STOCKTON — Marsha Posner Williams is a successful television producer, winner of two Emmy and three Golden Globe awards for “The Golden Girls.”
Yael Deynes, who survived a suicide attempt, physical and mental abuse by his biological mother in his native Puerto Rico and controlling, mental abuse at the hands of his former gay lover, has made an award-winning short film and is seeking funding for his first feature-length motion picture.
The two will share their stories of success and offer encouragement Friday when they speak on “Curing The Stigma” from 1:30-3 p.m. in the Tillie Lewis Theatre as San Joaquin Delta College concludes its observance of Mental Health Awareness Week.
It will mark the first time Deynes will share his story with an auditorium full of listeners.
“I never thought in a millions years I’d be in a position to pay it forward,” Deynes said. “My life, after I tried to commit suicide, became a team, people I could talk to. I was able to express myself. The fact I could talk about my experience, that I’m here today, maybe that could help somebody. If I reach one person, that person can do what I’m doing, talk to somebody else.”
Posner Williams invited Deynes to join her at Delta, where she has shared her story of breaking the glass ceiling in Hollywood before at the invitation of multimedia Professor Andrea Brogger.
“Marsha’s in tune with what’s happening with the youth of our world,” Brogger said. “She wants to advocate for whatever issues are important. She’s talked to our students about education, and getting into the industry. She’s been a champion when we needed to talk about something important. That’s how she leverages her star power.”
Posner Williams was introduced to Deynes by a friend who’d attended a staging of scenes from “175,” the film Deynes is looking to make. She told Posner Williams that Deynes was a big fan of hers because of her connection to “The Golden Girls.”
“I grew up with ‘The Golden Girls,’ ” Deynes said. “It took me through very rough times in my life. It was the only bright thing to make me laugh. I could forget everything going on in my life”
He watched it in Puerto Rico to escape the abuse of his “religious fanatic” biological mom. He watched it when his aunt took custody of him when he was 10 and moved him to New York. And, he watched it as he recovered from his suicide attempt 12 years ago, when he was 30.
Deynes had left his aunt’s home for Mexico City when he was 18, auditioned for and was selected to be part of a boy band. He landed a movie role.
He also met his boyfriend, a model, and after three years together in Mexico, his boyfriend moved to Los Angeles. Deynes followed.
The boyfriend was a hustler and became a pimp and hired Deynes out to male clients.
Deynes, young and naïve and in need of love, went along with it. The two were together for six years.
That experience and others eventually overwhelmed Deynes and 12 years ago, he tried to commit suicide, swallowing 500 pills.
“I was in the hospital for three months and somehow survived,” Deynes said. “I was in the psych; I had to learn to walk and talk and move and do anything all over. My mom was there every step of the way. She didn’t give birth to me, but she gave me back the breath of life when I needed it most.”
She was always the one to offer wise counsel. He’d hit a low point in his life after breaking up with a new boyfriend, whom he met 15 years ago. She told him to remember the time in his life when he was happiest. He thought of Todd, his boyfriend, and the two reunited and now are married.
When they met, Todd had given Deynes a ring with the insignia of an upside-down triangle. It’s a symbol of Paragraph 175, a law the Nazis exploited to arrest homosexuals.
Deynes began researching the history of that law, which was written in 1871 and existed until 1994.
He tracked down Holocaust survivors, combed through history and after watching an online video on script-writing, wrote the movie called “175.”
When he met Posner Williams, he asked her to read it and although she’s retired, she was so impressed, she agreed to serve as producer. They’re looking for investors to fund the project.
Beyond that professional connection, though, is one much more personal.
“It’s a love affair between us,” Posner Williams said. “It’s a relationship I’m so proud of with this man.”
She produced Deynes’ short film, “My Secret Lake,” which earned honors at a film festival in Santiago, Chile.
“It is my joy in life if I can help anybody,” Posner Williams said. “When I talk to people and go to colleges, when I do these talks, it happens every time. After my talk someone comes up to me crying and I ask why and they say, ‘you just changed my life.’ That gives me the greatest joy in my life, except my marriage (of 34 years).”
Raised by her father in Scottsdale, Arizona, Posner Williams said he neither encouraged nor discouraged her from following her dream of a career in television. It took three tries before she stayed in Hollywood, and she worked her way up from typing scripts to producer. She paid her dues, at one point sleeping in her car. But she worked hard, impressed people and moved up in the industry. She hopes to give the encouragement to others that she never received.
Conquering stigma, whether mental health, prejudice, sexism, homosexuality or anything else, is a matter of attitude, Posner Williams said.
“You can do it because I did it, and I’m a girl,” Posner Williams laughed.
Contact reporter Lori Gilbert at (209) 546-8284 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @lorigrecord.