Question: I am curious about what it is like for gay travelers to Havana. I am a gay male and was interested in seeing if Havana had any gay life. Are there gay nightclubs people can go to or are they illegal in Cuba?
Answer: As far as LGBT culture and lifestyle goes, Cuba is one of the most open societies in the entire Caribbean and Latin American region. Over the last thirty years, homophobic laws have one by one been taken off the books, leading to the decriminalization of homosexuality in 1979, as occurred in Spain at the same time.
It’s now approaching two decades since Tomás Gutierrez Alea’s internationally-acclaimed 1993 film Strawberries and Chocolate – about the attraction of an openly gay man for a young straight revolutionary – brought into the open the theme of homosexuality on the island. And things in Cuba haven’t been the same since this landmark film hit the cinema.
For a well-presented overview on sexual diversity in Cuba, check out the website of the Centro Nacional de Educación Sexual (CENESEX or the National Centre for Sexual Education) at www.cenesex.sld.cu, which also has information about their wide range of programs (courses, research, therapy, social communication, sexual education at the community level, events, etc.) relating to LGBT and even discusses issues of police harassment of LGBT Cubans and what’s being done to deal with this problem.
Since 1994, CENESEX has also produced an excellent magazine called Sexología y Sociedad (Sexology and Society). Published every four months, the magazine covers a wide range of issues relating to sexual diversity in Cuba and is also available on the CENESEX website.
If you’re in Cuba during May, check out Cuba’s celebration of World Day against Homophobia, held internationally on May 17th but celebrated in Cuba on May 16th (as the next day is Cuba’s official anniversary of the Agrarian Reform).
Organized by CENESEX, this all-day event includes educational and cultural programs – conferences, panel discussions, debates, films, stories, poetry readings, book and magazine presentations, concerts, etc. – all dealing with the theme of sexual diversity. This year (2009), the event was organized under the slogan “Diversity is Natural” and was kicked off with a short parade, the first openly gay and lesbian parade in Cuba.