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GoNOLA Interview: Ryan Sallans, Keynote at New Orleans Pride Festival

Ryan K. Sallans is a public speaker, diversity trainer, consultant, and author specializing in healthcare and workplace issues surrounding the LGBTQ community. He also works with organizations and universities on LGBTQ social issues, and media literacy related to eating disorders and body image. Since 2005, Sallans has traveled the nation sharing his story about transitioning from female to male with diverse audiences. His story intermixes humor with intricate, clinical details surrounding the transition process.

second son book
LGBTQ activist Ryan Sallans poses with his book. (Photo courtesy Ryan Sallans)

After starting his transition from female to male in 2005, Sallans began sharing his personal story while also exploring ways to increase access to healthcare for the transgender community. Today, Sallans is known as a professional speaker and author of the book, Second Son: Transitioning Toward My Destiny, Love, and Life.

We spoke with Sallans, who will be giving the keynote address at this year’s Pride Festival in New Orleans, starting June 19.

What are you most looking forward to with your upcoming New Orleans visit?

Everything about this visit I’m looking forward to. I’m looking forward to actually visiting New Orleans for the first time in my life. I always hear about Cafe du Monde and beignets so I need to check that out. And also being able to share my transition story in the keynote speech with attendees. It’s always nice to be able to join transgender issues with the lesbian gay and bisexual issues to continue to try and create a more accepting community of all identities.

Anything else you’ve heard about New Orleans – places or different types of food specific to New Orleans?

The French Quarter. I always hear about the French Quarter, and I’ll be staying there. My wife has been to New Orleans a few times and one of my good friends is from the region so I’ve heard a lot about the culture and the music and the energy that thrives in the area.

Why, in your view, is Pride still important? How has it changed in the 10 years that you’ve been a spokesperson and talking in this arena?

It’s important because it’s a day/month of celebration for the LGBTQ community. It keeps us all connected. And hopefully, you are reminded of our history of the experiences of oppression that the LGBTQ community experienced in the past and the need to continue to fight for equality in the United States.

One of your Twitter posts mentioned the changes you’ve experienced in the last 10 years.

I was referencing the amount of exposure that we’ve had within the past four years for the transgender community within mass media and the changes that we’re seeing around policies – not only at federal or state level – but also within either companies or schools; curriculums that are recognizing the need not only to be more inclusive of the transgender community but also to talk more about gender, because gender identity and expression is part of all of us so being able to talk more about it and move away from those binary views of male/female or masculine/feminine. We really gained a lot of speed in creating these dialogues.

Can you give a preview to our readers on what you’ll be talking about while you’re here?

Yes – In my work, I have noticed many times there’s been confusion or misunderstanding of the transgender community by folks in the lesbian, gay, and bisexual community so I’ll talk about the joining of the communities and the importance of that. I believe that one of the best ways to help with confusion and misunderstanding is by sharing personal stories. I’ve had a lot of success in breaking down barriers by sharing my own transition story – and in that, allowing people to ask me questions to help them better understand what the transition process is like and move beyond just the transition and see the person for who they are, not just because they are transgender.

How did you meet your wife?

She’s a therapist who works with the transgender community, and I always joke that she was not my therapist. She was doing work in Omaha, Nebraska. I was doing work in Lincoln. We had never met but we’d heard of each other for several years, and then one day she reached out to me over email asking if I’d like to join a coalition of professionals that serve the transgender community in Nebraska. I agreed and joined. We just started hanging out after meetings and after a year and a half of hanging out, running to each other at parties, going to the same conferences, and even being on the same airline at times, we realized that we were in love.

New Orleans is known as a very romantic city. What are some of your favorite romantic things to do as a couple?

The number one thing is just being able to have new experiences with one another. So just visiting New Orleans is going to be romantic for us because it will be my first time and our first time together. Being in the French Quarter and find a little restaurant that we stumble upon, just because we’re big foodies, so any time we can have good food and a good glass of wine, we are happy. Just stumbling in somewhere and enjoying that night and that environment together is really important to us. And when there’s opportunity, being able to get outdoors. My wife and I are huge hikers; we just love being in the outdoors.

Besides Pride New Orleans, what else are you up to? What’s next for you?

I’m bringing copies of my book with me for sale after the evening events on that Friday night. I’ve received wonderful reviews for the book, and every time someone messages me, they say they pick it up and can’t put it down. I like to write in a manner that kind of puts you in the environment with me. This has been a year of me doing keynote talks – I’ve already done two keynotes this year prior to Pride, and I’ll be the keynote speaker at FTM World Fitness Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, this fall and then also for a big residential hall association conference for colleges in the midwest also in the fall, which will be exciting. To be able to do this work and reach out to different people and hopefully open their minds a bit more to how diverse we all are.

For more information and news on the city’s LGBT community, sign up for New Orleans’ LGBT e-newsletter here.

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