it. Because to me, I do what I want when I want. But at the same time there’s that boundary and the respect of making sure that, obviously I wouldn’t make any commitments for that time, not in that sense. But just being able to have that control over what you’re doing, I think is a really nice perk that doesn’t come with every type of career or profession, or retirement for that matter.

Ronni Sanlo:

Right, exactly.

Jenn T Grace:

So we have gone down so many different paths that’s amazing, but I do want to take a moment here and just pause for a quick commercial break so then we can come on back and jump into some other types of things around business and marketing; all that kind of stuff.

Okay so here we are and we’re talking with Dr. Ronni Sanlo today. You have been a wonderful guest so far, we have every possible topic we’re talking about, I love it. And I want to bring us down a path of a little bit about business and marketing, specifically around LGBT since this is something you’ve been doing for so long I’m sure you’ll have some great tidbits for the audience. So my first question is actually just kind of around a piece of advice; whether I guess it’s business or otherwise, do you have a particular piece of advice that you were given at some point, that’s just one of those things that’s always in the back of your mind that you kind of guide your day around or just your career, or anything like that?

Ronni Sanlo:

Yeah, the biggest piece of advice that I got- the best piece that has always stayed with me; actually there are two of them but the first one was again, back to the day I started at University of Michigan the Vice President took me to lunch and she said to me, “No matter what you do in higher education, keep students at the center of your focus.” And I have always, always done that and when I teach higher ed courses, which I still do, that’s exactly what I teach my students. Is to always keep a student at the center of your focus. And as I’m doing this other work in my retirement as well and working with the older population, as I’m doing this work I always keep them in the center of my focus. That I’m working with human beings, I’m working with people whose lives are just right before me and that is truly an honor and it’s truly a privilege. And my responsibility is to also show up and be as honest and real regardless of with whom I’m working, to make myself present for them also.

Jenn T Grace:

Wow, that makes such perfect sense. That’s really good. I feel like especially with the amount of distractions that can happen, having a really clear focus is really important.

Ronni Sanlo:

Oh yeah.

Jenn T Grace:

So there’s a couple things I want to talk about. I definitely want to talk about marketing tips and feedback and stuff like that. But then I also want to talk a little bit about your documentary, because you briefly skimmed past your whole story in regards to Anita Bryant and your kids. And I’ve been really wanting to ask you more questions but I’m going to wait until we are right in that area of what’s a project that you’re working on. So for those listening, we are going to get to that. So if you’ve been thinking, ‘How has she not asked her about that yet?’ It’s coming. But before we get there, I want to ask you about marketing. And just for a tip or a piece of advice that you would give to someone else that’s listening to this, who wants to market to the LGBT community but maybe they don’t know where to start, maybe there’s too many options and they don’t know how to narrow it down, or is there just that one core piece that you would say, ‘If you do this, or educate yourself around this, it will at least point you in the right direction.’ Do you have anything around that that you would be willing to share?

Ronni Sanlo:

You know, the only thing I could say, I mean I’m not a business person, I’m not a marketing person. I just share what I have. I just try to be real when I’m approaching somebody or when I’m creating an ad that has to go out on social media or a journal or whatever. I just try to make it as personal as possible. But really I just don’t know a lot of that kind of stuff, I just do it. And there are companies that market beautifully to the LGBT community, which is the one that I really like is Matt Skallerud and his company called Pink Banana. He does a beautiful job of marketing and he’s ethical and he’s reasonable, and I really appreciate his work.

Jenn T Grace:

I do too, he was actually a guest on this show awhile back and I’ll have to make sure that I link that here for anyone listening who may not have heard it. But yeah, I would call him a godfather of LGBT marketing because he’s- not even age-wise been around forever doing this, but he’s like one of the pioneers I would say in terms of understanding how to market to the community. I know that you said that you don’t have marketing background or a business background, but just your concept of being personal I think is good advice in itself. To just really kind of pay attention to who you’re talking to, know who your audience is, and just be yourself and be genuine and authentic and transparent; because you mentioned Matt- you said he’s ethical. So clearly just randomly, one of the few things that you used to describe him was ethical is one of them. That’s something that people are always mindful of, they don’t want to be doing business with someone who’s shady. So just being authentic and transparent and genuine I think in itself is a really good piece of advice. So I want- and sometimes this is such a loaded question, and sometimes it’s not. But my question of how have you been able to leverage your status as an LGBT person? I feel like your entire life’s story is kind of using your LGBT status to the benefit of others. Do you have any other example around that, that you don’t think that we’ve covered yet?

Ronni Sanlo:

Yes. I am not a drama queen, and I own responsibility for my behaviors and my actions and my movement. And therefore, I have not- I mean I’ve done this in the past, that’s why I learned how to not do it and I find I’m far more effective. I don’t get tied up in my shorts around bickering in the community. I learned a long time ago that community bickering, organizational bickering, just keeps people oblivious from what’s happening around us in the larger world; and I think we need to be cognisant of everything that’s going on around us. And, there’s a place for every person. Every person’s got a good idea. We just have to find ways to incorporate all of those good ideas. So it’s been really important for me to stay out of the drama, stay out of anything that’s not mine; people use the hula hoop analogy. Everything that’s outside of the hula hoop that I’m wearing isn’t mine. And that way I can stay clean enough and cool enough to be able to deal with most situations.

Jenn T Grace:

I like that.

Ronni Sanlo:

Yeah, so that’s what I’ve tried to do and I found it works a heck of a lot better than getting caught up in the drama.

Jenn T Grace:

So we are now toward the end, and I want to ask you the question but then I want to give you the answer to elaborate on.

Ronni Sanlo:

Okay.

Jenn T Grace:

So what is one thing that you’re working on right now that’s really exciting? And that’s just something that I always ask my guests if they have some kind of conference or some kind of event. But I know that you have a documentary out right now that is kind of travelling the circuit. When I read the description for it I had goosebumps and I had tears in my eyes. I would love for you to just kind of- just share with the audience a little bit about the documentary, and then of course let people know where they might be able to catch a screening of it.

Ronni Sanlo:

Based on a letter that I wrote to Anita Bryant a few years ago, I was actually doing twelve step work. And I knew that I needed to let go of so much of that anger that was moving me forward. I do a lot of good work, I know, but I felt like the anger was just holding me back; keeping one foot just tied in cement to the past and I needed to move forward with love. And I figured out that in order to do that, I needed to go into a place of forgiveness. Of forgiving myself, of forgiving other people in my life, and I realized that also I needed to forgive Anita Bryant. And wrote the letter as a cathartic thing really, and then I put it in my memoir that came out a couple years ago. But it was something that I just had to do to help let go and release all of that resentment that was so overpowering in my heart. And once I did, I found such a strong sense of peace and gratitude and freedom in my life. And I also realized the gifts that Anita Bryant’s actions caused the LGBT community to have; we became far more political and far more cohesive because of the work that she was doing, which was really quite amazing. And so this film really shares a lot about that, there’s a lot of footage in the film that people have never seen before. What there is not in the film, is that pie in the face thing. I did not want that as part of this film. My son appears in the film and talks about his journey, which is quite powerful. Anita Bryant’s son, Robert, is in the film as well. And his part- he and his wife are both in it, and their part is very poignant. The film is really very powerful, it gives a tremendous depiction of LGBT history that people haven’t seen before, and it’s a lot about Florida LGBT history, national LGBT history and higher education LGBT history. And so I feel like my role is, yes it’s a story about my life but my life is a catalyst for teaching people these other portions of history that they may not have heard about before. And we are traveling around the country right now, we’ll be in Long Beach, California in two weeks. We’ll be in Tampa, Florida on October 5th. Seattle, Washington on October 11th. Provincetown during Women’s Week- the following week. Santa Barbara Film Festival the first weekend of November. We’ll be at the Ecuador LGBT Film Festival in the middle of November. And so we’re just continuing to submit to festivals and move forward. It’s really been quite a journey, quite a journey. The filmmaker I thought did a brilliant job; Andrea Meyerson.

Jenn T Grace:

That is amazing. And just for the sake of my audience, can you give like a two second synopsis of Anita Bryant in case anybody doesn’t know, or really know anything about her?

Ronni Sanlo:

Anita Bryant headed a movement in Miami in 1977 called Save Our Children that was created by a fundamentalist church. And Anita Bryant herself was Miss America at one point, and she was the spokesperson for the Florida Orange Juice Commission. And she created this anti-gay movement that repealed Miami’s new gay protection laws.

Jenn T Grace:

Thank you for elaborating on Anita Bryant; I know that she’s one of those names that I feel like a lot of people have heard of, but they don’t really know what it is that she did.

Ronni Sanlo:

Right, her work really was- well a lot of historians say that the current LGBT movement started with the Stonewall riots in New York in 1969. I contend that really our LGBT civil rights movement really started with Anita Bryant in 1977. And we moved from that partying perspective to some very serious political movements during that time. Harvey Milk came along a year later in San Francisco- well he was already in San Francisco as the supervisor and was assassinated the next year. And I think between those two events, that really is what jumpstarted the LGBT civil rights movement that we know today.

Jenn T Grace:

I absolutely agree with that. Wow, this has been quite an interview. I really appreciate you sharing your story, your wisdom around LGBT history. Just all the things that we’ve talked about. But before I let you go, please let my audience know how they can get in touch with you or read more about you, or any way that you would like them to get in touch with you.

Ronni Sanlo:

Thank you. My website is www.PurpleDistinctions.com, that’s Purple Distinctions plural – www.PurpleDistinctions.com. I’m on Facebook, Ronni Sanlo. My email is RonniSanlo@gmail.com and my name is spelled R-O-N-N-I S-A-N-L-O. I welcome all contacts.

Jenn T Grace:

Excellent. Thank you so much for your time today. This was fantastic, I really appreciate it.

Ronni Sanlo:

Thank you so much, Jenn. Good job.

Jenn T Grace:

Thank you. Alright, thank you so much for listening to today’s episode. As always, I hope you found value in it and you enjoyed it. And if you liked this episode, I’m certain that you’ll probably like some of my past episodes as well. So if you’re interested you can head over to www.JennTGrace.com/thepodcast. And you can also find a ton of useful information, including a three-part video series and many, many- actually hundreds of blog posts and other ways to connect with me by going to directly to my website as well; which is www.JennTGrace.com.

So thank you again for your time today, I really appreciate it. And we will talk in the next episode, stay tuned. Thanks everyone, bye.

About Jenn T. Grace

Jenn T. Grace (she/her/hers) is an award-winning author and founder and CEO of Publish Your Purpose (PYP), the acclaimed hybrid publisher of non-fiction books. Jenn has published 100+ books written by thought leaders, visionaries, and entrepreneurs who are striving to make a difference. Jenn T. Grace’s work elevates and amplifies the voices of others—especially marginalized groups who are regularly excluded from traditional publishing.

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