Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Cruz Control: Newly Appointed Guam Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Cruz May Be the Nation's Highest-Ranking Gay Judge

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Cruz Control: Newly Appointed Guam Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Cruz May Be the Nation's Highest-Ranking Gay Judge

Article excerpt

Newly appointed Guam supreme court justice Benjamin Cruz may be the nation's highest-ranking gay judge

Justice Benjamin J. Cruz says he hates to turn down a request from a friend, but sometimes he can't avoid it. "A number of gay friends are trying to get me to perform marriages for them, and I tell them I can't do that," he explains. "I tell them if they can get a marriage license, then I'll do it. But until then I can't."

Cruz is fully acquainted with the rule of law. The 46-year-old Guam native, who outed himself as a gay man two years ago in a magazine article, is the U.S. territory's newest supreme court justice. "There are gay judges in the country, but none I've spoken to had come out before being appointed," Cruz says. "I'm probably the first and only openly gay [supreme court] justice across the country. I'm not sure how open the judiciary will be to that."

First tapped in 1984 by then-governor Ricardo Bordallo to be a superior court judge, his sexuality was well-known among the local Republican Party and the religious right, leading to one of the most brutal confirmation hearings the island had ever witnessed. Thirteen years later Cruz is in the position of setting the rules by which he plays. In June a different governor, Carl Gutierrez, nominated him to replace the late justice Monessa Lujan on the supreme court. On September 29, after hearings free of controversy, Cruz was unanimously confirmed to the three-member high court by Guam's judiciary committee.

Home to two of the most vital U.S. air and naval bases in the Pacific Ocean, Guam is a 210-square-mile island about 1,500 miles east of the Philippines. Its majority ethnic group is Chamorro--islanders of Asian, European, and American descent. Cruz, a Chamorro, was born in Guam in 1951, and his family moved stateside 11 years later. As a student at Claremont Men's College (now Claremont McKenna College) in California, Cruz in 1972 was instrumental in starting the school's first gay and lesbian club. That's when the handsome young man with big political aspirations first publicly acknowledged his sexuality.

"The club had decided to appeal to all the Claremont student councils for funds in order to educate everyone that gays and lesbians weren't these strange four-legged creatures," Cruz recalls. "When I appeared before one council and they asked me what my interest in this was, I told them I was one of the founders, and their jaws just dropped. I've pretty much been out since then."

Cruz resumed to Guam in 1975 and for four years served as counsel to the governor. His eyes on election to the governorship, Cruz decided to keep his sexuality "under wraps for a while" and date women. He says Guam's social and political culture maintains a "benign intolerance" of homosexuality--a sort of "don't ask, don't tell" philosophy that has allowed the island's gays and straights to coexist in peace, if not equality.

But while Cruz for years would maintain a heterosexual facade--he was even engaged to a woman from 1975 to 1980--his real identity was perhaps the worst-kept secret in Guam's tightly knit political community.

"I was pretty open. I would be seen driving in my open BMW with my handsome boy at my side," he laughs. "I used to speak at the high schools to the human sexuality classes, because it really bothered me that when they had speakers on homosexuality, they would inevitably invite only drag queens and hairdressers. Not that there was anything wrong with it, but I wanted the gay students to know they could be something else besides drag queens and hairdressers."

Cruz served as executive director of the Democratic Party of Guam from 1977 to 1983. He ultimately never ran for governor but did wage three spirited bids for a seat in the Guam senate. …

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