The Tempest in the Teapot

Isbel Diaz Torres

Precedents of contemporary homophobia in Cuba.

An interesting controversy was stirred up by the open letter sent by Oscar Cuevas Romeros* to Cuban journalist Reinaldo Taladrid.  Several LGBT activists on the island have written to counter the arguments of this homophobic citizen.

Oscar Cuevas Romaro, a resident of Santa Clara, has whipped up a rash of controversial with his direct and iconoclastic letter.  This started with his criticism of the introduction to the documentary “Tabu” (Taboo) when this was shown on the popular television program “Pasaje a lo Desconocido” (Voyage to the Unknown), hosted by Taladrid.  Cuevas is trying to block the struggle for the rights of peoples of different sexual orientations and the role of Cuban National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX) within that environment.

I agree with Oscar in that the position taken by Taladrid left a great deal to be desired.  However, this was not because he reconciled his questions before hand with Dr. Mariela Castro, but because I perceived a differentiated treatment toward his interviewee.  The interesting comments of the doctor should have been edited so that the introduction of the documentary could have been done in a more integral fashion on a single program.

On the other hand, when the host tried to take the opposite side in the debate, he chose the crudest arguments used by homophobes so that those points could be easily rebutted by the CENESEX director.  It was a timid and rather shallow attempt at playing the devil’s advocate, though it was understandable that this took place in the television media given the general audience the program is directed to.

In his letter, Cuevas asserts that there are no manifestations of homophobia in Cuba.  As for me, I have seen all types of them, including the most brutal physical violence ranging from that suffered by children from teachers and other students to subtle discrimination in the workplace environment.

Homophobia is present among the Cuban population, but not only there.  It is practiced at the institutional level, which indirectly reinforces popular attitudes.  What is saddest about the matter is that we don’t have a body within the justice system that sanctions these types of behavior; this is why the absence of data gives the appearance of the absence of such acts.

The prevailing hetero-normality makes it almost impossible for someone who is beaten up for the simple fact of being gay to turn to the police to report the crime.  This is even less possible if those who carry out the attack are themselves police officers, such as in a case with which I am personally familiar.

For Oscar, Cuba is “rumba, tobacco and rum,” which in the light of present days is almost an aberration.  The “cultural stew” that he invokes is richly seasoned with homosexuals such as “Bola de Nieve” (Ignacio Jacinto Villa), Ernesto Lecuona, Virgilio Piñera, and many and many more.  In Cuban cultural policies, so actively debated in recent times, at least this has been quite clear; the last congress of the National Union Writers and Artists of Cuban (UNEAC) demonstrated this.  But again we see that it’s not enough for the intellectual elite to speak out in relation to this situation.  The generalizing of debate and the process through which masses of people come to those conclusions are indispensable.

Television viewers are now quite correct in saying that “neither before 1959 nor after it did they tell us ‘this was good’ or that it was normal.”  The silencing of that reality — for years — has brought disastrous effects.  When building a society for decades as people are told in a top-down manner what positions they should adopt, individuals are produced who are incapable of truly autonomous, solidary and humanist behavior.

Oscar tells us of his painful family situation regarding his inability to procreate, and he demands that CENESEX dedicate funding to that question.  As much in the case of the television viewers as activists who responded vehemently, what was exposed was an important flaw in our system: the lack of budgetary transparency.

If we had participative budgets, negotiated democratically and in transparent manners, then they would not have heard demands of this type.   And when I say transparent I’m not attempting to “cloud” the handling of CENESEX funds; I’m simply saying that its budget — just like with all Cuban companies, entities and organizations — is unknown by its workers.

In this particular case, I think that if we knew the amount of the government budget allocated to treating infertility, we would find this to be vastly larger than that committed to campaigns for World Day against Homophobia.  Though fortunately participation in this campaign has increased every year, this is a practically new and is an almost ignored struggle in comparison with the resources dedicated to the rest of the public health care programs in Cuba.

Oscar says that he has “confidence that any modification in the current legislation that seeks to change the principles and guidelines conceived of and approved in the current constitution will first go through a process of consultation and ratification by the people.”  Yet I don’t know what this confidence is based on, because such consultations with the public are carried out almost as exceptions; generally such changes are not formalized.

On the other hand, when an attempt is made to expand the rights of the citizenry and of social groups outside of power, such an action is not necessary.  In a racist and sexist society such as ours, it would have been impossible to introduce the necessary changes by asking the racist and sexist majority.  I think the recognition of that need is what comes from the phrase “to change everything that must be changed.”

In an upcoming post, I will go deeper into responses from other activists.  In any case, if Oscar Cuevas Romeros thinks that Mariela and CENESEX have made a tempest in a teapot, then he’s going to be very surprised in the immediate future when he sees the storm that the incipient Cuban LGBT community generates outside of that teapot.

(*) Here you can find the Spanish original of the letter from Oscar Cuevas Romeros.

Isbel Diaz

Isbel Diaz Torres: Pinar del Rio and Havana are my cities. I was born in one on March 1, 1976, and I’ve always lived in the other. I am a biologist and poet, though at times I’ve also been a musician, translator, teacher, computer geek, designer, photographer and editor. I’m very non-conformist and a defender of differences – perhaps due to always having been an ever-repressed “model child.” Nothing enthralls me more than the unknown, nature and art; these serve as my sources of mystery and development. A surprising activism has been born in me over the recent period. Though I’m not very sure how to channel it, I feel that it’s a worthy and legitimate energy. Let’s hope I have the discernment to manage it.

One thought on “The Tempest in the Teapot

  • Very interesting points. It will be fascinating to see what the outcome of all of this is.

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