Cuba: Eliminating All Forms of Discrimination and Restoring Freedoms

Yusimí Rodriguez

Elio-1HAVANA TIMES — Reading Granma’s cultural pages recently, I came across two things that would not have caught my attention had they been published separately. Seeing them in the same news piece, however, made me think my eyes were deceiving me: beneath a headline that read “Cuba Holds Gala against Homophobia”, the article featured a photo of Rene Gonzalez, one of the Cuban Five, next to Mariela Castro.

I wasn’t dreaming: before opening the gala, Cuba’s National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX) and LGTB-HI movement had given the Cuban Five a special token of acknowledgment, which Gonzalez accepted on his own behalf and that of the remaining imprisoned members of the group.

I couldn’t help asking myself what the fight against homophobia has to do with the Cuban Five, as they are known around the world. The words pronounced by Gonzalez on receiving the award appear to answer this question: “We’re involved in a struggle against attitudes that have made many people suffer. The suffering over being deprived of our freedom unites us. All forms of discrimination and of depriving people of their freedom must be eliminated.”

I had expected the gay rights movement and Center for Sexual Education to offer this award to someone who had been sent to one of Cuba’s Military Units for Aid in Production (UMAP) in the 60s and had remained in the country to tell their story, or someone who, homosexual or not, had devoted outstanding efforts to the struggle against discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Elio-2I know I haven’t the slightest right to question who the CENESEX and Cuban LGTB-HI chose to acknowledge, for whatever reasons they deem appropriate. What’s more, I shouldn’t be so surprised, not when slogans such as “No to homophobia, yes to socialism” are being yelled out, even though it was a socialist system which sent homosexuals to forced labor camps and expelled them from workplaces and educational institutions.

Today, more than acknowledge and rectify past mistakes, our government seeks to keep abreast of the times, to catch up to the 21st century. In this century, it is considered politically incorrect to be a homophobe or a racist.

In addition to this, in contrast to the times when it was thought that being a homosexual was tantamount to being a counterrevolutionary (by counterrevolutionary, I mean a person who did not support the government), today our leaders have noticed that someone can be homosexual, bisexual or transgender and revolutionary (that is, in favor of the government, the Party and the continuation of Cuba’s socialist model) all at once.

A person who’s homosexual, bisexual or transgender can also yell out slogans such as “No to homophobia, yes to socialism.”

That said, I cannot help but identify with the words spoken by Rene Gonzalez; I want to believe that they are sincere. What I’m curious about, though, is this: since when does he think it’s necessary to fight against these attitudes that have made so many people suffer, attitudes which were part and parcel of our government’s former policies?

Elio-3I can agree with the idea that the suffering over being deprived of one’s freedom can unite human beings, even when the nature of the freedom one is deprived of is different, provided we are able to walk in someone else’s shoes.

I’ve never been able to understand how a person who has suffered discrimination for their sexual orientation can have racist views, or how someone who’s suffered racism directly could discriminate against a fellow Cuban for having been born in a different region of the country. I’ve even seen homosexuals discriminate against transgender persons.

Is it safe to assume that Rene Gonzalez feels that having been deprived of his freedom somehow brings him closer to those who were deprived of it in 2003, during Cuba’s so-called Black Spring, to those who have endured this because of their criticisms of the government?

I completely support the statement that we must eliminate all forms of discrimination and of depriving people of their freedom.

My question is whether Rene Gonzalez is also thinking of freedom of the press, expression and association when he speaks of restrictions that must be eliminated, for, as they are referred to in our Constitution, where they are recognized only within the framework of socialism, they are not yet freedoms.

Those who disagree with the statement that these freedoms do not exist in Cuba resort to the argument that they do not exist anywhere in the world, or that their existence does not guarantee that a country is democratic.

I can’t say whether these freedoms are illusory the world over, for I haven’t traveled outside of Cuba. But, even if that’s the case, I don’t believe that is a strong enough argument to make us resign ourselves to living without such freedoms.

I concur with the idea that freedom of the press, expression and association do not guarantee the existence of democracy, in and of themselves. But I am convinced democracy cannot exist without them.

Rene Gonzalez (l) and Mariela Castro at the gala against homophobia. Photo:

Is Rene Gonzalez willing to recognize that everyone, including those who oppose the government and the system he defends, are entitled to these freedoms?

There’s a phrase I try never to forget: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

It is not a question of supporting the ideas expressed by Yoani Sanchez, but of defending her right to express them and of ensuring the Cuban people, the common Cuban, can be exposed to them directly.

It is not a question of affiliating oneself to the party Eliecer Avila wants to found, but of defending his right, as a citizen who is unsatisfied with the country’s existing party structure (both official and unrecognized), to create his own.

It is not a question of disagreeing with the Cuban government, but of recognizing the right of people to do so. Today, though many important things remain to be done, it is not so difficult to oppose discrimination based on sexual orientation. But men and women need more than sexual freedom in order to live happily.

I can only hope Rene Gonzalez will be able to act in accordance with his words. It is a great challenge.

4 thoughts on “Cuba: Eliminating All Forms of Discrimination and Restoring Freedoms

  • Yusimí Rodriguez, while it is good your raised the subject, your criticisms and suggestions are a bit naive. As Chris points out it is the right wing and conservative and governments around the world that typically are still opposed to homosexuals, even advocating they be executed if caught. In some other Caribbean countries there are still laws against male homosexuality calling for long prison sentences and even capital punishment. So when any country, its government or culture has become more progressive, we should praise and support this progress in human rights.

    To compare treating discrimination or worse against homosexuality years ago in Cuba or the US as the same thing as arresting people who actively try to overthrow their government using foreign resources (and in 2003 some of those punished used weapons and put civilians at risk) is a false equivalency. Except that many conservatives in the U.S. do believe homosexuals threaten the country, family and God and advocate rounding them up and forceably getting rid of the “gay.” Don’t believe that, then you don’t know what is going on in many parts of the world.

    If I did what the “dissidents” did in Cuba in 2003 in most countries, including the U.S. I’d still be in jail or dead. Except for the ferry hijackers, I believe all those arrested in 2003 were released. Did they threaten the independence of Cuba? If the U.S. wasn’t spending millions and send agents to do deadly harm to any form of socialism in Cuba and many other countries, then maybe I’d be more supportive of their right to be free to speak against socialism. But like Alan Gross, surely some of them were not fighting for freedom for all Cubans, but rather a special freedom for themselves to get rich and damn the poor who have been helped by socialism.

    Freedom to do what you want when it causes great harm to others is not a right I want to respect, especially when paid by the U.S. government and secret agencies.

    Rene calls for freedom for Cubans from homophobia. I believe him, he knows what really terrible prison conditions are like and he knows as I do that in the U.S. there are thousands of innocent people who die in prison with no hope. Do you want that kind of freedom? I think not, or at least I hope not.

  • One day soon all Cubans will be free.

  • Spitting poison?

  • It is shortsighted to assume that homophobia is somehow organically connected with socialism, for the simple reason that it isn’t. Gay Cubans have to accept that their people–and most other people in the world–are homophobic. That is the problem. The solution, unfortunately, does not lie in promoting socialism, but in understanding that there is no difference between homosexuality and heterosexuality. While explicitly socialist governments (and their societies) have not been in the forefront of legislating equality, it is nevertheless the case that, where this has happened, it has been done by left-wing political parties, and never by the right. In the context of their history and culture, Cubans are doing not badly in eliminating prejudice and discrimination. This is a cultural process, which requires government leadership, but it has nothing to do with economics, nor (again, unfortunately) with determinations on freedoms of speech and assembly. Cubans have, in view of their context, made great strides against racial and gender inequality, too. You have some combination of the Revolution and changing attitudes everywhere to thank for that. Also unfortunate is the failure on the part of many who have suffered discrimination and other mistreatment for other reasons, to understand that they should know better than to hate other minorities. They should, of course, but they don’t.

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