Equal Rights Progress in Cuba

Fernando Ravsberg

The campaign against homophobia has gained allies but still has influential detractors. Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES, May 14 – I’m not in Cuba at the moment, but I’ve been reading that currently the “Day against Homophobia” is being celebrated there.  This is being organized by the National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX), which is directed by Mariela Castro, the daughter of Cuban President Raul Castro.

However CENESEX is no longer the sole convener; new organizations have joined this effort. Those participating include the Cuban Union of Writers and Artists (UNEAC), the National Council of the Visual Arts and the Center for the Prevention of AIDS.

Yet opposition remains strong.  In the latest interview that Mariela Castro granted to BBC Mundo, she explained that her father has always recommended she do things intelligently so that she has less resistance and wins more allies.

She told us then that those people holding prejudices are without solid arguments; they lack logic and there is no rational behind them.  What we want is that these people become capable of overcoming their prejudices with knowledge, or at least develop the capacity to respect the rights of others.

The problem gets complicated when those who have prejudices also have power.  What is certain it is that reform of the island’s Family Code is being held up because incorporated in it was a paragraph that addresses the rights of people who are gay, transsexual or lesbian.

I was told by an important Cuban legislator —who was indignant— that Mariela did a disfavor to this effort when she incorporated that issue.  Presently, approval of this convention has been delayed though it regulates other truly important matters, such as the rights of the elderly.

I hope I’m mistaken, but it seems that there are parliamentarians who are ready to do harm to the whole of society by holding up the approval of the Family Code to prevent people who are homosexual from being entitled to specific rights.

It’s not that the proposal being led by Mariela is radical by any means.  On the issue of gay couples, for example, it does not contemplate marriages between them nor their right to adopt children; it only seeks the legal recognition of unions between people of the same sex.

Curiously, some leading figures of the Communist Party are calling for moderation regarding the legislation on gay rights.  These officials say they don’t want to offend the Christian community. The reality, though, is that they should refer directly to the authorities of the Catholic Church.

In fact, this Day Against Homophobia campaign includes members of Protestant churches among its organizers – groups such as the Martin Luther King Center, which is a Christian organization but non-fundamentalist when it comes to speaking out on homosexuality.

CENESEX is truly managing to win allies, in addition to bringing recognition to the work of others who have also struggled for years so that all Cubans are entitled the same rights, regardless of their sexual preferences.

This is why this year’s principal activity against homophobia is being carried out in the city of Santa Clara.  This provincial capital won that privilege by being the first city that has a cultural center with programs for everyone – from transvestites and young rock fans to grandparents in love with the sounds of boleros.

That center, El Mejunje (Spanish for “mixture”), was created by Silverio decades ago, during the time when the editor of the newspaper La Habana called for a police operation to “clean up” Havana’s Malecon seawall of gays and transvestites so that Cuban families wouldn’t be “contaminated.”

This journalist didn’t deny them their right to be homosexuals, but he explained that they should be so only inside their homes.  A sharp debate took place in which the most tolerant factions proposed that special places be set aside for these individuals.

Nonetheless, Silverio didn’t fall for the temptation of creating a homosexuals-only center.  On the contrary: “We worked for integration. I’ve always had very present in my mind the thoughts of Cuban national hero Jose Marti: ‘With all and for the good of all,’ and here we have everyone represented,” he told me in an interview.

Society has advanced and homophobia has retreated.  Today no one dares to exclude an intellectual for being gay, nor can they deny people admission into universities for that fact.  All directors of the media know that to call for any campaign against gays would be mean their dismissal.

However the battle continues. Homophobia has powerful allies who boycott from the shadows. But their days are numbered, because those who deny diversity are swimming against the current of human nature.

An authorized translation by Havana Times (from the Spanish original) published by BBC Mundo.

2 thoughts on “Equal Rights Progress in Cuba

  • My impression is that the Cuban leadership is well ahead of the population on the matter of full equality for the LGBT population. Whatever personal feelings they have have as individuals, they know that official discrimination against LGBT people is bad for society and bad for Cuba’s standing on the international arena.

    Thus, the decision to move the main act for World Anti-Homophobia day from Havana into the center of the country, is an intelligent step designed to draw more people into the process, and to expand it beyond the capital of the country.

    If Fernando Ravsberg’s report is accurate, that there is resistance to incorporating LGBT rights in the Family Code, it means that the National Assembly is representative of society, and not a simple rubber stamp for whatever the leadership wants, as is commonly written and widely believed outside of the island.

    Walter Lippmann
    Los Angeles, California

  • That is sad, but it is like that everywhere. It is a struggle against people’s socially-reinforced mistrust of homosexuals. There’s nothing really wrong with being gay, but for whatever reason it is very difficult for people to abandon the basic mistrust of homosexuals built into them from childhood. Even in my liberal community, in school “faggot” was one of the favorite pejorative terms. I suppose the idea of gay rights is quite revolutionary! It is funny too that the Cuban state would try to avoid alienating Christians, of all groups!

    It is good that Mariela Castro is fighting for gay rights. It will win, but it is sad that there are setbacks in Cuba of all places. Cuba! The beacon of the radical left. No doubt the macho culture is part of the refusal of many men to accept change on this issue, huh? I think it is important to change the culture in the schools, specifically make it so calling someone gay in a pejorative sense is treated just like racial insults

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