Sallyanne Monti was born and raised in Brooklyn. Her family lived in Bensonhurst, also called Little Italy.

Monti is a terrific storyteller, a skill she learned from her grandmother—a chatterbox with whom she shared a bedroom as a child.

Bensonhurst wasn’t mafia-adjacent; it was mafia central.

“They were the mafia amongst your neighbors, the underlings,” Monti says. These guys—the ones who carry out the orders, not the decision-makers—held meetings in Bensonhurst’s Italian coffee shops and bakeries.

“There were shootings there constantly, people being killed,” Monti says. “My aunt lived across the street, and they would hear gunshots all the time. The police would ring their bell and say, ‘What do you see?’ And they say, ‘We saw nothing.’”

Although Monti skipped sixth-grade and was the valedictorian of her high school graduating class of more than 900, her family had no thoughts for her beyond marriage and babies. They’d pay for a wedding, but not college.

Monti met her boyfriend, Frank, at a wedding. She was 15; Frank was 19. Two years later, Monti graduated from high school and eagerly took a job on Wall Street at Chase Bank, where the company offered to reimburse her for her college education. It was a dead-end job, however, so she switched to Philadelphia International Bank, which offered the same reimbursement. Within six months, she became a supervisor—while still 18 years old.

Frank proposed, and when she was 19, Monti said “I do” in front of 250 of her closest friends. I’m kidding. Monti says she knew about 25 percent of the guests at her wedding.

By the time she was pregnant with her first daughter, she’d completed three years of college while running her own department at the bank. She and Frank would eventually have two more girls, then a boy … before something kinda crazy happened.

In 1995, the 34-year-old wife and mother sent an email to an incorrect address. It reached Mickey Neill in San Francisco; she replied. That response began a long-distance relationship that eventually blossomed into something neither of them could have imagined.

“I was so ingrained in, ‘You have to grow up, get married and make babies, and live that heterosexual life,’ that I couldn’t even fathom the thought that I was possibly attracted to women,” Monti says. “I never had a conscious thought about that.”

Sallyanne Monti.

Her book, Light at the End of the Tunnel: A Memoir, tells their story. It’s a wild ride, with twists, turns, roadblocks and torturous doubts along their journey to find each other.

Thanks to some karmic intervention, Monti and her family ended up moving to Alameda in 1996 (“One year and one month after we met!”), right down the street from Neill and her husband. Monti eventually divorced her husband; Neill divorced hers later. 

After a commitment ceremony in 2000, Monti and Neill began volunteering for Equality California. The couple’s focus was marriage equality, and on Feb. 16, 2004, they were the 834th same-sex couple to be married at San Francisco City Hall. Their journey was published by the San Francisco Chronicle, and picked up by Time magazine when their marriage rights were revoked in August of the same year.

While in Northern California, Monti had her own consulting business and was pulling in six figures a year. She was also extremely active in the LGBTQ community, producing and promoting high-profile events with leading LGBT community-based organizations, while also working in public relations and audience management for Showtime’s The L Word and Queer as Folk television series.

Her “bag of tricks” included producing monthly nonprofit literary/music/comedy events, with the proceeds donated to charity. She co-produced She Rocks 2005 music festival on the San Francisco City Hall lawn, showcasing five female-fronted bands.

On June 16, 2008, California’s Supreme Court ruled that barring same-sex couples from marriage violated California’s constitution. They married for the third time on Sept. 9, 2008. Two months later, the issuance of same-sex marriage licenses was halted due to voter passage of Proposition 8—a state constitutional amendment barring further same-sex marriages. On June 26, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court threw out Prop 8, making same-sex marriage again legal in California.

“I fully believe that we are all colleagues, not competitors. We should share everything we have with each other.” Sallyanne monti

Their children were grown by now, and the couple moved to Costa Rica. In 2016, they moved to Palm Springs—where Monti began her creative-writing career. Monti has co-edited multiple anthologies, and has written for them, too, including short stories “The G Spot” and “Happy Apples.”

Now retired from corporate life, Monti continues to give back to the community. She volunteers as director of marketing for the Golden Crown Literary Society, a leading lesbian literary organization, and for the LGBTQ Community Center of the Desert, among others. During the pandemic, she organized a 24-hour online entertainment festival with entertainers both local and from around the planet. She also performed, playing her guitar and singing.

I asked her why she devotes so much of her time to philanthropic efforts, as opposed to charging for her services.

“Like any other person in the world, as you evolve as a person and grow and mature, you take with you knowledge, resources, connections, people. … I’ve always really felt strongly about sharing that,” Monti says. “I fully believe that we are all colleagues, not competitors. We should share everything we have with each other. When I’m not on the planet anymore, wouldn’t it be great to have people think, ‘Wow, that person was really what she said she was’? That’s really something that’s very important to me, personally, that I’ll continue to do until I get dementia.”

Hopefully, that will never happen. I want to hear this badass tell me stories in this lifetime and beyond. I’m selfish that way.

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Kay Kudukis

Kay Kudukis is a former lead singer in a disco cover band who then became a Gaslight girl, then an actress, and then the author of two produced and wildly unacclaimed plays—as well as one likely unseen...