The Tempest in the Teapot (Part II)

Isbel Diaz Torres

Comrades in struggle.

Cuban LGBT activists have forcefully responded to television viewer Oscar Cuevas Romeros.  Weeks ago he sent an open letter to the TV program “Pasaje a lo Desconocido” criticizing Mariela Castro Espin and the Cuban health care system.

In my previous diary entry I gave my assessment of the strong and weak points of Cuevas’ letter.  Now I will try to critique some of the other responses his letter received.  I think that the confrontation with homophobia should be a reflexive and respectful exercise so that its educational impact can be assimilated by society.

Among the responses that Oscar Cuevas Romero received, at least three come from comrades in struggle that I know very well.  They are active members of the group Hombres por la Diversidad (Men for Diversity).   On the other hand, I was unfamiliar with the author of the conflictive response from the Centro Cultural El Mejunje, an institution in Santa Clara Province that defends sexual diversity.

One of the most crushing responses came from Dr. Alberto Roque, a recognized LGBT activist from the island and an advocate for sexual rights being seen as a human rights issue.  In his “Carta abierta a Oscar Cuevas Rameros” (open letter to Oscar Cuevas Romeros), Roque delves into the reality of homophobia and discrimination based on sexual orientation in Cuba.

“Homosexuals cannot officially belong to any of the armed forces,” the activist pointed out.  He explained how people with different sexualities “see themselves forced to appeal to ‘informal’ sexual labor or employment when administrators deny them jobs.”  He also made reference to the covering up of acts of violence against homosexual and transgender people in Cuba, and he concluded his message inviting Cuevas to “think of terms of respect, equality and solidarity.”

Nevertheless, other responses sent to Oscar Cuevas Romero veered away from sensitivity and tolerance.  They played inappropriate games with the first and last name of the critical television viewer, and they wound up being insensitive and offensive, and thereby failing to make any serious contribution to the debate.

Out of all of them, the most serious was the “Carta abierta desde El Mejunje contra las cavernas de la intolerancia” (an open letter from El Mejunje against the caverns of intolerance”).  This was a sad example of what we do too often in our press.  I’m referring to those practices where, in defending one’s position, people grossly disqualify and attack the other person.  In doing this they sometimes go completely outside the bounds of ethics, sensitivity and professionalism.

Signed in the emblematic El Mejunje cultural center in Santa Clara.

The passion with which that letter was written turned to exaggerated expressions like: “The fluency with which emanates your poison and the language you use in your cavernous arguments” or “your disrespect overshoots the limits of discrepancy to enter the field of slander” when referring to the positions that Oscar Cuevas takes regarding the island’s health care system and Mariela Castro Espin. (Mariela is daughter of the Cuban president and a leader of the movement in support of the rights of the LGBT community.)

The person who responds from El Mejunje take a homophobic position in struggling against homophobia.  To counter the presumption of Cuevas that Cuban health care workers are homosexual, nothing better occurs to the writer than to call him (indirectly) homosexual.

The anger of the worker from El Mejunje is such that they end up saying: “Perhaps the best thing that has happened to Mr. Oscar is that he is unable to procreate, because if he had had a homosexual son, today the child would surely be in an orphanage.”

Such an exhibit of violence and insensitivity is unworthy of those of us who are struggling for the rights of people who are LGBT.  Is this how we wish to promote dialogue?  What encounter will be possible based on such positions?  Even though the comments of Cuevas might injure our sensibilities, should we revert to that same logic?  It’s not helpful to respond with insults similar to those employed to attack our ideas.

What we need to do is attack ideas – not people.   The personal attack wears us down, it prevents us from growing; and seeing in the other person’s arguments some of our real weaknesses.   We should learn how to listen so that we can rebut or accept the criticism.   It’s not enough to have good intentions or a deep sense of justice; to build true dialogue, what is also necessary is control and humility.