“Star Trek: Discovery” star Wilson Cruz says that high school was difficult for him in the same way it’s difficult for thousands of LGBTQ+ teens.
Cruz was bullied and called “fag” every day.
“I don’t even know what it was like not to be bullied,” Cruz, 49, told Variety. “I was called fag every day. It got to the point where I didn’t even hear it anymore.”
“I went to high school in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s before there were gay-straight alliances,” he continued, saying that he relied on his best friends to help him cope with the awful experiences.
Cruz was born in Brooklyn, New York, to Puerto Rican parents. His family eventually moved to Rialto, where he attended Eisenhower High School, graduating in 1991.
In 1994, Cruz was cast as Enrique “Rickie” Vasquez, a troubled, gay teen, in the short-lived, critically acclaimed cult classic TV series “My So-Called Life.” Cruz became the first openly gay actor to play an openly gay character in a leading role in an American television series.
“The only way I got through school was with my best friends — the other four gays kids I knew at school,” Cruz told Variety. “I had a sounding board, and there was someone who could reflect back my own experience and make me feel like I was not not normal. They saved my life. We saved each other’s lives.”
Those experiences motivated Cruz to get involved with GLSEN, the 33-year-old national nonprofit organization that works to make schools safer for LGBTQ+ students and teachers.
On Wednesday, the group announced that Cruz was named chair of GLSEN’s board. Award-winning journalist Imara Jones joined as the vice chair.
“Every student should have the ability to have the best experience in school where they can learn the most and feel the most supported,” Cruz told Variety. “They shouldn’t have to feel like they have to get out of there as soon as they can and by the skin of their teeth. If you believe that our schools are the place that our students need to feel the safest, this is the organization you need to be supporting.”
In a statement, GLSEN executive director Melanie Willingham-Jaggers credited Cruz and Jones with doing work that has transformed the group in the past few years.
“Wilson Cruz and Imara Jones are incredible leaders and activists who have done amazing, impactful work to transform GLSEN over the last few years,” GLSEN executive director Melanie Willingham-Jaggers said in a statement. “We’re honored to have both of them in this fight with us as GLSEN moves forward into a new chapter.”
“Together, we’re going to rise up for LGBTQ+ youth across the country and fight back against those who seek to erase them,” Willingham-Jaggers said.