Actor Wilson Cruz is immediately recognizable to many in the LGBT community thanks to his appearances in such TV series and films as My So-Called Life, Party of Five, Noah’s Arc, Party Monster, Coffee Date and The People I’ve Slept With. He also starred on Broadway and won acclaim as the HIV+ drag queen Angel in Rent.
Last year, the openly gay 39-year old took on an important new role as National Spokesperson and Strategic Giving Officer for GLAAD, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. As such, Cruz has a hand in planning the anti-defamation watchdog’s Media Awards events now taking place from coast to coast. He recently spoke with Reverend about his current undertaking.
Rev: Congratulations on your new gig! How long have you been working with GLAAD now?
Cruz: Thanks! It’s been seven months. It’s been a roller coaster ride. I’ve worked with GLAAD on and off for the last 20 years, since they gave me a Media Award for My So-Called Life. God, has it really been that long? (Laughs) I’ve served on the GLAAD Board of Directors and appeared at various events.
Rev: What are your responsibilities in your new position?
Cruz: I represent the organization in all types of media, television and print. I do a lot of blogging and fill in for GLAAD president Herndon Graddick whenever he isn’t available. I’m also the chief fundraiser for GLAAD. I’ve fundraised a lot in different organizations but never on staff. Successful fundraising is really about personal relationships and being passionate about the cause.
Rev: Have you taken a break from acting? If not, what are you working on now?
Cruz: I have a film in festivals now called Meth Head, with Lukas Haas. I have the freedom to act when I feel compelled by a role or project rather than I have to act to pay the bills. It’s art again instead of a job, which is nice. It’s in my GLAAD contract that I can take time off for acting.
Rev: You were in New York City for last month’s Media Awards event there. How was it?
Cruz: I was. It was pretty amazing! I followed Madonna, who presented our Vito Russo Award to Anderson Cooper. She wore a Boy Scout uniform and I was also wearing kind of a Boy Scout uniform. I was surprised to learn how short she is, but she commanded the room. It was an electric evening with a number of notable moments in the show especially, for me, the winner of the Outstanding Documentary Award, How to Survive a Plague.
Rev: Out of all of this year’s nominated films and TV series, what are some of your favorites?
Cruz: How to Survive a Plague and The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I’m a Broadway baby after all, so I’m very excited about the Smash win in New York for Outstanding Drama Series. There’s a young man named Harvey Guillen nominated for an episode of The Mentalist, and nominee (and TV journalist) Melissa Harris-Perry is a personal hero of mine.
Rev: Were you involved in the nominations process?
Cruz: Yes, I am involved since I’m a former winner, so as a past honoree I get to weigh in and vote. (Cruz won GLAAD’s Visibilidad Award in 2008 in addition to his earlier citation for My So-Called Life.)
Rev: Why should our readers and our community support GLAAD?
Cruz: GLAAD celebrates how powerful and transformative LGBT people’s stories can be, and how they help change how people see our community. We make the cultural change that makes the political change happen. You can pass a law but whether or not people support that law determines whether the law is successful or not. Legal same-sex marriage is one example of this. The work we did on television and in film really has helped to shape that preparedness for when marriage equality is legal.
For more information about GLAAD or to make a donation, visit their website.
Interview by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest, Rage Monthly Magazine and Echo Magazine.