By Dalia Acosta
HAVANA TIMES, May 22 (IPS) – With this past Sunday’s celebration of International Struggle against Homophobia and Transphobia Day, a new campaign was launched in support of sexual diversity, counseling homophobes to be diagnosed and seek treatment for their “dysfunction.”
“Homophobia is an illness, and it has a cure” was the title of the call presented by Colegas (the Spanish Confederation of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transsexuals), which opposes theories, prejudices and stereotypes that insist on equating all non-heterosexual qualities with dysfunctions, illnesses or abnormalities.
Similarly, a few weeks ago Cuba’s National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX) began its campaign titled “Diversity is the Norm,” an effort that will extend throughout this entire year but which had its highpoint on Saturday.
A conga – led by gays, lesbians, transsexuals and people sensitized in the sexual diversity struggle – extended some 200 yards along 23rd Street in the very heart of Havana, and without any interference by the police or anyone else.
“We didn’t organize a gay march, because gays are not the problem; the problem is homophobia,” said CENESEX director Mariela Castro when inaugurating the main event of the nation-wide celebration, which included panels, debates, book presentations, concerts, exhibits and activities in other Cuban provinces.
Added to the activities at the Cuba Pavilion exhibition center, held for the first time last year, was an intense program at the headquarters of the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC), which involved some of the most important intellectuals in the country in a gesture of clear support of the position taken by CENESEX.
Call for greater government support
However, contrary to last year, when the celebrations had a significant coverage, the Cuban mass media hardly reported the events this time, an omission that was criticized by participants at the Pavilion.
The inadequate work of the press, underhanded discrimination behind administrative decisions that violate the nation’s laws, the absence of opportunities for sharing experiences and police prejudice were only a few of the problems that were raised during the panel discussion on “Sexual Diversity and the Family.”
“The general tone was not one of despair but of dissent, with an understanding of the need and the demand for greater government support,” said Gustavo Alvarado, a research center worker from Matanzas Province. He traveled to the capital to attend the day’s main activity.
While gays, lesbians and transsexuals in Cuba spoke up for their rights in a peaceful and rather festival way, news arrived from Russia about a police crackdown on a gay pride march in which some 25 people were arrested.
Marches, critiques and the presentation of sensitization campaigns also occurred in other countries of Latin America for this annual celebration, which evokes the memory of May 17, 1990, the date when the World Health Organization struck homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses.
A crowd also marched on the Honduran seat of government protesting several acts of violence and the death of members of that country’s “lesbian, gay, trans and bisexual community.”
Likewise, the Bolivian press reported that acting Ombudsman Patricia Flores called on the people of that country to “break with religious taboos and cultural prejudices, because people of different sexual orientations and identities have the same rights as anyone else.”
A report by the International Association of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexual, Trans and Intersexuals disclosed last week that 80 countries have homophobic laws sponsored by their respective governments. In fact, homosexuality is punished by death in Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Yemen and areas of Nigeria and Somalia.
Meanwhile, the Joint Program of the United Nations on HIV/AIDS (ONUSIDA), in a statement issued Friday, acknowledged that homophobia impedes the struggle against this pandemic.
Research carried out in Cuba has revealed that zero-positive gays have experienced more discrimination and stigma because of their sexual orientation than for being HIV carriers.
Around 80 percent of Cubans infected with HIV are men, and most of them continue to have sex with other men.
Lesbians demand visibility
Another disclosure was that the demands of lesbians usually go unseen in the broad movement against homophobia and transphobia in most countries of Latin America.
“We did everything ourselves. We printed as many stickers and leaflets as we could,” said Monica Collazo. She is a member of Oremi, a CENESEX forum for reflection among lesbians and female bisexuals, an organized effort that has begun to expand to other Cuban provinces.
Collazo believes that information on lesbians should have the same priority in public campaigns as that of male homosexuality and transexuality, which also receive favored treatment in efforts to sensitize people to populations classified as most vulnerable to HIV/AIDS.
“Who knows about the services that CENESEX provides? How do we find out where to go when our rights are violated? How many lesbians in Havana know that there are places for them? When will we have access to assisted fertilization?” asked several women interviewed by IPS.
Assisted (in vitro) fertilization for lesbians is part of a package of proposals promoted by CENESEX and the Federation of Cuban Women. Also included is the reform of the country’s Family Code, which –if approved– will recognize equal rights for heterosexual and homosexual couples.