Cruz control: newly appointed Guam supreme court justice Benjamin Cruz may be the nation’s highest-ranking gay judge
by David Silva
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. He attributes his defeats in all three races in large part to negative publicity over his sexuality. In 1984 Cruz received a call from Bordallo, prodding him to accept a position on the five-member superior court.
"The governor understood that the electorate had problems with my being gay," Cruz said. "Although I was his legal counsel and director of the Democratic Party, I couldn’t get elected. So it was his recommendation that I come on the bench and `rehabilitate’ my image." What followed was one of the most trying periods of Cruz’s career. His nomination to the bench was met with vocal opposition by the territory’s Republican Party forces and rigidly conservative religious community.
"The process was so controversial, it was mentioned in USA Today," Cruz remembers. "Every Baptist on the island showed up to oppose it. There were letters to the editor of the local newspaper that quoted every section of the Bible. But while some religious fanatics opposed me, the majority of the community rallied behind my confirmation." Cruz’s appointment was narrowly confirmed by the senate, and for the next eight years he headed Guam’s juvenile court. In 1995 Cruz stunned both his supporters and detractors when he publicly proclaimed his homosexuality in an issue of Latte, a Guam periodical on local culture.
While he worried he might be "putting a glass ceiling over my head by granting the interview, I decided that whatever happened, happened. I had to be true to myself and the community."
December 26, 2003 – kuam.com
In the Closet: understanding teenage homosexuality on Guam
by Katie Ginda
Homosexuality among teenagers has become more prevalent in recent years. But behind many gay people openly comfortable with their sexuality, often lie memories of pain and insecurity. On the other side of the coin, are those who are confronting the confusion. While most of us spend our teenage years trying to figure out who we are and what we want in life, some are finding themselves discovering their sexual identity. The confusion one confronts can make their teenage years that much harder.
According to statistics, an estimated 10% of the nation’s population is homosexual, but homosexuality is still largely unaccepted. With much of the population intimidated by such differences in sexuality, homosexuals face criticism from their friends and family.
They must also endure strained relationships, as Sarah Thomas-Nededog, executive director for Sanctuary, Inc., explains. “Relationships are difficult in general, and relative to teenagers, sexuality is already a major issue for them. And if they have found that they are also not just dealing with their sexuality but dealing with homosexuality, which is an area still not acceptable socially in many areas, they would be more than likely be dealing with familial and social issues with their friends, with their parents, with the school, and with their family.”
According to a young man who wished to remain anonymous, the most difficult part in the transition from straight to homosexual is confronting friends and family. “Once they see that you’re finally practicing it, it’s really hard. They have to understand you’re living and practicing, it’s complete. And that is a strain…that is definitely a strain,” he told The Beat. The possibility of deteriorating friendships and family relationships keeps some homosexuals in the closet. The need to hide is a common anxiety felt by those with homosexual tendencies. “You kind of want to be like everybody else, you know – everybody else is straight and you’re like the odd-man out,” said the teen. “I remember making a decision for myself saying, ‘Look. I’m not like this. I can’t be like this. It’s just not what everybody else is. This is not what’s normal.’
“But after awhile, I couldn’t fight those feelings. And I had to make a decision. I was tired of being confused. I was tired of having to hide and be in the closet and everything.”
But the best approach is to be open about your sexuality, despite that feeling of uneasiness and insecurity. The young man continued, “It’s really, really important that you find people you trust, you can tell, even though they might not be gay, you can just tell and confide in, just to talk to, just to get it out of your head. They can sort it out for themselves, they may have their own opinions about it, who knows? But it’s an easy thing when you have that support system.”
For homosexuals, once you find the confidence to be open with your sexuality and have that support system, friends and family will quickly learn to appreciate you for who you are. And being open with your sexuality will most often work for your benefit. Chelsea Reyes, who has a homosexual friend, says that being open does much more for the friendship than trying to avoid the issue. “I think the only effect that it really had was that it was a little more comforting to know that I didn’t have to have that little wall between me and him because, you know, he was homosexual. He was gay and it was just open. I could talk to him about anything.”
While homosexuality might initially strain a relationship, the key is to stay open-minded when it comes to a friend’s sexuality. And for those who are homosexual, find a support system. And if you’re having a hard time talking about it with your friends and family, keep in mind that it will probably help, rather than hurt, in the long-run.
August 18, 2009 – On Top Magazine
Guam Considers Recognizing Gay Unions
by On Top Magazine Staff
The gay marriage debate has scattered across the Pacific and reached the shores of Guam, a U.S. territory, NBC affiliate KUAM News reported. The Guam Youth Congress, an advisory body to the Guam Legislature, first introduced a civil unions bill that would grant gay and lesbian couples all the rights and obligations of heterosexual married spouses in June, bill 138.
Vice-Speaker Benjamin “BF” Cruz followed up with a gay-inclusive domestic partnership bill. The bill would grant “partners to a domestic partnership … all the same rights, benefits, protections, and responsibilities under law, whether derived from statutes, administrative rules, court decisions, the common law, or any other source of civil law, as granted to spouses (The Contract of Marriage).”
Cruz said the move to domestic partnerships was a concession to the Catholic Church: “Guam’s bill is domestic partnership, unfortunately. It is not the marriage, it is not the civil union. I have promised the Archbishop [Anthony Apuron] not to use either one of those two words though the bill does provide the same benefits that married heterosexual couples receive. I had to try to meet everybody half way. I recognize that the archbishop is concerned about the the use of the word marriage and civil union. I didn’t have a ceremony because he didn’t want a ceremony, it is now just an application.” “It’s like applying for a driver’s license,” he added.
Despite Cruz’s compromises with the church, Archbishop Anthony Apuron called the new bill an affront to marriage. A public hearing on the domestic partnership bill drew a standing-room only crowd last month. Opponents and proponents of the bill waited patiently for hours to testify. Roy Burk, pastor of Life in the Son Christian Fellowship Church, said that as an African American he was “sickened” by comparisons between the gay rights and civil rights movements. “Bill 185 [the domestic partnership bill] would server to legitimize lifestyle preferences which are a threat to family and society,” he said. “[The bill] will undermine the traditional institution of marriage,” Archbishop Apuron testified in a written statement.
Yesterday, Republican Guam Senator Jim Espaldon introduced a watered-down bill that grants gay and lesbian couples 15 rights – centered mostly on hospital visitations – and calls the union an agreement between “designated beneficiaries.” “I listened to those arguments [presented at last month’s hearing] and came up with this bill 212 and I hope it’s a compromise where both parties are satisfied,” Espaldon said. While Democrats hold a 2-to-1 majority in Guam’s single-house Legislature, prospects of passage for the bill remain unknown.
August 24, 2009 – daily queer news
Guam: Survey 26% Support Same-Sex Marriage
Posted by Daily Queer News
Bernice Santiago, Pacific Daily News – Guampdn
More than half of Guam’s residents believe the government should give some form of legal recognition to same-sex couples, according to a survey commissioned by the Pacific Daily News. The survey, done in the last two weeks of July by research and consulting firm Market Research & Development Inc., asked 335 adults selected randomly whether they were in favor of allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry, or to form civil unions or domestic partnerships.
Twenty-six percent of those surveyed said they were in favor of allowing same-sex couples to marry; while 27 percent favored civil unions or domestic partnerships — but not marriage. Twenty-nine percent said there should be no legal recognition of same-sex relationships. Nine percent said they didn’t know and 8 percent refused to answer. Two percent said they were undecided. “I support it,” said Ed Duenas, 38, of Sinajana, on Saturday. “If they’re saying it’s civil unions, it’s civil, it has nothing to do with religion. There’s a separation between state and church.”