Cuba Parade Says No to Homophobia

By Irina Echarry, Photos: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES, May 15 — Once again 23rd Street in Havana’s Vedado district was chaperoned by the police, while gays, lesbians and transsexuals paraded down that central boulevard. The short march began at the cascading Malecon fountain only a few blocks from Pabellon Cuba – the center of this year’s near-month-long “Campaign against Homophobia.” Colors, music and flags abounded.

The majority of the participants took advantage of the occasion to display who they are, without being repressed, though their presence stirred the curiosity of passing onlookers. The police, apparently playing a safeguarding role, must have been cursing the day when they had to assist the same people they abuse throughout the rest of the year.

These are the very ones who the police usually fine (and sometimes cart in to the station) for being at a gay meeting place on the Malecon, or who they harass at Mi Cayito (the beach that’s supposedly a zero intolerance zone). That’s why the uniformed officers didn’t hesitate in making fun (among themselves) of those who came to celebrate “their day.”

This is the day LGTBs are permitted to come out and show themselves off. Nonetheless, comments like “Look how that fag dressed in black moves… that’s to get you to do him,” could be heard among Havana’s finest as they broke out in laughter.

It’s been a few years now that the campaign against homophobia has been held in Cuba to eradicate that evil. Yet lesbians, gays, transsexuals and bisexuals continue being the objects of police repression, social humiliation, mockery and family rejection.

Repressed and spurned for such a long time, this is the one day when displaying themselves openly and congregating becomes a carnival. Some put on dazzling cabaret make-up at ten in the morning, others decked themselves out in wedding gowns and a few preferred to walk down the street kissing, unaware of the vortex that rallied them all together.

Spontaneous parades are not permitted in Cuba. All of them must be guided by the officialdom. The LGTB community, disallowed until a few years ago, has been winning official “recognition.” The place selected for the cultural gala this year was the important Karl Marx Theater, where outstanding events are held and major figures in the cultural world perform.

Sexual diversity is recognized and there exist lesbian and gay groups that meet and do everything possible so that their voices don’t go ignored. Even still, much is lacking before people and legal institutions begin to accept homosexuality without considering those having a different sexual orientation strange or weird. The road is long and we’ve barely begun the journey.

Additionally, what could mean progress in the struggle against homophobia could also degenerate into its opposite. A parade held once a year along barely four city blocks doesn’t help in gaining acceptance of homosexuals as human beings with the rights to walk down any street or to meet in any place at any time without being attacked (verbally or physically) or excluded by their fellow citizens, or — within a closer circle — by their very own families.

It doesn’t make sense that the gay community spends the whole year being invisible and that for one day the authorities draw open the curtain hiding them so the world can see that homosexuals in Cuba have rights. Homophobia is not eliminated like this; on the contrary, during that day many people go to see the “show” and to take photos, as if it were a carnival with freaks on display.

To make matters worse, this year they stole that show from the gay rights activists, though many of them didn’t even realize it. Groups of young people shouted rallying cries like: “It’s heard, it’s felt, the youth are present” – as if they were in a Young Communist League rally. Likewise, there were posters with slogans appropriate for other political events; one’s like “Cuba demands the liberation of the Cuban Five.”

The only demand on that one day should have been around the battle for the liberation of gays, lesbians and transsexuals, for their full freedom here in our Cuba. This struggle is too intense and urgent to relegate to take a back seat.

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3 thoughts on “Cuba Parade Says No to Homophobia

  • Wow …. in 1997 Scotland Yard was still harassing gay men in London. But live in the past if you wish. Cuba and the world marches on while right-wing Americanos seek to return to the past when the US and the aristocratic (but criminal) minority of elitist Cubans controlled Cuba as an American colony. In fact, Fidel himself went on record two years ago saying that he regretted not paying sufficient attention to the rights of homosexual citizens in earlier years of the revolution. It is not common for Fidel to apologize and very significant when he does. The municipal government of Santa Clara was one of the first, not only sanction but to help organize, a gay club in their city years ago. In December 2010, with increased legalization of private business ventures, a gay disco was opened (and very open!) in Havana. The state provides financial and organizational support for anti-homophobia days (very similar to Pride events) every May across the country. Numerous films and stage presentations with gay-awareness and gay-acceptance themes have been produced reflecting the much higher level of artistic liberation and independence that exists in Cuba than many other countries … arguably even the United States where public funding for the “gay arts” is virtually non-existent. The fact is that the Cuban revolution has evolved and is evolving to create a more open and just society. For example in April I attended a symphony concert in Santa Clara and a ballet in Havana.. both wonderful family events (free in Santa Clara, 20 cents in Havana). Of course it was made possible through the publicly funded salaries provided the performers and professional musicians. In North America, the symphony, ballet, opera and other forms of artistic expression are available only to the minority who can afford to attend …. less than 15% of the US population patronize such events! Cuba has serious economic problems and is seeking to address those problems in their own way … despite the US restrictions placed on trade that still affect much of the economy and without any need for lessons from the Miami mafia or the looney-right Republicans that frequent this website. I repeat …. as a gay man, I feel totally liberated in Cuba as in Spain and other countries that are significantly more socially progressive than the US. Viva Cuba!

  • Your description of police, non-gay on lookers, and others in such a derogatory manner …. clearly as a means to diminish the significance of gay rights and acceptance in Cuba, could more readily be applied to similar events held in various European, US and Canadian cities. My own experience as a gay man is that there is greater acceptance and liberal attitudes among heterosexual Cubans in general than there is in Canada and certainly in comparison with the regressive US mid west and south. Yeah, we know this site is intended to be negative about Cuba while being very soft on US policies that continue to cause great harm to the Cuban economy and Cuban people. Or, wait a minute, are you actually funded by the US government … well under the mesa por supuesto.

  • According to the World Policy Institute (2003), the Cuban government prohibits LGBT organizations and publications, gay pride marches and gay clubs.[14] All officially sanctioned clubs and meeting places are required to be heterosexual. The only gay and lesbian civil rights organization, the Cuban Association of Gays and Lesbians, which formed in 1994, was closed in 1997 and its members were taken into custody.[15] Private gay parties, named for their price of admission, “10 Pesos”, exist but are often raided. In 1997, Agencia de Prensa Independiente de Cuba (the Cuban Independent Press Agency) reported, that Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar and French designer Jean Paul Gaultier were among several hundred people detained in a raid on Havana’s most popular gay discothèque, El Periquiton.[16]

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