Coming Out on Cuban TV

Isbel Diaz Torres

Lester Hamlet. File photo:
Lester Hamlet. File photo:

HAVANA TIMES — Recently, we were all witness to a transcendental event in Cuba’s cultural reality. A Cuban artist, who isn’t an activist for LGBTIQ rights, recognized his sexual orientation as being gay in front of Cuban TV’s rolling cameras.

We’re talking about filmmaker Lester Hamlet who was interviewed on the TV program “Con 2 que se quieran 2”, hosted by Amaury Perez Vidal.

Of course, the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television is riddled with gay, lesbian and bisexual people, from directors to actresses and drivers, including technicians and TV assistants too. The thing is though that a lot of systematic care is taken so that the “gay issue” doesn’t appear in national media.

This is sometimes due to censorship policies (which we already know full well who establishes these… and whoever doesn’t know, it’s an easy one: the Cuban Communist Party) and a lot of time it’s because of homophobia, personal opportunism and/or self-censorship of those who work in Cuban media.

I’ll never forget the radio actress who refused to read some verses written by Safo, the Greek poet, because they were directed at a woman from another woman. The script I had written fell into the hands of the broadcasting director who also refused to air it even though these were verses written over 600 years before Christ, which are the very basis of Western civilization.

It’s true that in recent years, thanks to CENESEX and its strategies, this topic has been touched upon by Cuban TV and radio (with more or less professionalism). However, it almost always appears in soap operas or educational programs.

Nobody close to our hearts, in flesh and blood, had said “I’m gay” in our public media before. And this has great value.

On the other hand, there are people who think they have found something worthwhile when they see how the people who go on Amaury’s show have their emotions twisted until they’re brought to tears. However, honestly, I don’t know whether this discovery (which is obvious, to say the least) has just come to their attention now, just when this transcendental show for Cuba’s LGBTIQ community is aired. Couldn’t they have discovered it a week beforehand?

I believe that even children know that Cuban TV is manipulated. But, the best thing is when we discover that they do the same thing on TV all over the world. It’s inherent to what TV is. I know programs can be made without these effects, but the media will never get rid of these rubbish programs full of mood music, close ups, prizes, unexpected? visitors, unprepared? interviewees, etc…

In any case, you don’t have to watch Amaury’s show to get what I’m saying. Likewise, are the interviews they give to Cuban doctors who have left the island to make some money, until a journalist and a cameraman pop up to ask them about Fidel, or about their children who they left behind in Cuba, or about the old lady who can see again thanks to the Revolution’s humanism are any less melodramatic?

So that, in my opinion, Amaury’s show is worth as much as his invited guests are worth. If they say something that’s worth listening to; his show will be interesting. If not, then we’ll watch this host pull out all the cards up his sleeve to try and get some tears out of his viewers.

I almost never sit down on Tuesdays to watch his show but I was lucky enough to watch it last week.

In this instance, the interviewee chose to go into topics like his mother or his homosexuality, rather than talk about his work. In fact, there was hardly any melodrama in his story, as we’re talking about somebody who has always understood his sexual orientation, and he talked about it forthright. There weren’t any stories about suicide, family break ups, hate crimes or anything else in the same vein.

Therefore, the program maintained its integrity, it was loyal to the genre that it tries to create and to TV which gives it its pedestal. He made a significant contribution to the struggle of LGBTIQ people in Cuba (deliberately or not), and to himself, telling us the happy story of a gay man, who has a partner and who hopes to adopt an orphaned girl or boy.

So, congratulations Amaury for your program with Lester. The program from the week before was really weak… but better guests will come now. And if they don’t, don’t worry; there are always people who want to have their hats pulled over their eyes… (in fact, a large part of those who wait for your show every Tuesday).

And Lester, thank you. If only more celebrities would come out of the closet in public in front of TV cameras. It might not be a big deal for the person who is doing it, but I’m sure it’ll help a lot of men and women who still suffer from homophobia in their families, schools and neighborhoods.