By Susana Hernandez Martin (El Toque)
HAVANA TIMES — In Cuba, nobody would think to demand (at least in public spaces) that women earn less money than men for doing the same jobs or for bars to reserve their admission rights depending on the color of their clients’ skin, in spite of there still being daily expressions of machismo and racism on the island.
The reason is simple: ever since the Revolution triumphed in 1959, it’s politically incorrect to discriminate against someone in Cuba because of their gender or race. Therefore, even though there is poor legislation to punish violence because of these reasons, it is clear in our popular imagination that these acts are condemnable and censored in public spaces. However, it would seem that the same rule doesn’t apply to every scenario.
The recent Official Declaration released by five of Cuba’s religious groups, who publicly condemn lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersexual, queer and other people’s right to get married, goes to show that voicing discrimination is still acceptable for a certain group of people. This, even though the government and Communist Party have backed the National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX) work in favor of giving the LGBTIQ+ community all of their rights, for 11 years now.
Published on the Cuban Methodist Church website, the letter has been sparking different reactions on social media over recent days. Then, there was a call to march in favor of traditional family values along 23rd street, which has been where a conga parade has taken place for years against the discrimination people with non-heteronormative sexualities are victim to.
Both of these actions seem to be coming at a pivotal time, when one of the main uncertainties about the new constitutional reform (due to a lack of information more than anything else) is whether same-sex marriage will be included in the proposal or not.
This isn’t the first time that churches with more conservative views are speaking out about this subject.
In 2008, as a result of the Cuban Days against Homophobia and Transphobia, organized by CENESEX, the Cuban Methodist Church as well as the Dios del Evangelio Completo Church and Eastern and Western Baptist conventions released three documents in which they defended the concept of biblical marriage between a man and woman, and their interest in this being maintained as such in Article 36 of the Cuban Constitution.
However, this is the first time that several groups are coming together to fight on the same front, which proves that the fundamentalism (which many people thought was disperse), has been able to get people together and protest in the face of a situation which they feel threatens one of the fundamental pillars of their religion.
The churches’ opposition to recognizing the LGBTIQ+ community’s rights is as old as these religious institutions themselves, and if it hasn’t been expressed in Cuba as vehemently as elsewhere, this is due to the more discrete and secondary role these faith organizations have had in public and media life in a secular country like our own, alongside a movement which fights for sexual rights in Cuba, which is embodied by a state institution that has a moderate approach and makes more ambiguous progress.
Over recent years, Cuba’s religious landscape has also undergone important changes with the appearance of more and more progressive viewpoints, such as the creation of the Metropolitan Community Church (ICM) in 2015 proves, which according to its pastor Elaine Saralegui Caraballo, is a radically inclusive ministry of LGBTIQ+ people and defends their right to live out their sexuality without the stigma that traditional Christianity enshrouded them in.
The ICM has brought pastors from different churches together to share their unprejudiced reading of the Bible during its socio-theological “Non-heteronormative Gender and Sexuality” Days which the Matanzas Evangelical Theology Seminar has been holding since 2014.
For activists both in favor and against same-sex marriage, the declaration of the Protestant churches poses an obvious conflict: according to the Cuban Constitution in force today, the State recognizes and guarantees religious freedom and freedom of speech (the latter in line with a Socialist society) but, what happens when an institution challenges something in the name of these freedoms, which the State itself has decreed just and necessary for its citizens? Can an organization publicly encourage human rights to be violated, which the State holds absolute responsibility for protecting?
Even when we don’t know whether the new constitutional reforms [being discussed behind closed doors] will finally include same-sex marriage, everything seems to point at the fact that irreversible steps have been made towards integrating the LGBTIQ+ community into social life once and for all.
In the future, much-needed laws need to materialize so that anyone who wants to speak out against something from hate or violence, will have to do so in a place where no one else can hear them.