Gay couples have nowhere to go

Erasmo Calzadilla
Erasmo Calzadilla

Here in Havana just a few months ago I met a couple of young Argentine women who were very inspired by Cuba. They were sociology students and looked to Cuban socialism with hope-filled eyes.

We were walking around the city one Saturday night looking for a place to sit and chat and along the way we met up with another group of young Cuban and Peruvian students who were studying other disciplines.

Everywhere we went seemed too expensive, charging a day’s salary for a shot of rum. So we bought a bottle of rum and went to sit at the park on G Street, a spot in a residential area of Vedado frequented by “rocker” youth.

There we chatted peacefully, joking and drinking the bottle. Nobody bothered us and we didn’t bother anyone else. The discussion revolved around the virtues of Cuba. All the foreign students, without exception, defended the idea that Cuba is better than their own country (for the people, of course), and that we, because we have no point of comparison, meaning we have never gone anywhere else, cannot appreciate that fact.

But we Cubans replied that in their short stay they would not see many of the aspects of our country’s situation. We continued on like this, but in good humor and keeping to ourselves until about 11:00 pm when a patrol showed up with the intention of clearing the park. According to the police the neighbors around the park were complaining.

I refused to leave and began demanding respect for my rights, but I don’t think anybody understood me because on this cold February night I landed in jail. I’m not interested in talking about myself however; I want to talk about what I encountered in jail.

It was comforting to find a former student and good friend among the many strange faces there. After laughing about the comical coincidence, this psychology student, who must be under 24 years-old, told me why he had been detained.

The thing is that this young man is gay and for the many who share his sexual orientation in Cuba it is difficult to find somewhere to be alone with their partner. It is absolutely impossible to bring one’s same-sex partner home; the family would not allow it. There are no hotels or rooms available for them either; the machismo and prices are barriers too high for common gay couples.

As a consequence, he and others in his situation are forced to meet in obscure places in the city such as, abandoned buildings, fallow lots, alleyways and other dark corners or in the undeveloped outskirts of the city.

These places can be dangerous and they say there have been some violent incidents, which is the argument the police use to go where they have not been called and detain people… for their own protection, they say.

He told me of verbal ridicule meted out by the officers; I have no reason not to believe him.

This was the second time that he had been brought in to this police station for the same reason. The time before he was kept in a cell all night and released in the morning with a fine, but he didn’t say what the formal charge was.

My friend was released before me the next morning and he called my family so they wouldn’t worry. Since then I haven’t seen him and therefore I have no idea if he has found a way to pass between Scylla and Charybdis (two sea monsters of Greek mythology).

Important steps have been taken only recently to protect this sector of the population that has been marginalized for so long. Mariela Castro, daughter of President Raul Castro, directs an institution that ardently advocates for laws and television programs that educate Cubans about the different sexual orientations of their compatriots. The battle is not easy because until recently homophobia has been a barely confronted (if not completely ignored) and its roots are now vast and deep.

I would have been much happier if the gays and those who support them would have fought openly for their rights. What would have happened if coincidence or destiny had not given us the president’s generous daughter? I imagine that nothing would have changed for a long time.

The day after my enriching experience at the police station, I met up again with my Argentine friends and tried to claim a scored point in regard to the previous night’s discussion. But the incident didn’t mar their enchanted vision of our country in the least. I suppose they have good reason.