14 December 2007

Cuba Regrets 'Past Homophobia'

Gerardo Arreola

Cuba considers the official homophobia of the past decades “an error” but this period still needs discussing: ”what happened has to be analysed,” says sexologist Mariela Castro Espín. The director of the National Centre of Sex Education (Cenesex) announced at the start of last year a legal initiative to recognise the rights of the transsexuals to identity and to clinical attention, a proposal that has been reformulated through discussion. The project, which still awaits legislative passage, has incorporated among other points the rights of free sexual orientation… and of adoption for same sex pairs, comparable to heterosexual unions. Mariela (is) daughter of the stand-in President, Raúl Castro, and Vilma Espín, the late defender of gender rights.

A controversy broke out last January about the ‘quinquenio gris’ (refers to a gray period, variously interpreted as being of five to fifteen years), as the censorship and homophobic discrimination of the Seventies is remembered. Mariela, who participated in the debate, was asked if the discussion would have to extend to other aspects of the past like penalisation of “ostentatious” homosexuality or the agricultural camps where people of that orientation were interned.

She points out that “in the history of a human being, errors are made and one has to go on learning and taking lessons from those mistakes. But institutions also commit errors and have to be capable of recognising why it was a mistake and what it is going to do so that the mistakes are not repeated, what laws have to be established, which values have to be instituted”.

“The errors which Cuba committed were very similar to those that were and still are committed in many countries. Cuba was a reflection of the world. The same happened here that happened in other places, only that much more got out because it was expected that a Socialist revolution could not commit those errors because it was a revolution for the emancipation of man. The ideology at that time was permeated with homophobia and prejudices. The Communist parties were very homophobic. It is recently that they have more inclusive attitudes.”

Reviewing the achievements and obstacles in overcoming the decades of discrimination, Mariela considers that the Cuban media “still timidly approaches” sexual diversity. “They are losing the fear”: last year a telenovela which tackled male bisexuality caused an intense social controversy; the newspaper Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth) has a section on sex; television approaches the theme in a comedy programmes and a short drama was broadcast about a lesbian pair.

But prejudice is still deep-rooted in society and in the government: “There still are institutions that take the right to decide if a lesbian, gay or transsexual person can or not occupy a post.” In the educational sector “we have achieved very little”: schools turn down transsexuals who wish to dress according to their real sex… they are vulnerable to mockery and rejection and abandon studies. Cenesex speaks with the police about how to behave in public spaces with homosexuals or transsexuals: “there are people very grateful for that conversation though others are not so receptive”.

A group of transsexuals work at the centre getting ready to become health promoters “ so that society sees them that way and not as a curse”; there is another group of lesbians and in both cases they discuss common problems, at times with the participation of families. Hoping that the initiatives with reach their legislative passage, at a still to be determined date, Cenesex works to “educate the public that deserves to be informed before a thing like this is set on them from the blue. Because if not, the people will feel upset and broken”.

Published in La Jornada, Mexico, on December 10, 2007. Link:

1 comment:

Arne Hanna said...

I was recently in Santiago De Cuba where I stayed with a gay couple one of whom is Cuba's most renowned ceramic artist. Two more gentle and sweet persons are there not on the face of this earth. The other of the two was a godsend in so far as he turned out to be a most capable chef something, as anyone who has been to Cuba will be aware, of a rare asset.
I saw many gay couples in Santiago and detected not the slightest evidence of homophobia with regard to the local population.