Isbel Díaz Torres
HAVANA TIMES – I had the privilege of participating in the recently concluded VI International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Conference for Latin America and the Caribbean (ILGA -LAC), held at the Plaza America Convention Center in the tourist town of Varadero.
So I want to share a summary of some of the ideas expressed in that meeting, specifically during the second panel of the Pre-conference of Gay and Bisexual Men, which was entitled “Mobilizing for our rights”.
After some international delegates asked for a condemnation of the U.S. blockade against Cuba, I asked for the floor and said:
I am the first Cuban to speak after your idea for a political vote against the blockade, and I want to thank you. At least we Cuban revolutionaries understand that international solidarity is vital, essential in this sense. The blockade directly effects Cuba’s LGBT community.
The successes we have had in Cuba in HIV treatment, for example, have been constantly beset by the U.S. blockade of Cuba, and despite this, we have had, in my opinion, very positive results.
Here we have the compatriots of the National Prevention Center (Centro Nacional de Prevención, CNP) who do an excellent job. I think that ILGA should extend to everyone the benefits of the work this institute is doing in conjunction with the National Center for Sex Education (Centro Nacional de Educación Sexual, CENESEX), because it is very valuable and can serve as a model.
I would also add that in Cuba there is a Men’s studies’ working/study group coordinated by Julio César González Pages at the University of Havana. I think if you are trying to mobilize people or organizations that work on masculinity in our nations, Cuba’s contribution would be important.
However, I would like to point out some shortcomings that we have here that maybe at some point ILGA could contribute to resolving. We have serious difficulties developing a truly empowered civil society on these issues. There are very few real social movements on the island. Civil society in Cuba is quite burdened by State leadership, rather than State accompaniment, that sometimes makes it very difficult to establish demands.
Our Project Rainbow (Proyecto Arcoíris) is independent and anti-capitalist, and although we are in solidarity with the CNP and CENESEX, we understand the need for a real civil society where individuals who suffer these discriminations and all these problems can become empowered and build the solutions we need, together with other institutions.
ILGA could greatly help the development of that civil society, so that social movements in Cuba could exist as counterparts to the social movements in the countries of the region and could have a dialogue, share our experiences, which are few (we are few) but we have had some results in this short time.
Individual to individual, group to group, alliances are important because what often happens at these events do not reach us. Absolutely none of this gets to the people living in Cuban neighborhoods.
Somebody mentioned Skype. Skype is not cheap. Perhaps for you it is, but we do not have Skype or internet. We do not have email. When we do have it, there are many difficulties. We live in different societies. Here we have benefits, but we have difficulties too.
We need to have access to the media on the island. Currently we don’t have it; not on the Internet, printed press, television or the radio. With much effort, CENSEX can bring several of our demands to the media, but we cannot do it directly.
How can we all collaborate?
Of course, the sovereign policies of each country determine this, but that does not mean that we should give up collaborating on improving the policies of each State, and make collaboration more accessible to civil society.
Another problem in Cuba is a lack of freedom of association. There is a law of associations, but in practice, the Registry of Associations has been closed for years. Our collective exists on the fringe of the law. There is no way to receive funding because we have no legal status. That is the case with us who have managed to be here today, but there are other collectives forming that are small, active and important, and the State needs them as a counterpart to design their policies. We need to reinforce that.
I think that ILGA, along with this vote against the blockade, could also collaborate a lot by making suggestions about how LGBT individuals could participate in the construction of public policies.
The exchange will be vital, since there are so few published and accessible investigations on what is happening in Cuba with our people. We have the National Office of Statistics that a few years ago issued very important reports on other topics, but significantly lacking the topic of LGBT. We do not know who many LGBT people live in Cuba.
The Population and Housing Census that took place in 2012 was a magnificent opportunity. Its original design included the option of reporting same-sex parents and couples. This option was eliminated a few weeks before the census began. In the end, our census does not reflect the existence of our families.
These are the things we need to strengthen in our work on the island. I am sure that working with ILGA would be very important, advising on such matters, directly exchanging with people and civil society associations.