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Cuba: Symposium Against Homophobia, for Inclusion and Diversity

Categories: Latin America, Cuba, Citizen Media, Digital Activism, LGBTQ+, Politics

The acceptance of others is one of the great challenges that contemporary societies face. Since 2008 in Cuba, a symposium against homophobia has been held in May with activities against all types of discrimination related to gender identity and sexual orientation.

The event is coordinated by the National Centre for Sex Education [1] (Cenesex) [es] – the country's main official promoter of the recognition of sexual diversity and gender equality. Its main objective is “to contribute to the education of the whole society, with an emphasis on the family, respecting the right to free and responsible sexual orientation and gender identity as an exercise of equality and social justice.”

In several cities, especially in the host city this year, Cienfuegos, parades, festivals, films, plays and art exhibitions were held to promote respect for sexual diversity and the fight against homophobia.  The writer Virgilio Piñera (1912-1979), who was silenced in the 1970s due to his homosexuality, was also honored.

Parade accompanied by conga music and stilts in the central Avenue 23 in La Rampa, during the Fifth Cuban Day against Homophobia, 12 May 2012. Photo: Courtesy AIN FOTO/Omara García Mederos

For the fifth consecutive year, Street 23 in central Havana was host to a conga (Cuban folk dance) which brought together hundreds of people with different histories and motivations.  Many people from the academic world and civil society discussed the the topic homosexuality in meetings, panels and debates, and in particular they discussed the the vulnerability associated with HIV.

As expected, the Cuban blogosphere was the center of heated debates. In the blog La isla y la espina [2] [es], Rey Alexander Rodríguez Cureux presents one of the recurring issues being talked among Cubans since the celebration of the 5th Symposium Against Homophobia:  the date on which the symposium is held.  The Symposium is held on the same date as the Day of the Peasant.

Cureux says in his blog that in the homophobic and chauvinistic national discourse this coincidence would be translated as “screwing the peasant's day to have a day celebrating homosexuals.”

The post concludes:

Quizás se debe insistir en la homogeneidad de la celebración. En que no palidezca en las provincias, después de una celebración nacional. En que antes, durante o después de ella, los medios de comunicación se hagan eco del suceso ‘social’, no en la ‘red de redes’, de acceso limitado.

Que se entienda que es un llamado a la unidad, a través del respeto.

Maybe one should insist that everyone takes part in the celebration. That the provinces do not pale in significance in comparison with a national celebration. So that, before, during or after the event the media can speak of a'social’ success, not just in some networks or places with limited access.

One must understand that this is a call for unity through respect.

Francisco Rodriguez Cruz, blogger, journalist and one of the most outspoken activists of gay rights movement in Cuba, devoted several posts to the topic in his blog PaquitoeldeCuba [3] [es] dedicated mostly to LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersexed) thematics. In a post dated 30 May [4] [es] he talks about of the warning raised by an activist about a book recently published in Cuba that makes pejorative references to homoseuxality. The call to remove the book from sale motivated many commentators to criticise the attitude, which he believes is an unforgivable act of censorship.

One reader dubbed as “the Reporter” commented on his post:.

Ve a la televisión y machaca al autor, pisotéalo, arráncale los pelos pero él tiene todo el derecho de expresar su opinión.

You can go to the TV station and trample the presenter and even tear his hair out, but he has all the right to express his opinion.

Another post [5] [es] addresses the panel discussion that took place in Cienfuegos, where on the same day as the symposium a famous ex-baseball player publicly acknowledged the existence of gay players in Cuba and the difficulties they face due to the homophobia that prevails in the sport.

‘Sí conozco muchos atletas, y en mi deporte el beisbol, que tienen inclinación por personas del mismo sexo, pero no lo demuestran producto de ese mismo ambiente. En el deporte no se admite, dentro de los mismos atletas, ese ambiente que a veces no está acorde con un juego de beisbol o cualquier otro deporte’, dijo el antiguo pelotero.

Cuánto sufrimiento e injusticia padecerían esos deportistas que en el béisbol o en otras disciplinas, tienen que ocultar su orientación sexual, no pueden hablar y mostrar sus afectos y sentimientos como el resto de sus compañeros o compañeras, bajo pena de recibir burlas y rechazo, y en casos extremos, hasta la separación de sus equipos.

‘Yes, I know many athletes within baseball who have same-sex preferences, but they do not show it.  In this sport it is not accepted, the environment they find themselves in is not consistent with a baseball game or any other sport,’ said the former player.

These athletes suffer so much in baseball or in other sports – they have to hide their sexual orientation, they cannot speak and show their emotions and feelings like the rest of their teammates. They face being the subject of ridicule and rejection, to the point, in extreme cases, of being expelled from their teams.

Due to the interactive characteristics of blogs, recently it has been the participants who take over the discussion and direct the post towards areas that have little to do with the original post.  At one point, comments in Paquito's blog discussed the controversial visit to the United States of the Cenesex director Mariela Castro.  Her relationship with the leading figures of the country (she is the daughter of President Raúl Castro) came under scrutiny and her defence of sexual diversity was questioned, especially as she is known as “the little princess” by some members of the opposition.

The website Café Fuerte [6] [es], known for its critique of the Cuban government, recognized the positive step made by the country in publishing an editorial [7] [es] in the Granma newspaper (official organ of the Cuban Communist Party).  In this editorial, the journalist and health specialist José de la Osa explains the motives behind the celebration of the Symposium Against Homophobia in Cuba.

Café Fuerte shows how in the same newspaper that once in the 1970's referred to homosexuality as an “ideological deviation”, now, almost four decades later, promotes the acceptance of difference.  This policy is consistent with what was recently approved during the First National Conference of the Cuban Communist Party (CCP) – which explicitly rejects all forms of discrimination based on skin color, gender, religious beliefs, sexual orientation and territorial origin, and states that they are contrary to the Constitution and laws of the island.

Mariela Castro stated that the CCP National Conference, held last January, left her with an “ambivalent feeling.”  “I was left dissatisfied because I had hoped for a deeper discussion and that we could participate in these dialogues,” she said.  She added however that the objectives of the CCP “are general guidelines” that mark the path for a way of working “deeper”.

Various blogs have discussed the challenges the Cuban government faces in recognizing the legal equality of non-heterosexuals.  Along this tortuous path is the bill that would amend the Family Code to give way to laws such as the legal union between same sex couples.  After years of waiting, the bill has not yet been brought before the National Assembly for discussion, although since 2008 it is a part of a legislative plan of the Ministry of Justice.  Mariela Castro has referred to the “obstacles” this bill has confronted.

However, the LGBTI movement considers the administrative approval of sex change operations in 2008 to be a major victory.  This move has generated controversy by some that believe that the Cuban government should not spend resources on issues that they believe to not be “life threatening.”