WORDS BY NAOMI WOOD, IMAGES BY WESLEY KIRK
Every now and then we meet someone who stands out among the crowd. In this case, it was psychologist Carmen Cruz on Friday, June 26th, 2015 at the gay marriage rally on the square.
After the Supreme Court Ruling passed, an LGBTQ rally began on the square in which several marriages took place spontaneously. Dr. Carmen Cruz was ready for the decision and helped facilitate these marriages on the Courthouse steps, this is where we noticed her. We asked about her past, her present, and what she sees as a future for equal rights in this special WDDI edition of People of Denton.
WDDI: Hey Carmen! What's your deal?
Cruz: I am Cuban-American and I first came to Denton in 1997 from Miami Florida. I originally came to Denton on a one year teaching contract with Texas Woman’s University. As fate would have it, I ended up staying in this little town for another 18 years with no sign of leaving. I’m married to a woman who has children and I am fortunate enough to be a bonus mom to those kids. I am currently a DirectorProfessor of Clinical Psychology at TWU and am also a diversity and social justice consultant. Initially I felt like there was a lot of discrimination in Texas, and the pervasiveness of discrimination against the LGBTQ community was something that I thought I could make a difference with. I would have friends ask me “why don’t you go somewhere else where you can enjoy it and it’s easier?” but I ultimately knew I could make a difference here, and I think it is important to stay in places that want change. I knew there was enough substance in the community and I think because it’s a college town, that it invites more critical thinking to a very traditional place. Denton for me is this juxtaposition of old tradition and forward thinking. I have always felt like everywhere I go I end up telling people “we can do something” and not from a critical place but because I want change.
What groups or organizations are available for those seeking support or engagement for LGBTQ people in Denton?
I met Pam Wat, who is the reverend at the Denton Universalist Church and she said “where are all the things for the LGBTQ community?” and up until that point we had a bunch of small groups but nothing cohesive. We decided to compile all the little groups into one called Outreach Denton. In 2013 we decided to form a council so we could all collaborate, and we called it the Queer Council. But right now there are several groups running at TWU and UNT for students, staff, and faculty.
Did you get married after the supreme court ruling?
No, we had married previously in our home state. My wife is from New York and I’m from Florida so we always said whichever state rules in favor first, we would marry there. We got married in September of 2011 and it was a special trip because it was the same trip we sent our daughter off to college at NYU. We also came home to Denton and had a ceremony so we could celebrate with our family and friends.
What led up to your facilitation of marriages on the square for LGBTQ couples after the Supreme Court ruling?
We were going to have our usual rally on the square to celebrate the court ruling because we knew it would probably pass. We were prepared with our flag and our microphone to perform ceremonies if people were able to get their license from Dallas. We wanted to have it on the square because we knew our community needed a place to meet and not have to drive out to Dallas. This was our community and we wanted to celebrate it together as one. Two or three hundred people showed up and it blew us away with the support. It was very rewarding personally and professionally for me to be standing up there with my community to facilitate these marriages. It was beautiful that we were able to create a space for us to celebrate as a community. We weren’t necessarily planning on having a wedding because we were planning one at the church for the following week, but people were so excited and ready that it just happened.
What was your initial reaction to the Supreme Court Ruling that day?
I was going into a weekly meeting with my grad students and I basically said “we’re not having this meeting” and we turned on our TV, and it was very tearful for a moment. I was surprised by the sheer joy and tears from our straight allies. I was so happy but I knew we couldn’t have gotten to this point without our straight ally friends who helped us get this done. Their reaction made a big impact on me, and I was on such a high for days afterward.
What has been the majority reaction to the rally and the ceremony on the square that took place that Friday?
Honestly, not a lot of backlash. I think that negativity was more on the national scene. I haven’t felt it from my community, from the University, or from social media. Some of my friends and family stayed home that day because they didn’t want to ruin their joy by seeing protesters, and there were none which made it an even better day.
What do you think is one misconception about LGBTQ regarding rights?
I know a lot of people do think that these are “special rights” and I want to encourage dialogue about this issue. I know that people’s attitudes change when it's personal. Everything that is research or data driven comes back to the central point that one-on-one contact and dialogue with a person from a minority group can change negative stereotypes. If you stay only with like-minded people and you don’t immerse yourself in difference, you’re never going to be able to celebrate difference.
What do you think is the next step for equal rights?
I think it would be very powerful if the city of Denton and the city council members would allow an ordinance that would say you cannot fire people for their sexual orientation or their gender identity. I feel like that would be a very powerful thing, and while it’s been attempted before it has not been successful. That could be something that we are moving towards. It is sad that now people can get married on Friday, and on Monday they could be fired for being gay in the same city. I would also like for our community to have a pride festival in the summer, so that could be a goal that we move towards next year.