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LGBTQ Voices in Politics: Sage Cruz

The 33-year-old co-executive director of the social advocacy group One Pennsylvania shares their experiences as a nonbinary person working in organizing.

By Will Fritz - June 14, 2023
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Sage Cruz
A photo of Sage Cruz (provided)

Exploring one’s gender identity is complicated enough in one’s formative years. That process of self-discovery can become even more complex after one has already started a career.

That was exactly the experience of Sage Cruz, the 33-year-old co-executive director of the social advocacy group One Pennsylvania.

Cruz got their start in politics at 22 working on President Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign. Cruz, a lifelong Pennsylvanian, grew up in the Pocono Mountains, attended East Stroudsburg University in the area, and later moved to Philadelphia.

Cruz is nonbinary, an identity they realized over the course of their career.

“The word ‘nonbinary’ didn’t exist. At least for me in 2008, when I graduated high school, I would say then I identified as androgynous, maybe, and really did present as — I started really dressing masculine in high school, and even then I would dress feminine for two days and masculine for three days, and see the folks’ reaction. Because for me, I lived in this gray area that I didn’t have a language for.”

Cruz said a catalyst for beginning to uncover their identity was a time several years ago when they took in a colleague who was transitioning and whose parents had kicked them out.

“I was still identifying as a lesbian, as a woman, still using my dead name,” Cruz said.

It was only after that experience that Cruz began to examine themself.

“I realized, Wow, I never put that label on me, but now I’m starting to feel all the things that they were describing. And I never had anyone to describe them to, or anyone to describe that feeling to me, which helped me realize that this is actually — the stuff and the trauma I’m feeling in my body comes from this, these feelings that I didn’t have language for. I’ve never met a trans person before my movement work. I’ve never had nonbinary friends before my movement work, I don’t have anybody in my family who lives on the gender spectrum that isn’t like in a ‘normal’ way.”

Working in political organizing is part of what made it possible for Cruz to embrace who they are, they said.

“I’m really grateful to the movement work for exposing me to individuals who were so sure” about their identities, they said, “and were so able to give me the language I needed to realize who I was. And now, I have the space and the environment to live that truth. Also, I would say it’s just a real blessing, being able to change identities in the space, the movement space, because these are people fighting for our ability to do that.”

Cruz said they are grateful for how easy the process to begin going by their new name and pronouns turned out to be in the spaces they worked in.

“You know, the day I said I wanted to change my name, it felt very uniform and regular, that my name was a new name,” Cruz said. “I think my supervisor even sent an email to our staff, letting them know that I will now be going by new pronouns and a new name. And, you know, only for two or three months did I have to deal with the people’s transition around my name specifically. Now, people don’t even know what my dead name is, and they even forget that I had one. Even if they met me as someone else, which is really, really cool, I think. They still have a hard time with my pronouns, and I still have to remind them daily on that front. But I think that’s just part of the territory, honestly.”

Of course, there are other difficulties with working in organizing. As a queer person of color working in politics, Cruz said it doesn’t take much for the work to affect them.

“You have to allow yourself to feel or you’re not going to be able to work. I think, sometimes, in the nonprofit industrial complexes, every day is a crisis,” Cruz said. “For me, what I’ve learned is that this is a long game, not a sprint, and if we treat every moment like that, like a sprint, we’re going to burn out. Burnout is so common. And I did that, you know. I burned out in 2018. I burned out again in 2020.”

Still, Cruz felt they had to keep pushing forward.

“I think I had a realization just recently, like in my 30s,” they said. “I’m not fighting for me. This is not about me. Because I am an extremely diverse individual that is impacted by a lot of different oppression. Still, this movement is not about me, and it’s never just been about me. And so, our ancestors have done this before us, and have really paved the way and left a legacy of change and movement building. And I’m just so lucky I get paid to do it.”

It’s important for people like them to be seen taking on positions of responsibility in the organizing world, Cruz said.

“Now that I’m 33, and there’s been so much backlash and so many laws on the books in so many states — 24 states — who have anti-LGBT bills on the books, and that’s the world we’re living in,” Cruz said. “After all the progress we’ve seen, it’s my responsibility now, with the skills that I have and the platform that I have to step into the field. And when people watch you do that, and your colleagues — your straight colleagues — watch you do that, you know, that’s a powerful thing for people to see in real time.”

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


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