Outstanding Voices: Graton Rancheria Resort and Casino’s Greg Sarris believes equality is all about inclusion
When introducing himself Greg Sarris likes to say he’s a professor, novelist, screenwriter and an Indian chief. An academic and writer, Sarris helped lead his tribe’s efforts to be federally recognized as an American Indian Nation. In addition, he spearheaded the development of the $800 million Graton Rancheria Resort and Casino in Rohnert Park as an economic engine for his tribe.
When did you come out professionally? My sexuality was always just a part of who I was. I never denied it, but I was always adamant to advocate and make sure that LGBTQ people were not only represented, but protected. When I was a professor of English at UCLA, I was one of the first people to develop gay and lesbian literature courses. My identity as a gay person, as well as being biracial, always made me aware of how important diversity was.
Has there been any backlash from being an openly gay man? There have been cases where people I’ve heard, not so much to my face, and not so much in the business world, but sadly in my own community, people have said things about me. Also instances of almost unconscious homophobia, you have to stand up to that and respond as best you can. But it’s hard because you work so hard to make lives better for other people and to have some of those same people disregard you in certain ways because of an aspect of who you are.
What do you see as the generational differences in promoting LGBTQ equality? There’s great differences, and that’s where I see huge encouragement. It’s my dad’s generation and in some cases my own generation that are extremely homophobic. The young people are very accepting.
When it comes to policies at your casino, what have you done to make it inclusive for all employees and guests? It’s all about dignity in the workplace. We have 2,000 team members and everyone who works here gets the Kaiser gold Cadillac health plan. If you work 20 or more hours a week, you pay nothing out of your paycheck and both with the team members and with the guests, there is an overriding policy here that I have established: The only thing we don’t tolerate is intolerance. I love walking around here on Friday and Saturday nights seeing LGBTQ guests walking around being comfortable.
Is there growing consensus that inclusion is good business? We know that as a fact and I can tell you a lot of fun anecdotes. Like when we have LGBTQ events here, the bar business is amazing, why? Not necessarily because our community drinks more, but it’s all call drinks. They don’t want well drinks, they want expensive liquor. That’s good business. Our former general manager, he’s been in the business 35 or 40 years, he said the most successful day in his casino career was at a casino in New Orleans on Mardi Gras day when they had all LGBTQ folks there. He said the numbers went through the roof.
A writer and academic who has taught at UCLA, Loyola Marymount University and Sonoma State University, Sarris helped lead the Graton Rancheria tribe’s restoration as a federally recognized American Indian nation
Education: B.A., English, UCLA; Ph.D., Modern Thought and Literature, Stanford University