Behind the scenes with actor, activist, and celebrity host Ron B

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Ron B on the set of
Ron B on the set of "No Boundaries." Photos by Alina Oswald

No Boundaries — Up Close & Personal

Ron B on the set of "No Boundaries."
Ron B on the set of “No Boundaries.”

On a bright, sunny day in early spring, Ron B. sits in her dressing room at the Manhattan Neighborhood Network studios in New York City. She’s getting ready for yet another taping of her award-winning show, No Boundaries — Up Close & Personal. It’s a new season of No Boundaries, and the celebrity host is super-excited about it. 

If the name Ron B. sounds familiar, it’s because it is. The SAG-AFTRA actor is also a lifelong LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS activist. She has appeared in movies like Angels in America, and TV series like Law & Order and Shaft. Over the years, she has performed and made appearances in numerous New York and New Jersey events, such as the New York City Pride March, Jersey City Pride Fest, Staten Island Pride events, and World AIDS Day Union City performances, as well as at the LGBTQ Expo and New York City Hall, to mention only a few. 

Ron B. has been an actor and entertainer for over 20 years. She is also Native American Indigenous, and one of the first out transgender, nonbinary actors within SAG-AFTRA, and one of the few playing both male and female roles. That, in itself, is not easy to do. And it’s not about an actor’s sexual identity, but rather about their craft. 

“It was important for me to come out,” Ron B. said. “Just because [one is] this way [or that way], it doesn’t mean that [one is] going to close up and go into a corner, you know. We all bleed the same.

“I think people need to get a reality check,” she goes on. “LGBTQIA people, we’ve been here since the beginning of time, [just] look at history.” She points out that LGBTQIA individuals have always been around. “I don’t know if you know this,” she said, “but there were transgender nurses in the Civil War. Yes! They took care of many patients, of soldiers. And some of the most prominent people — from artists to politicians — are members of the LGBTQIA community. You have to understand. It’s not easy to be who we are. I think my indigenous blood made me more of a warrior. I didn’t settle. I didn’t really care what people thought of me, as long as I kept my freedom to be able to be me, as a transgender individual.”  

Over the years, Ron B. has become kind of a “mother figure,” a mentor, and a role model for many people — not only creatives or younger individuals, and also not only members of the LGBTQIA community, either. And she has embraced them all, always being there for every one of them with a kind word of advice, or just simply there for them.

Ron B.’s show, No Boundaries — Up Close & Personal, was first taped in Staten Island, New York, and then it moved to the MNN studios, in New York City. Along the way, it has attracted well-known as well as lesser-known artists and offered a platform for creatives and activists alike to freely express their opinions, talk about their art and activism, as well as about the reality of life, in all its aspects. There are truly no boundaries to the topics discussed, candidly, on the show — everything from equal rights to women’s rights and women’s empowerment, from trans rights to marriage equality, from living with HIV and AIDS (then and now) to living with depression, as well as stories about LGBTQ elders, celebrating Pride, and much, much more. 

Ron B in the dressing room on the set of "No Boundaries."
Ron B in the dressing room on the set of “No Boundaries.”

With the new season, the show will continue to encompass people coming from all walks of life, from across the country and around the world, and offer a platform for up-and-coming artists of all kinds, in particular LGBTQ artists, thus giving them a chance to be discovered. 

“You know, it’s s been almost 25 years that the show has been going on,” Ron B. said. “And it was fabulous, but as time goes by, we are trying to enhance the show, which has already been a fixture here at MNN, and perhaps inject a different type of energy. So, I’m really excited about it.”

When she first started the show, certain important issues needed to be brought to light on the set and through the panel discussions. Now, while some of those issues could be solved, like marriage equality, for example, or better treatments and medications for HIV, other issues still linger. Depression, the stigma of mental illness, and other new issues have surfaced or have been brought more forcefully to the front, like climate change, for example. 

“Now we have marriage equality,” Ron B. reiterates, “but we’ve had an influx of issues. We have many young people who do not identify as [male or female] so we talk about identity. We have people that may be a non-binary you know and [might] feel uncomfortable talking about it [or expressing that], and so, we talk about it.” Being able to candidly talk about gender identity has come a long way. “But it is so important to be able to [talk about it]. It’s important to reach out to the youth, [and to let them know] that they do have a safe place [like No Boundaries] that they can call in, or talk to, or even be a guest on the show and share some of their life experiences.”

Ron B on the set of "No Boundaries— Up Close & Personal."
Ron B on the set of “No Boundaries.”

Ron B. wholeheartedly believes that it is important, is vital to talk, candidly, about all those issues, to share information, and make those experiences available to those individuals who might be struggling. Many are experiencing those issues in their lives, too, yet might be afraid to express or talk about their fears. In that sense, No Boundaries — Up Close & Personal has always been a vehicle through which to start a dialogue, a conversation, with no boundaries. “Rather than an interview, we sit, and we talk about things, not only current events but events that encompass and affect us across the board,” Ron B. said. And there is no script to follow.

“This is the first show of this season,” she reminds. “And I also want to mention…you know, this show cannot be done without the people [working] behind the scenes [to put the show together, to make it happen].” She points towards the large studio room, where the show is about to be taped, and mentions the new director, Da’Shawn Pretlow, who’s also the Media Education Coordinator at MNN, and Cory Brice, MNN’s Production Coordinator and who’s already at work, doing the lighting setup. They’re both from Jersey, as have been many guests on her show, too.

“What better way to show that there are No Boundaries than to include everybody,” Ron B. said. “We all have to come together and work together because, you know, Manhattan is an island, but we don’t have to be.”

facebook.com/ronbnoboundaries
Manhattan Neighborhood Network: mnn.org

Alina Oswald, Out In Jersey Magazine Arts Editor, is a writer and photographer living and teaching in the New York City area. Published nationally and internationally, she is the author of Journeys Through Darkness: A Biography of award-winning photographer Kurt Weston, a member of the Undetectable flash collective, and also A&U Magazine Arts Editor.