UCLA Spotlight


Ronni Sanlo, LGBT Studies

  • By Wendy Soderburg, Reed Hutchinson
  • Published Nov 1, 2002 8:00 AM

The impetus for Ronni Sanlo's groundbreaking work in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) studies began when she was just 11.

At the time, the popular television program among kids was the "Spin and Marty" segment of "The Mickey Mouse Club," with Annette Funicello as the female lead. "It was 1958, I was 11 years old, and I was in love with Annette Funicello," Sanlo says. "And I was in trouble."

Forty-four years later, Sanlo is no longer in trouble; in fact, her work in LGBT studies has dovetailed nicely with her background in education. As director of UCLA's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Campus Resource Center, Sanlo has combined her skills to produce three books: "Working with LGBT College Students" (1998); "Unheard Voices: The Effects of Silence on Lesbian and Gay Educators" (1999); and the newly published "Our Place on Campus" (2002), which offers guidelines for establishing and operating LGBT centers on college campuses.

Sanlo knows well how difficult it is to be a gay student. For years she hid her homosexuality from family and friends and behaved in "hyper-heterosexual ways" throughout high school and college. Shortly after she graduated from the University of Florida, Sanlo's grandfather asked her, "You're almost 25 and you're not married. What are you, funny or something?"

That remark prompted Sanlo to call up a guy she'd dated in college and ask him, "Do you still want to get married?" He said yes, and they were married within three months; two months later, she was pregnant.

Sanlo had two children during her seven-and-a-half-year marriage, but lost custody of them when she came out in 1979. She became politically active almost immediately, taking a job as the HIV epidemiologist for the state of Florida. At the same time, she earned master's and doctoral degrees in education from the University of North Florida.

In 1994, Sanlo became director of the LGBT office at the University of Michigan, where she helped create the National Consortium of Directors of LGBT Resources in Higher Education. Three years later, she was persuaded to apply for the position of director of UCLA's LGBT center. "At first I wasn't interested, but when I finally came here to interview, I saw things that I knew would present challenges for me," she says. "And I really wanted those challenges."

One of the enticements was that Sanlo would be allowed to teach. Through the Graduate School of Education & Information Studies' Teacher Education Program, Sanlo teaches a required course, ED 405, which focuses on identity and culture in education. And through her work at the LGBT center, she conducts sensitivity training sessions for faculty, staff and — indirectly — students.

"For example, I've been doing a number of workshops about our transgender faculty and staff for their departments," Sanlo says. "I believe that if we as faculty and staff are honoring each other in that way, we're translating that into honoring our students as well. Students are learning the culture of this campus from us."