How Cuba Deals with LGTBs

Between Justice and Consensus

Fernando Ravsberg

Activity during this year's campaign against homophobia in Cuba. Photo: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

HAVANA TIMES, May 19 — Tuesday was “International Day against Homophobia.” Barely 20 years ago the World Health Organization withdrew homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses, an action evidencing that this has indeed been a global prejudice.

Of the 192 countries represented within the UN, 80 have laws that punish that sexual alternative and nine of those nations go to the extreme of applying the death penalty against it.  To this is added the fact that some churches consider homosexuality an aberration.

Having spelled this out, which is necessary for putting the problem in context, we can devote ourselves to looking at how homophobia is reflected in Cuba, with the security that other colleagues will do the same wherever they are.

The promoters of the campaign against homophobia on the island are raising the idea that “humanity is diversity.”  This reminded me that for Marti “Homeland is Humanity,” and from this I concluded that the concepts of “homeland” and “diversity” are closely bound.

However, the legislators of the homeland don’t seem to perceive the situation this same way.  They continue to refrain from discussing — a form of vetoing without debating — the new Family Code that addresses, among other issues, the rights of lesbians, gays, transsexuals and bisexuals (LGTBs).

For the LGTB community it would be quite simple to put the issue on Parliament’s agenda.  They would only have to collect 10,000 signatures, as was done by the dissidents, to force the deputies to debate the Family Code and make a decision on it.

Mariela Castro, the director of the National Center for Sexual Education, smiled and responded to me saying that they prefer to create consciousness instead of using judicial remedies within their reach to pressure the most reluctant deputies.

The Parliament Runaround

Photo: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

But the “parliamentary runaround” could drag out for years, and meanwhile an entire community of Cuban citizens will continue living without laws to protect them from the prejudices of society and even from their own authorities.

Moreover, this is a debt of the Cuban Revolution to a minority against which too many abuses have already been committed, from social and professional marginalization to detention in labor camps (the Military Units to Assist Production, or UMAP).

Officially they don’t like for us journalists to mention UMAP.  Officials tell us that this is part of a past that’s now dead, but no one can explain to us why the deputies refuse to bury it.

From “Paquito’s blog” (the Spanish language PaquitoeldeCuba) I learned that the police still talk about dangerous places of homosexual gatherings, but they don’t have a category of “dangerous sites of heterosexual gatherings,” though I’m certain they exist.

Still, something has advanced when officers accept meeting with members of the LGTB community.  There was a time when the police chief gave the order to “jail all men dressed like women, even if they had papers signed by Mariela.”

Likewise, not too long ago, when making a report on an effort to pevent gays from frequenting the beach, one of the police on duty encouraged us to take a lot of photos so that his higher-ups could see them and prohibit this troublesome situation.

Those officers of law and order consider it “disorderly conduct” when two people of the same sex give kiss at the beach, but it doesn’t bother them when a heterosexual couple makes love in the water, an image that all of us swimmers have seen more than once.

Photo: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Therefore, it will be necessary to educate the deputies as well as the police, but they’re not the sole ones.  Recently a group of very capable doctors told me that they were against sex change operations in Cuba.

“We shouldn’t prioritize those procedures over other life or death needs such as transplants, which we often have to defer due to the lack of resources,” they argued.  I found that argument so solid that I posed it to Mariela Castro.

She assured me that this was a straw man argument, an attack on a misrepresented situation, because the operations as well as the trips by doctors to Europe to learn the surgical technique were financed with money from an international project.

Dr. Alberto Roque, of CENESEX, added that occasionally sex change operations are also life or death situations because the rate of suicide among transsexuals is so high.  “They even end up cutting off their genitals themselves,” he said.

It’s evident that there’s still a long road to travel to assimilate the fact that diversity is the most natural characteristic of humanity.  Mental changes are slow, but life shouldn’t stop until everyone “becomes conscious.”

If this approach had been attempted with similar patience in other terrains, women still wouldn’t vote, blacks would be sitting in different schools across the island and Cuba wouldn’t have been declared socialist in the 1960s.


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


2 thoughts on “How Cuba Deals with LGTBs

  • Here in canada the rule is simple be who you are

  • 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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