The following is the last interview in a series of exchanges with Cuban LGBTQI activists working inside the country and citizens living abroad. The previous interviews, that put light on complex issues about the changes in the law and the vision of society around LGBTQI rights, can be read here and here.
Michel Gonzalez Nuñez has a journalism degree from the Universidad de La Habana and is from Pinar del Río, the tenth largest city in Cuba. Although Michel has known that he was gay since he was a young boy, he didn't come out until he was 24. Michel lives with his partner Noelio Hernández, a fellow Cuban from Nuevitas in the region of Camagüey. Michel and Noel have been together for two years, and like many other Cubans in the diaspora, they live in Miami, USA; however, what sets them apart from this diaspora is that Michel and Noel will soon marry — something still not possible in their native Cuba.
Global Voices spoke with Michel about some of the issues affecting members of the LGBTI community who can't exercise the same rights as Michel and Noel, from the legal aspects to his own personal experiences and those of the people he knows:
GV: I assume that you are interested in how same-sex marriage could be recognized in Cuba. In your opinion, how could this possibly be considered?
MG: I came to the United States to start my own family, among other things. It is important to me that people of the same sex can start families in every part of the world — legally and with all the rights. Given its ideology, Cuba should have been one of the first countries to approve and defend marriage equality for everyone. It is what a “revolutionary” government in every sense of the word should do.
The reality has been very different, though. According to the government, Cuban society is not ready to take this step. Also, there is a proposal for a “new” Family Code, but it's been locked away for years in the desk drawer of those who should have approved the proposal in the National Assembly. The only “new” thing there is the fact that they call it “new”.
[In Cuba, the Family Code is a legal text devoted to regulate matters of family rights. This text is independent from the Civil Code and it's created to protect in more specific and direct ways legal areas between public and private law].
I imagine it can be shocking to pass a “homosexual” law in a “revolution” so pumped with testosterone. It would mean, first, to change the people currently in charge of making those kinds of decisions. Then, the new decision makers should possess a better and more complete understanding of the issue. They should be capable of approaching these kinds of matters with an open mind, assuming the role of a State, and not a “macho” man, like it has been until now.
However, Michel also adds:
MG: Since the beginning of its modern society, Cuba's decision making process has been avant-garde. We were among the first countries to have universities (1728) and to apply new teaching methods that turned away from the scholastic rigidity of those times.
Technological advances in production and development such as the steam engine (1796) and the railway (1837) were implemented in Cuba. Society was always in contact with the best and most advanced ideas, both domestically and abroad, and it used this knowledge for its social and intellectual enrichment. We were among the first countries to legalize women's suffrage (1934) and abortion (1968); and it is said that the 1940 Constitution of Cuba was one of the most advanced of its time.
If all this and more was possible, why do the authorities say that Cuban society is not ready to legalize same-sex marriage?
Today, this bill should be taken to the Cuban parliament for a serious and frank debate, but I don't believe that the traditional leadership has what it takes to do this.
“Explain to me what ‘revolutionary’ means.”
GV: Do you know of any cases where gay couples in Cuba have suffered some kind of injustice because they were not legally married?
MG: I have friends who are in stable relationships which have lasted for more than two decades, but they still do not have the right to formalize these unions under the law, not even when they try to make their partner the beneficiary of their estate in writing. Ultimately, it is a decision which depends on the will of close relatives. No legal or moral guarantees exist to ensure that their stated intentions would be fulfilled.
GV: What about cases of injustice faced by partners who were in a legal union?
MG: Some years ago, one of my best friends traveled to Cuba with his partner who is a Spanish citizen. They stayed at the Habana Libre [hotel]. When they got back from walking around the city, the hotel security guards did not allow them to return to their room. The front desk personnel treated my [Cuban friend] like a prostitute. The situation became embarrassing when it was discovered that the reservation (as well as the travel expenses) were paid for by the Cuban man and not the Spanish citizen. A dry “sorry for the inconvenience” was all they received after that.
In any other place, we know that a discrimination lawsuit would have been very bad for the hotel chain. But in Cuba, that doesn't happen. People will always prefer gay people to stay quiet.
GV: We know that in the proposals for the new Family Code, which still hasn't been presented to the Cuban parliament, same-sex marriage is not included, but rather a “consensual union”. What is your opinion about this?
MG: I think that it is one more slap in the face to include in the beatings received by the Cuban LGBTQI community.
If only partially granting rights and liberties makes a society “revolutionary”, then someone needs to explain to me what “revolutionary” means. To me, this is a contradiction.
In an article published in Granma (an entity of the Communist Party of Cuba) four years ago, a commenter named Ernesto Martínez Hernández said that “…allowing gay marriage is disrespectful to society, just like allowing legal contracts between people and animals is not normal. It should not be legalized because it is not natural. There are couples who live their whole lives without getting married, [why] fight to legalize something that is not normal by nature?” How would you respond to that line of thinking?
MG: To Granma I would say that it is an embarrassment to waste scarce space and publish such stupid thinks. And Mr. Martínez Hernández does not deserve a minute of our time. Our energy, effort and thoughts have to focus on the support, defense and promotion of Cuban society's rights and liberties, for all of its individuals, including the gay community…including the rights of Mr. Martínez Hernández.