By Monica Rivero (El Toque)
HAVANA TIMES – One of these hotels was opened in Cayo Guillermo, on the beach and outside the “main island”, two years ago. The Havana Axel-Telegrafo Hotel, dedicated to the LGBTIQ+ community, is innovative on two fronts: it will be the first hotel of its kind in the Cuban capital, located on Prado and Neptuno streets.
Discussions haven’t stopped ever since the GAVIOTA group posted the announcement in a tweet, even when the official inauguration date has yet to be set in upcoming months, as it is still concluding renovations and improvement work.”
Axel Hotels (the Spanish chain that is managing it) has declared its aspiration to be a global leader for the LGBTIQ+ community, offering specialized services, “within a climate of diversity and respect for the community it belongs to.” The hotel group has similar branches in Berlin, Madrid, Barcelona, Venice and other tourist capitals.
After the announcement, Cubans of all ages, identifying with the LGBTIQ+ community or not, have reacted in many different ways, from accusing the Cuban government of pinkwashing to saying that a hotel like this one also discriminates against its members; while, on the other hand, there are people who see this as a hotel that discriminates against those who don’t belong or identify with the community.
1. “We don’t want hotels, we want rights.”
The National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX) gave a nod of approval to the news with a tweet posted on June 28th, International LGBT Pride Day.
CENESEX has been criticized for not assuming a clear stance when it comes to promoting concrete legislation in favor of the rights of the community it represents, and especially after its director, Mariela Castro, defended the amendment to Article 68 of the Constitution, which had allowed for the legalization of same-sex marriage in its original draft, but then backtracked.
LGBTIQ+ activists reacted with reminders of the rights they still don’t have, and the absence of inclusive programs. Kiriam Gutierrez posted a list as a political and legislative agenda: “we don’t want hotels, or clubs, or restaurants, or bars. We want rights, we want same-sex marriage, we want assisted reproduction for same-sex couples, we want protection for trans children, we want laws that penalize homophobia and transphobia, we want a Gender Identity Act, we want a Trans Act.”
2. Between dividing the market and affirmative action
Just like anyone else, LGBTIQ+ people are still able to stay at any hotel and have the right to be treated just like anyone else and have the same guarantees any other customer would have. This hotel isn’t a space that they automatically have to go to in lieu of other hotels, so the isolation argument has no real basis.
Two non-exclusive ways to see these kinds of spaces are: 1) as a division of the market and 2) under the principle of affirmative action. It is a group of people who have needs and characteristics, and other options are desirable. The restaurant and tourism businesses have identified this as a niche in the market, and their offers have been a success in different parts of the world up until now.
As this is a matter that concerns a minority group. affirmative action is “any measure, that goes beyond the simple end of a discriminatory act, adopted to correct or compensate for discrimination in the past or present, or to prevent acts of discrimination from being repeated in the future.”
Just like separate graduations, (as well as group ceremonies), the creation of bars, restaurants, hotels, cruises… designed for the LGBTIQ+ community, are set to make up for predominant heteronormality. The most inclusive hotel wouldn’t be able to ensure, in reality, that any other client won’t have a discriminatory attitude, or that representation excludes this group in society, as a default.
Controversial complaints from clients have been reported quite a few times, saying that there are “too many homosexuals” in a certain hotel; or for presenting a service with an ad where you see a same-sex couple. Even when this kind of behavior can be sanctioned, there are people who long to have an option where they don’t have to run any risk of this happening.
As we arrive as a society towards the end of homophobia and any other expression of intolerance and disrespect, everyone has the right to choose a space where they feel at home and in peace, with safeguards of collective respect for identity and comfort. It isn’t fair to subject minority groups to waiting around for the ideal situation to come along: all the time in our personal lives isn’t enough. Anyway, this is all it is: an option.
It isn’t at the top of the the list of priorities, in fact. However, this community’s lack of rights dates back to before the hotel. If this situation continues, the hotel won’t be the reason why. There is no cause-effect relationship between both realities. If same-sex marriage isn’t legalized in Cuba, it won’t be thanks to or in spite of the inauguration of a LGBTIQ+ hotel. These are two separate cases and they neither compete with one another. nor are they exclusive. There are plenty of cases of countries where these spaces coexist with legal safeguards and recognition for their rights.
3. “Heterofriendly” philosophy
Foreseeing some reactions, Silvia Perez, the Director of Communications and Marketing at Axel Hotels, stated that they practice a heterofriendly philosophy; that is to say, they are “spaces conceived by and for the LGBTIQ+ community, but are open to everyone, where anyone is welcome [and] where freedom and respect are the most important values.”
On the other hand, people who don’t belong to the LGBTIQ+ community have every other hotel both in and outside Cuba to visit, including this one, where historically, they have enjoyed a tailored service and where they are able to manifest their gender identity and sexual orientation without the burden of an indiscreet or scornful look, not to mention the fact they have never been censored or suffered verbal or physical attacks or been kicked out.
Saying that these spaces are “like a hotel opening up for heterosexuals” reminds us way too much of the “all lives matter” responses to the legitimacy of the Black Lives Matter movement, in an attempt to void or ignore the inequality and privileges of some groups. By default, hotels have been and are heterofriendly, throughout history. It’s not only hotels too.
The GAVIOTA Group’s announcement (that belongs to the GAESA military conglomerate), says that this alliance with Axel Hotels “is also a sign that society is evolving towards inclusiveness and support for the LGBTIQ+ community’s rights.”
There has been talk of pinkwashing, a concept which, in this case, calls into question political and market strategies that promote people, products, companies etc,. as a LGBTIQ+ supporter in order to project a progressive and modern image.
This isn’t the first time that the Cuban government is being accused of this. It happened on May 17th when the Ministry of Public Health hoisted a huge rainbow-colored flag up next to the Cuban one. Some people reacted in the same way when sex-ed classes were approved in schools.
The multicolor flag hung outside a government building, the Ministry of Education’s resolution and the creation of spaces designed specifically for the LGBTIQ+ community, do not form part of the problem and don’t make things any worse. Recognizing these rights for Cuba’s LGBTIQ+ community is an outstanding debt.
It comes at a time when the rainbow flag can be seen on bracelets and in stadium lights during the Euro Cup; Spain has passed a Trans Act; Argentina, its Labor Quota Law; France, a Bioethical Law for Assisted Reproduction; the Zan Law is under heated debate in Italy, with open resistance from the Vatican; and Cuba awaits its new Family Code, which will confirm whether recent gestures are just pinkwashing or whether we really are before the doors of change.