LGBT rights in Cuba
|LGBT rights in Cuba|
|Same-sex sexual activity legal?||Legal since 1979|
|Gender identity/expression||SRS provided by the government|
|Military service||Yes. Since 1993.|
|Discrimination protections||Yes, employment only|
|Same-sex marriage constitutionally banned|
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons in Cuba may face legal challenges not experienced by non-LGBT residents.
Public antipathy towards LGBT people is high, reflecting regional norms. This has eased somewhat since the 1990s. Educational campaigns on LGBT issues are currently implemented by the National Center for Sex Education, headed by Mariela Castro, President Raúl Castro's daughter.
- 1 Issues
- 2 Social conditions
- 3 History
- 4 Works
- 5 Summary table
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 External links
Legality of homosexuality
Legal recognition of same-sex unions
Article 36 of the Constitution of Cuba defines marriage as "the voluntarily established union between a man and a woman". Under Article 2 of the Family Code, marriage is restricted to the voluntary union of a man and a woman.
No alternative to marriage such as civil unions or domestic partnerships is available. Several measures favorable to the LGBT community, including the legalization of same-sex unions, have not passed the National Assembly of People's Power, Cuba's parliament.
Sex reassignment surgeries
HIV and AIDS
As of 2011, 13,692 Cubans aged 15 or over have tested positive for HIV, which represents 0.15 percent of this segment of the population. Of the age 15-49 population, 0.17 percent have tested positive. Men who have sex with men represent 72 percent of those who have tested positive. Since the first case of AIDS was disagnosed in Cuba in 1985, 15,824 persons have been diagnosed with HIV.
Cuba has the most genetically diverse HIV epidemic outside of Africa. HIV-positive persons living in Cuba are infected with 21 different strains of the virus, with 11 of those known nowhere else because they are the product of two (or more) strains mixing together. Most of the early HIV patients were heterosexual aid workers or soldiers, "internationalists", returning from other developing countries. They brought the different strains of HIV that persist in the country. By the mid-1990s, gay and bisexual men became the majority of Cuban HIV patients.
From 1986 until 1993, HIV-positive Cubans were quarantined in treatment centers (sanatorios), a policy that was heavily criticized by public health and human rights experts and officials outside Cuba. But because men-who-had-sex-with-men were a minority of quarantined Cubans, the stigmas associated with HIV infection and the country's significant homophobia did not necessarily coincide. The quarantine measure did not suggest a regime of discrimination against gay and bisexual men.
The quarantine system was relaxed in 1989 to allow travel between homes and the treatment centers. In late 1993, an outpatient day care program (sistema de atención ambulatoria) was set up for those who did not want to live in the treatment centers. The treatment centers are still open for those who prefer them to living at home.
All HIV-infected people are required to attend a two-week program called "Living with HIV". This program used to be held in the treatment centers, but is now mostly in the outpatient system and assisted by peer educators, who are frequently HIV-positive people. During the program patients are monitored to see if they are "trustworthy" – that is, sexually responsible, and if their diet, self-care, and medication are adequate. They are asked to disclose the names of any sexual partners during recent years. They are then traced and tested for HIV.
Certain groups are targeted for testing (HIV-positive sexual contacts, blood donors, pregnant women, all hospital admissions, and people with sexually transmitted diseases). All testing is voluntary, but strongly encouraged amongst the target groups. All HIV-positive patients retain their job entitlements and 100 percent of their salary, when they have to be absent from work. The stated aim of the program is to reintegrate all patients in their normal lives and prevent social rejection.
Homophobia is recognized as a problem in Cuba and is addressed through the HIV program (including school classes which begin at grade 5) as well as through the National Center for Sex Education. This education program includes a television soap opera that features gay, lesbian, and HIV-positive people.
Since 1998, Cuba has produced generic versions of some of the common anti-retroviral therapy drugs. These drugs were in short supply and imports were very expensive in the 1990s. However, since 2001, 100 percent of Cuban HIV-positive patients have had access to a relatively full cocktail of HAART (highly active anti-retroviral therapy), free of charge. The death rate from HIV infection has been falling rapidly since then, and most HIV-positive Cubans are avoiding opportunistic infections.
Freedom of association
According to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association and other sources, Cuba's only gay and lesbian civil rights organization, the Cuban Association of Gays and Lesbians, was formed in 1994 by eighteen people but was effectively shut down and its members arrested in 1997.
In 2013, a week of drag shows, colourful marches, and social and cultural events in Havana culminated with celebrations of the International Day Against Homophobia.
In pre-revolution Cuba, there were a few LGBT-friendly bars in Cuban cities, such as the St. Michel, the Dirty Dick, and El Gato Tuerto in Havana. But Cuba had strict laws that criminalized homosexuality and targeted gay men for harassment. "[T]o be a maricón (faggot) was to be a social outcast."
[D]iscrete lesbian or gay male identities in the modern sense - identities that are based on self-definition and involve emotional as well as physical aspects of same sex relations - were rare. Erotic loyalty (and, in the case of women, subservience) to the opposite sex was assumed as normal even by homosexuals. Hence, for many Cubans of this era, homosexuality was a mere addendum to customary marital roles. Among others, it was just a profitable commodification of sexual fantasy. For the vast majority, homosexuality made life a shameful and guilt-ridden experience.
Homosexuality was a component of Cuba's thriving prostitution industry, with many gay men drawn into prostitution for largely visitors and servicemen from the United States. Homosexuality also was linked to gambling and crime.
Rising homophobia during the 1960s
With the profit motive eradicated by the revolution, the superficial tolerance of LGBT persons by the strongly homophobic Cuban society quickly evaporated. Emigration to Miami began immediately, including lesbians and gay men who had worked for United States firms or had done domestic work for the native bourgeoisie. LGBT people who already had lived largely abroad moved away permanently.
[T]he homophobia and heterosexism that already existed ... became more systematized and institutionalized. Gender and sexuality explicitly entered political discourse even as vaguely worded laws increasingly targeted gender-transgressive men believed to be homosexual ... whereas lesbianism remained unnamed and invisible. Between 1959 and 1980[,] male homosexuals suffered a range of consequences from limited career options to detention in street sweeps to incarceration in labor camps. ... Long hair, tight pants, colorful shirts, so-called effeminate mannerisms, "inappropriate clothing," and "extravagant hairstyles" were seen as visible markers of male homosexuality. Such visible markers not only facilitated enforcement of homosexual repression; more broadly, visibility and gender transgressions themselves constituted a central part of the problem identified by the revolution. Even in the severest period of enforcement, Marvin Leiner reminds us, private homosexual expression was never the main target. Rather, "... the major concern, as it had always been, was with the public display of homosexuality."
Many of the progressive LGBT persons who remained in Cuba became involved in counter-revolutionary activities, independently or through encouragement of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and were jailed. The 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, commando attacks from Florida bases, and internal CIA-sponsored subversion created in Cuba an increaseed concern over national security. Realistic fears gave rise to paranoia, and anyone who was "different" fell under suspicion. Homosexual bars and La Rampa cruising areas were perceived as centers of counter-revolutionary activities and began to be systematically treated as such. The gay community was seen as a threat to the military order.
Cuba's new ally, the Soviet Union, had hostile policies towards gays and lesbians, seeing homosexuality as a product of the decadent capitalist society prevailing in Cuba in the 1950s. Fidel Castro made insulting comments about homosexuality. Castro's admiring description of rural life in Cuba ("in the country, there are no homosexuals") reflected the idea of homosexuality as bourgeois decadence, and he denounced "maricones" as "agents of imperialism". Castro explained his reasoning in a 1965 interview:
[W]e would never come to believe that a homosexual could embody the conditions and requirements of conduct that would enable us to consider him a true Revolutionary, a true Communist militant. A deviation of that nature clashes with the concept we have of what a militant Communist must be.
According to Ian Lumsden, traditional Spanish machismo and the Catholic Church have disdained effeminate and sexually passive males for centuries. The homophobia exposed during the revolution was a mere continuation of the well-established culture of machismo and rigid gender roles of pre-revolutionary Cuba. Barbara Weinstein, professor of Latin American history at New York University and co-editor of the Hispanic American Historical Review, said that gay people were defined as deviant and decadent but not weak or sick. She also claimed that the way that the Cuban revolution came to power gave it a stronger sense of masculinity than other revolutions. The guerrilla experience pervaded the political structure and the guerrilla army itself became the nucleus of a new society.
Cuban gay writer Reinaldo Arenas wrote, "[T]he decade of the sixties ... was precisely when all the new laws against homosexuals came into being, when the persecution started and concentration camps were opened, when the sexual act became taboo while the 'new man' was being proclaimed and masculinity exalted." LGBT persons were imprisoned frequently, particularly effeminate males, without charge or trial, and confined to forced labor camps.
Camps of forced labour were instituted with all speed to "correct" such deviations ... Verbal and physical mistreatment, shaved heads, work from dawn to dusk, hammocks, dirt floors, scarce food ... The camps became increasingly crowded as the methods of arrest became more expedient ...
In 1965, the country-wide Military Units to Aid Production (UMAP) program was set up as an alternative form of military service for pacifist religious groups, such as Jehovah Witnesses, hippies, conscientious objectors, and gay men. It was believed that the work, together with the strict regimes operating within the UMAP camps, would "rehabilitate" the participants. The camps became notorious inside and outside Cuba. Although the camps ended up targeting gay men more than most, "there is no evidence that [they] were created with homosexuals exclusively in mind."
A homosexual man who worked in a UMAP camp described the conditions there as follows, "[W]ork is hard because it's nearly always in the sun. We work 11 hours a day (cutting marble in a quarry) from seven in the morning to seven at night, with one hour's lunch break." Fidel Castro visited one of the UMAP camps incognito to experience the treatment for himself. He was followed by 100 boys from the Young Communist League whose identity was also kept secret. In 1968, shortly after these visits, the camps closed. Castro said, "They weren't units of internment or punishment.... However, after a visit I discovered the distortion in some places, of the original idea, because you can't deny that there were prejudices against homosexuals. I personally started a review of this matter. Those units only lasted three years."
Many gay artists and intellectuals like Reinaldo Arenas were attracted to the socialist promise of an egalitarian society, which would pave the way for cultural and sexual freedom and social justice. Gay writers largely wrote the popular journal Lunes de Revolución. Its radical ideas seemed to enjoy the favor of the Cuban government. But a couple of years after Castro's rise to power, this journal was closed down amidst a wave of media censorship. Its gay writers were publicly disgraced, refused publication, and dismissed from their jobs. Some were reassigned to work as janitors and labourers.
This period was dramatically documented by the 1980s documentary Improper Conduct, Reinaldo Arenas in his 1992 autobiography, Before Night Falls, as well as his fiction, most notably The Color of Summer and Farewell to the Sea.
Negative attitudes during most of the 1970s
Homophobia in Cuba persisted in the 1970s.
Although the UMAP program ended in 1968, the camps themselves continued. They became military units, and the same types of men were sent there as were sent to the UMAP camps. The only difference was that the men were paid a pitiful salary for their long and harsh working hours while living under very difficult and inhumane conditions. A 1984 documentary, Improper Conduct, interviewed several men who had been sent to these camps. In his autobiography, My Life, Fidel Castro claims the internment camps were used in lieu of the mistreatment homosexuals were receiving in the military during the Cuban intervention in Angola and other conflicts. They would do laborious tasks and be housed roughly, but some saw it as better than joining the Cuban military because there, they would often be publicly humiliated and discharged by homophobic elements.
After a discussion of homosexuality at the Cuban Educational and Cultural Congress in April 1971, homosexuality was declared to be a deviation incompatible with the revolution. Homosexuality was considered sufficient grounds for discriminatory measures to be adopted against the gay community, and homophobia was institutionalised. Gay and lesbian artists, teachers, and actors lost their jobs. Gays and lesbians were expelled from the Communist Party. Students were expelled from university. Gays were prohibited from having contact with children and young people. Gays were not allowed to represent their country.
Effeminate boys were forced to undergo aversion therapy.
In 1975, the People's Supreme Court found in favour of a group of marginalised gay artists who were claiming compensation and reinstatement in their place of work. The court's ruling was the initial change in official attitudes towards gays and lesbians. In the same year, a new Ministry of Culture was formed under the leadership of Armando Hart Dávalos, resulting in a more liberal cultural policy. In addition, a commission was established to investigate homosexuality, leading to the decriminalisation of same-sex relationships in 1979.
Gradual liberalization during the 1980s
Cuban gays were expelled or took the opportunity to leave Cuba during the 1980 Mariel boatlift. From the early stages of the massive exodus, the government described homosexuals as part of the "scum" that needed to be discarded so the socialist society could be purified. Some homosexuals were given the ultimatum of either imprisonment (or extended terms for those already imprisoned) or leaving the country, although Fidel Castro publicly denied that anyone was being forced to leave.
In 1981, the Ministry of Culture stated in a publication entitled "In Defence of Love" that homosexuality was a variant of human sexuality. The ministry argued that homophobic bigotry was an unacceptable attitude inherited by the revolution and that all sanctions against gays should be opposed.
In 1986, the National Commission on Sex Education publicly opined that homosexuality was a sexual orientation and that homophobia should be countered by education. Gay author Ian Lumsden has claimed that since 1986 there is "little evidence to support the contention that the persecution of homosexuals remains a matter of state policy".
In 1988, the government repealed the 1938 Public Ostentation Law and the police received orders not to harass LGBT people. In a 1988 interview with Galician television, Castro criticised the rigid attitudes that had prevailed towards homosexuality.
Toward the end of the 1980s, literature with gay subject matter began to re-emerge.
More rapid liberalization since 1990
In a 1993 interview with a former Nicaraguan government official, Tomás Borge, Fidel Castro declared that he opposed policies against LGBT people as he considered homosexuality to be a natural tendency that should be respected. The same year, a series of sex education workshops was run throughout the country carrying the message that homophobia was a prejudice. That same year, the government lifted its ban on allowing LGBT persons from serving openly in the military. Since 1993, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender persons may serve in the Cuban Military. However, discrimination is still common in the Cuban Military so LGBT persons serving tend to hide their sexual orientation while serving.
In 1994, the feature film Strawberry and Chocolate, produced by the government-run Cinema of Cuba and Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, featured a gay main character. The film criticised the country's narrow, doctrinaire ways of thinking in the 1970s and discussed anti-gay prejudice and the unjust treatment suffered by gays. The film provoked a great deal of comment and discussion among the public.
According to a Human Rights Watch report, "the government [in 1997] ... heightened harassment of homosexuals, raiding several nightclubs known to have gay clientele and allegedly beating and detaining dozens of patrons." Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar was reported to be among several hundred people detained in a raid on Havana's most popular gay discothèque, El Periquiton. According to a United States government report, Cuban customers of the club were fined and warned of imprisonment if they did not stop publicly displaying their homosexuality. The foreigners who were detained were released after a check of their documents. Many of the Cuban gay and lesbian clientele were reportedly beaten by police. This crackdown extended to other known gay meeting places throughout the capital, such as Mi Cayito, a beach east of Havana, where gays were arrested, fined, or threatened with imprisonment.
After this crackdown, Cuban gays and lesbians began keeping a lower profile amid intermittent sweeps of gay and lesbian meeting places. Castro's apparent criticism of Tomás Gutiérrez Alea and his last film Guantanamera during a speech in February 1998 seemed to cast a further chill over Cuba's gay community. Still, a number of clandestine gay clubs continued to operate sporadically in private homes.
In December 2000, half of all the Latin American films shown at the Havana Film Festival had gay themes. Gay and lesbian film festivals are now run in a number of Cuban cities, and in October 2005, a Sexual Diversity Cinema Week was held in Pinar del Río.
Yet, in 2001 the police operated a campaign against homosexuals and transvestites, who police prevented from meeting in the street and fined, closing down meeting places.
In 2004, the soap opera El jardín de los helechos (Garden of Ferns) included a lesbian couple as part of its plot. That same year, however, the BBC reported that "Cuban police have once again launched a campaign against homosexuals, specifically directed at travestis (transvestites) whom they are arresting if they are dressed in women's clothing."
Carlos Sanchez, the male representative of the International Lesbian, Gay, Trans and Intersex Association for the Latin America and Caribbean Region, visited Cuba in 2004. While there, he asked about the status of lesbians and gays in the country and asked the Cuban government why it had abstained from the vote on the "Brazilian Resolution", a 2003 proposal to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights that would symbolically recognise the "occurrence of violations of human rights in the world against persons on the grounds of their sexual orientation." The government argued that the resolution could be used to further attack and isolate Arab countries, consistent with "North American aggression against Afghanistan and Iraq". Sanchez also asked about the possibility of creating an LGBT organization in Cuba. The government said that the formation of the organization would distract attention from national security in light of constant threats from the United States. After meeting with some Cuban LGBT people, Sanchez reported the following observations:
- "Neither institutional nor penal repression exists against lesbians and homosexuals."
- "There are no legal sanctions against LGBT people."
- "People are afraid of meeting and organizing themselves. It is mainly based on their experience in previous years, but one can assume that this feeling will disappear in the future if lesbians and gays start to work and keep working and eventually get support from the government. (The National Center for Sexual Education is offering this support)."
- "'Transformismo' (drag performance) is well accepted by the majority of the Cuban population."
- "There is indeed a change in the way people view homosexuality, but this does not mean the end of discrimination and homophobia. The population is just more tolerant of lesbians and homosexuals."
- "Lesbians and gays do not consider fighting for the right to marriage, because that institution in Cuba does not have the same value that it has in other countries. Unmarried and married people enjoy equal rights."
In 2006, the state-run Cuban television began running a serial soap opera titled La otra cara de la luna (The Dark Side of the Moon) in which a married man "discovers himself" through a sexual relationship with a male friend. Cuban gays described the narrative as a pivotal moment in Cuba's long history of discrimination against LGBT people.
In 2012, Adela Hernandez became the first known transgender person to hold public office in Cuba, winning election as a delegate to the municipal government of Caibarien in the central province of Villa Clara.
Fidel Castro takes responsibility
In his autobiography My Life, Fidel Castro criticized the machismo culture of Cuba and urged for the acceptance of homosexuality. He has made several speeches to the public regarding discrimination against homosexuals.
In a 2010 interview with Mexican newspaper La Jornada, Castro called the persecution of homosexuals while he was in power "a great injustice, great injustice!" Taking responsibility for the persecution, he said, "If anyone is responsible, it's me.... We had so many and such terrible problems, problems of life or death. In those moments, I was not able to deal with that matter [of homosexuals]. I found myself immersed, principally, in the Crisis of October, in the war, in policy questions." Castro personally believed that the negative treatment of gays in Cuba arose out of the country's pre-revolutionary attitudes toward homosexuality.
- Lizette Vila's documentary films, Y hembra es el alma mía (1992) and Sexualidad: un derecho a la vida (2004), profile the lives of Cuban male-to-female transsexuals and travestis.
- Mauvaise Conduite or Improper Conduct a 1984 documentary film directed by Néstor Almendros and Orlando Jiménez Leal about the UMAP labor camps.
- Before Night Falls (2000), directed by Julian Schnabel, is based on the autobiography of Reinaldo Arenas by the same name.
- Fresa y Chocolate, (Strawberry and Chocolate, 1993) directed by Tomás Gutiérrez Alea and Juan Carlos Tabío, focuses on a conflicted relationship between a committed Marxist student and a flamboyantly gay artist. It was the first Cuban film to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film.
- Furia del Discurso Humano (The Fury of Human Discourse) is a novel by Miguel Correa Mujica, the celebrated author of Al Norte del Infierno, that addresses the topic of persecution of homosexuals in Cuba.
- (Spanish) Gaceta Oficial No. 29 Extraordinaria de 17 de junio de 2014
- (Spanish) Entra en vigor nuevo Código de Trabajo
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- Gay Rights in Cuba Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 181 October/November 2004
- Gay Cuba 1997-2003 Stories about gay Cuba 1997-2003
- Our Secrets Are Safe Tonight A look at the underground gay scene in Havana, Cuba in 2006
- A Rainbow Flag Over Habana by Marina Sitrin, Upside Down World, 28 May 2009
- In Paying for Sex Changes, Cuba Breaks from Past by Will Weissert, Washington Post, 10 March 2010