LGBT Rights in Cuba: Domestic Demagogy and Foreign Diplomacy

Jimmy Roque Martínez

LGBTI activists at Sagua la Grande, Cuba

HAVANA TIMES – Cuba and Venezuela did not participate in the debate surrounding a resolution that protects individuals from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, held within the United Nations at the close of September.

This is, apparently, a new strategy of the Cuban government to avoid offending powerful friends such as Russia and Iran, whose homophobic leaders have visited the island, where they were received by brothers, a strategy that does contradict its official, internal discourse.

Though Cuba ultimately and thankfully approved the resolution, which is what’s important, we must continue to pay close attention to these diplomatic maneuvers.

The Round Table program aired on May 12 this year, where LGBT rights in Cuba were discussed, now comes to mind. Delegates to the 5th Conference of the International Association of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Transsexuals and Intersexuals for Latin America and the Caribbean (ILGALAC), held in Varadero around that time, took part in the program.

During that program, Cuban participants to the conference revealed the results obtained on the island thanks to the work of the National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX), while foreign invitees spoke of the achievements of the LGBTI community in their own countries, possible, to a great extent, thanks to civil society groups.

These achievements included the Gender Identity Law, equal marriage laws and others that Cuba is still far from reaching.

In 2006, the CENESEX presented the Cuban parliament with a bill to modify the existing Family Code, which calls for the recognition of same-sex couples. This bill has not been discussed to date.

At this Round Table program, CENESEX legal expert Manuel Vazquez Seijido was asked what legal status the bill was in, but the official was evasive in his response and did not dare offer any information about this.

CENESEX director Mariela Castro stated that the Cuban revolution must approve this new Family Code to become even more revolutionary, adding that this is what the world is expecting of Cuba.

I don’t believe decision-makers have the will to legally acknowledge same-sex marriages on the island. This latest maneuver at the UN, and the debates held at the National Assembly in December of last year, make me confident of this. It is up to civil society and all Cubans interested in securing this right to demand it.

How are we to achieve this? I am not certain, but I do know we must organize ourselves in connection with this issue, in order to become stronger and more creative.

There are many people in stable same-sex relationships on the island, but, even if there was only one such couple, that one couple ought to have the right to legal recognition if it so desired it.

The men and women of Cuba’s LGBTI community hope to be able to have the right to marry the persons we love. It is a debt the country has with us, and a right that has been denied us for far too long.

Jimmy Roque Martinez

Jimmy Roque Martinez: I was born in Havana in 1979, and it seems that work has been my sign. Custodian, fish farmer, lens carver, welder, glass maker, optometrist, have been some of my trades. But none consumes as much of my time as caring for my family. For many years I’ve faced the least pretty face of this society, and I try to be happy while I transform it. I am too shy. I like silence, sleep, theater and movies. I hate injustice and arrogance, and I can hardly contain my anger when it happens in front of me.