In 1977, singer Anita Bryant launched an anti-gay campaign called Save Our Children. In 1978, Ronni Sanlo came out as lesbian and lost custody of her two children because of the idea that “gays are unfit to parent.”
Bryant’s campaign was a large proponent of why this happened to Sanlo and other lesbian and gay parents.
At 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 9, the Texas Tech Office of LGBTQIA hosted a showing of the film "Letter to Anita" as part of Pride Week.
“Letter to Anita” documents Bryant’s anti-gay work and the effects it had on legislation, the gay rights movement as a whole and one person in particular, Ronni Sanlo.
After losing custody of her children, Sanlo became an LGBT civil rights activist and worked in LGBT offices on multiple college campuses around the nation, and she is currently the Director Emeritus of the UCLA Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Center.
When she arrived at UCLA, her office was what used to be a maintenance closet, but there was a balcony overlooking campus in the outer offices, and she was determined to make the community visible on campus, so she had a rainbow flag hung on the balcony on her first day there.
“From there, we just started building this whole process,” Sanlo said. “Trying to create a space that students could come, because people thought – even in Los Angeles – that it’s the place you go to meet other gay people to have sex with. So, we had to be very clear with them that this was a service provision office, just like every other service providing office on campus, and that we had information that others could use.”
Jody Randall, director of the Office of LGBTQIA at Tech, said she also had her first job in a closet and is currently facing an issue that has a lot of moving parts and different opinions that go into it, which is making it difficult to find a solution.
“Our biggest challenge right now is we look institutionally at how we’re making progress really seems to be focused around housing and residence life,” Randall said. “Which continues to be, to this day, an often-times difficult area. You’re dealing with lots of different constituents, lots of different opinions, but that is where we are falling short.”
Beyond room-placement issues, Randall said the Office of LGBTQIA is having issues getting enough time to train residence staff, but Sanlo encouraged Randall to do whatever she can with what she has at her disposal and to keep pushing for more.
While Sanlo has worked at universities in California and Michigan, she has also worked at universities in Florida, which is where she was born.
Sanlo’s work in Florida resonated with one of the attendees, Marcus Graham, the lead administrator for Student Support Services at Tech. Graham grew up in Florida, and he said that seeing some of the scenes from the film really hit home for him.
“I felt really connected to it, mainly because a lot of the work that she has done is in Florida,” Graham said. “It’s truly powerful in a sense that she as an individual was able to do all of the things that she did and not give up when there was numerous times she could’ve simply gave up.”
For a time, one of the things Sanlo said kept her from giving up was her anger toward Bryant and how she had been affected by her actions.
“I have to say it fueled me for a very long time. It wasn’t a healthy fuel, but I came to understand that my holding onto that anger toward a person who didn’t even know me, who was not at all affected by my anger – the only one affected by my anger was me.”
Sanlo said she began looking inward and found she needed to get to a place of learning to love who she is and live life without holding onto anger.
“Maybe I needed to look at myself, maybe the anger that I was feeling externally, was really internalized anger, and that I really needed to work on dealing with the anger that I had towards myself,” Sanlo said. “When I was able to let go of that anger, I just felt a tremendous sense of freedom.”