Ronni Sanlo is a passionate activist for the gay community who has spoken out about her own personal trials with being a lesbian. Her documentary, Letter to Anita, was shown at the LGBTQ Center of Long Beach at the annual QFilms Festival on Staurday.
“I think if I didn’t have my anger, I might have just laid down and died,” Sanlo said.
Sanlo is an activist who is not only outspoken about her own story but also helps those who are struggling with coming out. She has created a program called the Lavender Graduation, which celebrates LGBTQIA college students who have graduated.
In the film, Sanlo is seen facing harsh criticism and losing a lot of important people in her life because of her sexuality.
To make matters more heartbreaking, the film shows her being faced with having her children taken away from her because she was considered an unfit parent.
Sanlo married and had children with a man in fear of what her family and friends would say if they knew she was a lesbian. After finally coming out, Sanlo and her husband divorced.
During this time, homosexuals were not permitted by law to be parents. In Sanlo’s home state of Florida, singer and Miss Oklahoma winner Anita Bryant took to the courts to voice her strong displeasure with the gay community.
Bryant gathered the state of Florida to protest, and in 1979, Sanlo lost custody of her two children with very limited and supervised visitation rights.
“Initially, for the first few years it was awful,” Sanlo said. “It was horrible, my life was a living hell. I was very angry, I couldn’t keep a job.”
The film goes further into detail about Sanlo’s financial and emotional struggles.
For a period of time, Sanlo was homeless and on food stamps, which caused her great embarrassment and disappointment, especially on the rare occasions she was allowed to see her children.
Sanlo’s children were raised to hate her and those who were like her. When her children were 12 and nine, she saw them for the last time until they were adults in their 20s.
For Sanlo, this was the final straw. She decided she would find a way to stand up for the civil rights of homosexuals.
Sanlo eventually found herself a job with education benefits that she took full advantage of.
Though she began to do public training and start her journey, she still harbored a lot of anger that made her physically ill.
To ease her distress, Sanlo started a 12-step program and realized she placed a lot of blame on different people, more specifically, Bryant. Once Sanlo came to this realization, she was able to forgive those who had wronged her.
Sanlo wrote a letter to Bryant informing her of how she felt over the years, which is where her documentary gets its title.
Sanlo is now the director of the LGBT Center at UCLA and still receives emails from past students and is delighted that they are taking what they learned and are helping others.
“What fills my heart is that they’re all doing well. They’re moving forward in their lives and they’re going to pay it forward, whatever it was that I did for them,” Sanlo said.
Sanlo believes the most important messages from the film are that the LGBTQ community has a very important history, and if people forget this, the past will repeat itself. Individuals and the community must move forward and let go of their anger.