Today we’d like to introduce you to Ryan Basham.
So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
Today, I’m an out-and-proud gay man who is chasing the dream of making the world a better place for LGBTQ+ people and other disadvantaged groups. My strategy for making this dream a reality is by building a career in entertainment, politics, and thought leadership that lands somewhere between Oprah and Jon Stewart (with a dash each of Al Franken and Harvey Milk) — both in front of and behind the camera. But getting here has been a trip.
I grew up in a small town in Northeast Tennessee. At the time, I felt like “the only gay in the village,” but I know now there were far more LGBTQ+ folks around me than I realized. I was this over-the-top, big dreaming, sometimes obnoxious kid who wanted to perform and change the world. There was no safe space for me there, so I protected myself by developing a larger-than-life personality as a defense mechanism. My ability to make people laugh probably saved me.
My mother saw the best in all of that and encouraged it. I got a lot of my verve from her—she was a two-time president of the PTA and later ran for city council. She was dramatic, entertaining, and hilarious: all things I wanted to be. But she was also an alcoholic who lost her grip on reality—and ultimately her life—because of her addiction.
Aside from her, most folks discouraged my aspirations and more bold personality traits. I also got a lot of “hate the sin, not the sinner” style of proselytizing from the largely religious community I grew up in. I vividly remember a moment when I was sitting on a stage in front of hundreds of kids, waiting to speak as a peer leader (something my mom got me into), when a prominent pastor came up to me and told me that, “sometimes we have feelings, but those feelings are wrong.” I don’t remember how loud his voice was, but it felt in the moment like the entire auditorium heard it.
All of this was well-meaning. These people really believed that they were doing the right thing. But it was entirely unacceptable. This behavior is pervasive and insidious and it leaves so many LGBTQ+ kids across the country (and world) emotionally scarred for life. It left me feeling quite alone.
So, I moved to LA. My initial plan was to become the next Brad Pitt, but I realized when I got here that there were a ton of young white guys who wanted the same thing and most of them didn’t have to pretend to be straight. (I also wasn’t attracted to Jennifer Aniston 🤷♂️.) From there, I leaned into producing film and TV as well as my passion for politics. I also bumped into being a life/career/executive coach somewhere along the way.
The ride so far has been incredible.
I unwittingly met Huell Howser when I sat next to him at the counter at Musso & Frank Grill. We had a long conversation and, just like Maya Angelou used to say, I don’t remember anything he said but I do remember how he made me feel. He gave me his email address and offered to support me in my budding producing career. I didn’t get around to emailing him before he died, and I regret that.
While volunteering on my political shero Torie Osborn’s campaign for state assembly, I was the campaign’s photographer for a fundraiser that took place on my producing hero JJ Abrams’ company rooftop. I was surrounded by entertainment luminaries like Bruce Cohen (producer, American Beauty) and I made zero use of the opportunity to build relationships. I stood silently with JJ for five minutes on the side of the stage. I regret that, too.
But there is so much I don’t regret.
Being in an award-winning ad campaign for Bonobos centered around the definition of masculinity gave me the chance to meet Queer Eye creator David Collins and thank him for the profound impact he had on my life. He probably gets that all the time, but he still took the time to completely receive my thanks and praise—something no one else I’ve ever met in this business has done.
I used my Emmy screeners to make an Instagram post homage to American Beauty, which led to becoming Facebook friends with one of the film’s producers, Dan Jinks. Later, he joined a panel I moderated for StartOUT!
My work in politics led me to a moment hanging out with Gavin Newsom in the back of the convention hall during the 2012 California Democratic Party Convention. It was just Gavin, one other person, and me. He was a riot, had the mouth of a sailor, and treated me like I was just another person who deserved to be in that room. That was the most fun I’ve had at any political convention, and that includes being communications director of the Young Democrats of America convention in LA three years later (which was, to be fair, a very close second).
But the “why” behind what drives me now took root on election night in 2008. I was outside of the West Hollywood field office of the Obama campaign right after we learned that Obama had won but Prop 8 had passed. I saw an older, gay, Black man staring up into the sky…crying. His existence had simultaneously been validated and invalidated by his fellow citizens at the ballot box. I already wanted to be a successful producer/entertainment personality and a social justice warrior. But it was then that I realized I had the ability to bring those things together. I figured that if Oprah and Jon Stewart could do it, maybe I could, too.
Fast forward to today, where I split my time between producing, coaching/training, and working to make a difference in the political arena.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
No. Being a queer person in this world is inherently hard, but I developed the survival skill of passing for straight when I need to. Having said that, even though there are a lot of advantages to being a white man that I don’t have access to because my sexual orientation creates an impassible barrier, I still benefit from white, cisgender, male privilege in ways that have probably saved my ass or otherwise made the difference more times than I could ever hope to count.
But the thing that really shattered my world was my mother’s slow demise and ultimate death from alcoholism when I was 20. My whole life was built around managing her when she was alive, and I lost my biggest cheerleader once she was dead. That was almost 15 years ago, and I’m still unraveling it. Finding strength in the support of such a flawed source is a mixed bag.
There have been mistakes and outside factors that have been stumbling blocks, too. I had a successful Kickstarter campaign for a (hilarious) card game but a total bust of a product launch thereafter. I co-founded a talent management company that lasted for about a year before my partner got a much better job. I’ve lost more than one deep friendship over business partnerships that have gone sour. I’ve been able to use being the “token gay” to get ahead in some ways, but I’ve rarely found a room I felt I truly belonged in (including among other gay men).
Being successful requires a lot of things, perhaps the most fundamental of which being an unwavering faith in one’s self and purpose. I’ve learned three things about that in my almost 15 years in Los Angeles: 1) The most successful people tend to exhibit that unwavering faith the majority of the time, almost as a given; 2) the reality is that most successful people feel their faith waiver all the time, but they do their best to keep going anyway, and; 3) having that faith is a skill I can get better at over time…and I’ll probably spend the rest of my life doing that.
We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
I’ve been a freelance (and award-winning, thankyouverymuch) film/TV producer for almost two decades.
I’ve also been a life, career, and leadership/executive coach and trainer for nearly a dozen years. Many of my clients are actors and other creatives (I was a talent manager for a while, after all), but I’m a pretty damn good coach and strategist—I was also a Chief Marketing and Strategy Officer for a badass tech startup—so I have a wide variety of clients. I also find facilitating workshops and retreats to be immensely fun.
But in the age of Trump, I’ve been most focused on politics. I’m the Communications Vice President of the Stonewall Democratic Club (the nation’s oldest LGBTQ+ and feminist political group) (https://www.stonewalldems.org/), as well as a member of the Biden campaign’s National Out for Biden team. I also created Stonewall’s leadership development program, which is designed to empower LGBTQ+ and allied folks to make a bigger difference in the political arena.
Right now, I’m most proud of Stonewall’s new political talk show/podcast, The Read Down, which I co-host. It streams live on Tuesdays (6pm PT) on both YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL7DdrqfbPhB1H3dvH_3OHflcbsImnpS2W) and Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/watch/StonewallDemocraticClub/302413864290330/) and drops as a podcast on Wednesdays. It’s like The View meets Queer Eye with a dash of Pod Save America—you should check it out! Please subscribe when you do. 🙂
My days are spent developing content, informing through political punditry, supporting others in turning their dreams into reality, and busting my ass behind the scenes to rescue our democracy and make the world a little more fair/equal for LGBTQ+ folks and other disadvantaged groups.
But I don’t come from money or a legendary entertainment or political family. Maybe I should start a Patreon?
Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
I could not possibly name everyone who has made a real difference in my life, but I’ll list some of the standouts.
My mother made it possible for me to even imagine that I could be a player in entertainment or a mover and shaker in politics. It all began with her. I also did not see as a child the massive scope of the sacrifices my father made to hold my family together and protect my brother and I from my mother’s lesser angels. I owe any semblance of sanity and stability in my personality today to him.
My high school Geometry teacher, Jenny Bishop, was a lifeline for me. As was the late Jean Petke, a mentor and friend who died before her epic autobiography could be published. Pat Cronin, a professor in my freshman year of college, treated me like I mattered at one of the lowest points of my life and made a lasting impression on me. Several people—mostly women—gave me little boosts all along the way in my formative years that helped push me forward to the other side of a traumatic childhood and young adulthood.
A lot of people in my life in Los Angeles have been vital supporters, collaborators, clients, and inspirations. For the sake of brevity, I’ll keep this to a few of the people who have impacted me most. Torie Osborn (former Executive Director of the LA LGBT Center and outright legend) taught me how to be an activist that actually makes a difference. Krista Petty, Michael Strasner, and Chris Lee taught me how to be a coach and trainer that makes a lasting impact. Collaborators and friends like Greg Swartz, Ben Whitehair, Phillip Daniel, Tanya Perez, Faith Lavon, Candace Bellamy, Chris Folkens, David Petty, Alex Levine, Wes Calimer, Gedaly Guberek, Lupe Zapata, Mary Jo Lorei, and Sarah Levin have made me a better artist and a better person. I also cherish time spent and lessons learned with a few folks that have drifted away, and I miss many of them deeply.
And while they don’t know me, Al Franken, Rachel Maddow, Jon Stewart, John Oliver, Hasan Minhaj, Margaret Cho, and Oprah Winfrey have all taught me how to be an entertainment professional and a fresh, compelling voice on matters of politics and society at the same time.
There are so many more. I feel like I’ll be tweeting about people I should’ve mentioned here for weeks!
- Website: ryanbasham.com
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ryanbasham/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ryanbasham/
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/ryanbasham
All professional photos are by Justin Michael Wilcox.