A Brief History of Havana’s “Gay” Parties

Regina Cano

Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES — A friend was telling me that more gay* parties being held in Havana today than before.

Are people more tolerant now? Is there more money to be made organizing these parties? Or are people who attend these parties making more money and able to go more often?

My friend is right about the change that the lives of gay people have experienced in Cuba. Today, “everything is ok” at the institutional level.
The fact of the matter is that, before we arrived at this “official pardon”, before gays could freely move about the city without being harassed, we heard stories that were pretty much “horror films” (as they say here).

There were violent and even physical reactions to the sight of a homosexual walking down the street. Not all homosexuals were simply minding their own business, but the beatings were not, and are not, any kind of acceptable response. Many homosexual men and women also suffered police repression.

In the Cuban capital, there have always existed “public” homosexual meeting places, generally for men (we haven’t heard of any such spot where women meet, and it is said the spots for men are rather dangerous for women).

These few spots varied across the city. They were often the sites of collapsed or burnt-down buildings, abandoned, dimly-lit and dirty spaces, distant from the prying eyes of the unsuspecting at night. Though private, these places where also dangerous, to say nothing of the risk of sexually transmitted diseases people exposed themselves to.

Among the more popular meeting spots were the ruins of the Moscu restaurant, the Chivo beach, the public bathroom at Quixote park, the Jose Miguel Gomez mausoleum, Fraternidad park in Old Havana, the Fuente Luminosa, the areas surrounding the Capitolio building and the malecón ocean drive, as well as other open and remote urban spaces, under the cloak of night.

People would switch meeting spots – while some were active, others saw less regular meetings – because of police repression. At the time, there were no places where members of the LGBTI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual and Intersexual) community could meet in person safely.

The number of such spots increased notoriously, particularly after the onslaught of the Special Period crisis in the 90s. So-called “10-peso parties” (parties with a 10-peso admission) became common. These were “illegal” parties that gave gay people a place to flirt and hook up.

They were held in private residences, many of them small and without the needed conditions for such parties (and exposed to the idiosyncrasies of the different neighborhoods).

The gay community particularly recall the parties thrown by Piriquiton, in Cerro, Lila’s parties (which moved around the city), the parties thrown in Cojimar and others that continued to be held into the 2000s.

Now some parties even set up catwalks where transvestites and others with stage experience showed off their skills, lip singing famous singers and songs that were in vogue. People who underwent the first sex-change operations in Cuba were also first seen at these parties.

Today, transvestites are hired as entertainment for glamorous parties and nightclubs that hold weekend shows, places that are gradually incorporating strippers to their shows (strippers are few and far between in Cuba, it seems).

Today, as well as in the times before the permissiveness that Cuba’s National Sexual Education Center is said to have promoted, there are homosexuals still “in the closet”, people who try to hide their sexual orientation but are clearly “members of the club.”

Some openly display their sexual preferences (moderately or flamboyantly) and find a way to feel good about themselves.

Some people are still shocked to see gay people kissing, having a good time or wearing revealing clothes in public, practices that put Cuba’s recently acquired tolerance to the test (a tolerance that clearly cannot be imposed on people). As for the first two, these are tolerated in heterosexuals, so I believe we should either tolerate it in homosexuals or frown upon it when anyone does it.

To be continued…

Gays: In using the word “gay”, I have not made a distinction between homosexual men and women. As in other parts of the world, the term “gay” applies to everyone in the LGBTI community. What’s more, that’s how parties where members of this community gather are referred to in Cuba.

4 thoughts on “A Brief History of Havana’s “Gay” Parties

  • An interesting look at the lives of gays and drag queens in Havana:

    “In the stories of these drag queens we find dysfunctional homes, school drop- outs, sexual violation by a relative, and above all, humiliation and rejection since childhood for being different.

    As they consider themselves to be in the wrong body, they have transformed it with accessories, paper-mache tits, hormones, or surgery. The will to live has allowed some of them to work in hospitals, as hairdressers, or by singing in small clubs. For others, prostitution has been their lifesaver.”


  • What on earth possessed you to attempt something so foolhardy?

  • What you are describing are cruising areas, burned out buildings etc. These places were more prevalent in the states, but are now only in rural areas or places where people are afraid to come out. They still cruise and hook up, but on phone aps like Grindr or Scruff. A nice thing about the evolution of marriage equality, is that people are settling down, with less need to hook up randomly. Regarding transvestites, that term is used to describe straight guys who cross dress. The gay ones are called Drag Queens. The ones who like to live as the opposite sex are transsexual. As gay people feel free to come out, society will accept knowing that they are not all crazy stereotypes, just fun loving people who have a flair for the artistic as well as the practical side of life.

  • Well, my friend and I went to Havana in 1996 with the intentions of throwing a White Party for 300 guests. My friend would have been the first American to DJ such an event. We had local Cuban friends who were handling most all aspects of party production. We took tons of equipment, props and giveaways. Two days before the party, State Security literally stormed our hotel (Libre – the old Hilton) and hauled us off to jail where we rotted for many weeks wondering if we would ever be allowed to leave. In time the military escorted us to the airport, placed us on a flight to Mexico City, then marched in formation around the plane carrying their rifles (to make sure we wouldn’t escape and have the party?). We were glad when the plane took off and we could see blue sky out the window.

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