Wilson Cruz on Stonewall 50: ‘I Am Inspired by All the LGBTQ People of Color Who Ignited the Revolution’
‘Star Trek: Discovery’ star Wilson Cruz is motivated ‘to continue the fight’ of Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P. Johnson, and others. ‘We are everywhere, and we will not be ignored.’
In this special series, LGBT celebrities and public figures talk to Tim Teeman about the Stonewall Riots and their legacy—see more here.
Wilson Cruz is an actor (My So-Called Life, Star Trek: Discovery) and activist.
When/how did you first hear about the Stonewall Riots, and what did you make of it? What is their significance to you?
I learned of the Stonewall Riots in high school. As tough as high school was for me in the late ’80s and early ’90s, the one saving grace, I should say, the four saving graces for me, were the four brilliant and politically aware gay boys of color I called friends.
It was a politically charged time for the LGBTQ movement, at the height of AIDS crisis, and we were becoming aware of our own place and responsibility in this new era because of organizations like ACT UP and GLAAD.
Our education system doesn’t teach LGBTQ history, so it was through our own ingenuity and curiosity that we educated ourselves and each other about our history. We read all we could and shared what we learned, and it was through them that I came to know of the riots. We took great inspiration from the likes of Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, and all of the young LGBTQ people of color who ignited a revolution.
We saw ourselves in them and felt, and still feel, a great responsibility to their legacy. We came to understand that we, now, had been passed a baton and that we needed to take on the struggle of our time and continue their fight and we did, and still do. The revolution continues.
How far have LGBTQ people come since 1969?
While much still needs to be done to realize full equality and acceptance, significant progress has been made in terms of visibility and civil rights, in this country.
Almost immediately, in 1973, just four short years after the Stonewall Riots in 1969, we saw the removal of homosexuality from the DSM (the list of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) and the creation of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (now called the National LGBTQ Task Force).
Later, in the ’80s, while hundreds of thousands of gay men in this country and all over the world wasted away and died in AIDS wards without even a word of acknowledgement by then President of the United States Ronald Reagan, this community created and expanded a vast network of nonprofit organizations and infrastructure to respond directly to the AIDS crisis and to care for our own.
Those organizations, like ACT UP, GLAAD, HRC, Lambda Legal, PFLAG, to name a few, empowered a community to rise up and begin to demand dignity and respect in every facet of society. We’ve seen the Supreme Court strike down sodomy laws. We’ve seen a complete integration, until recently, of LGBTQ people in the military.
We’ve seen marriage equality become the law of the land. We’ve seen an explosion of visibility from LGBTQ people across society from sports and entertainment to the political world. The message was, We are everywhere and we will no longer be ignored. It’s a message we continue to shout from rooftops and Pride marches, even today!
What would you like to see, LGBTQ-wise, in the next 50 years?
Well, I’d love to see the next 50 years of LGBTQ progress start out with the passage of the Equality Act, which would expand the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to ban discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity.
In order to realize the goal of full acceptance, we must first level the playing field and do away with the patchwork of laws and policies across the country that treat LGBTQ people differently, depending on which state or municipality you happen to be in at the time.
The Equality Act can help us realize a future where our young people can live out their dreams without the limitations of discrimination based on who they love or what gender they identify with.
I envision a future not so different from the one we present on Star Trek: Discovery, where what you do, what you contribute to the greater good, how you support and stand up for your fellow man and woman define you and your success in life. When we realize that we will have reached our goal of full acceptance and equality.