International Day against Homophobia celebrated in Cuba -- three reports from Havana
Havana, 16 May, 2009 -- Prensa Latina -- International Day against
Homophobia was observed here today, with the participation of a
diverse, largely youthful public.
In the early hours of the morning, the day's activities began at the headquarters of the Union of Writers and Artists (UNEAC) and the Pabellón Cuba, in the central district of El Vedado.
Mariela Castro Espín, the director of the National Center of Sex Education
(CENESEX), presided over the inauguration of the day's events with a
parade and the opening of the panel on "Sexual diversity in the Cuban family."
On display at the UNEAC headquarters were the most recent issues of Sexología y Sociedad
(Sexology and Society), the journal published by CENESEX and
distributed at no cost through the network of libraries and
universities of the country, in collaboration with the United Nations
Population Fund. The journal covers subjects such
as comprehensive services to and social inclusion of transsexuals in
the island; sexuality as a social determinant of health; and violence
Referring to the impacts on Cuba of
the observances of International Day against Homophobia, Espín
explained that research comparing the situations before and after the
first observance in 2008 is being conducted.
Poet and essayist Miguel Barnet,
the UNEAC president, said that, as the vanguard of society, writers and
artists respect and support this scientific and educational program,
led by Espín and her team. ``This is a day against ignorant thought that prevents us from advancing, a task on which
our artists cannot turn their backs. We must pay attention to the
latest and most advanced thought'', Barnet said.
The gathering was attended by Cuban national literary award winners Nancy Morejón and Reynaldo González, as well as writers Senel Paz, Ana Lydia Vega, Leonardo Padura, and Lina de Feria, among others.
book sales, expositions, film showings, and concerts will be held
throughout the day, which are all free and open to the public, and will
end after midnight.
Alarcon: Cuba respects sexual diversity
May 17, 2009 -- Prensa Latina -- The president of the Cuban National Assembly
(parliament), Ricardo Alarcon, said the essence of socialism is the
inclusion rather than exclusion of people for their sexual orientation
Alarcon spoke with Prensa Latina, as Cuba observed International Day Against Homophobia.
"The Cuban drive against homophobia shows maturity and culture achieved by our society", the top Cuban legislator said.
International Day Against Homophobia was marked in Cuba on May 16 with a
panel on sexual diversity, presentations of books and artistic shows. Mariela Castro Espin, head of the National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX), opened the forum at Havana's Pabellon Cuba.
said such events are part of an education strategy, whose aim is to
fight a reality that has been misunderstood out of ignorance.
Havana Times, May 19, 2009 - Havana’s 23rd Street was a grand fiesta on
Saturday, May 16, as people of all ages and sexual orientations formed a winding
conga line that extended to Pavilion Cuba, the place where Sexual
Diversity Day was formally initiated. Havana Times was on the scene to
listen to speakers, capture photos, and talk with several participants.
In her opening words, Sexual Education Center (CENESEX) director
Mariela Castro Espin noted, “This it is not a gay pride march, that’s
not our intention at this time. In reality, we’re identifying with a
proposal made by a French activist to designate a World Day against
Homophobia. Gays are not a problem, the problem is homophobia!”
CENESEX, supported by other institutions across the
country, encouraged discussion and reflection within families about
said Mariela. The aim was not to question the family structure that predominates
in Cuban society, but to consider other forms, which people are less
accustomed to, but are part of the country’s reality. Lesbians, gays,
transsexuals and their families all had their chance to speak and
exchange experiences -- some bitter, others buoyant.
Thanks to educational campaigns such as this, the issue of
homophobia is being addressed at some levels, though generally Cuban
society continues to be homophobic.
Mariela Castro Espin, director of CENESEX.
During the first years of the Cuban Revolution, homosexuality was
harshly repressed. There are countless stories about incidents
occurring in forced internment centres. Felix Luis Sierra’s book, El ciervo herido (The Wounded Deer),
is only one example of the ordeal of someone who was in the Military
Production Support Units: forced labour camps set up in the 1960s in
Camagüey Province, where homosexuals and believers of different
religions were taken, along with other “anti-social elements”. A
harrowing book, the work reveals testimonies of intolerance and hatred.
That’s homophobia: a feeling that repels people from gays, who are
viewed as a threat. Typically, Cuban society does not recognise
homosexuals, and when it does, it is through usually negative
stereotypes. Little tolerance is shown for erotic homosexual
relationships, jokes are made in bad taste, and they are pointed out
and accused of anything.
The cost of this disparity remains high in this 21st-century era of
post-modernity. It continues to be paid when some intellectuals and
artists undertake work aimed at introducing us to themes of sexual
diversity, or as current fashions favor the influence of one sex over
another in terms of styles of dress or hairstyles.
Day-to-day anecdotes are abundant, from people recounting stories
about a group of women harassed by police at the beach, or nighttime
soap operas that caricature gays, putting them on public display to be
judged for their “immoral behaviour”. These shows imply that HIV is a
punishment for being gay, as their poorly focused characters become
recorded in the public’s minds.
Homophobia is not limited to one strata of society. There are
professionals who hate homosexuals because they “go against nature”.
These individuals recognise that gays are the same as other human
beings, but also that they are “misguided”. So what’s to expect from
people who are less educated?
Oremi, a group space of work and reflection.
Where does a female teen go who begins to feel something strange for
her female math teacher, despite knowing that this is “not normal”?
What does a young gay or lesbian person do who hates military life and
is surrounded by people who constantly humiliate them? Where does a
person go who is kicked out of their house by their own family? There
are many questions and few answers.
Many times people who feel attraction for their same sex repress
their feelings so as not to be mistreated. Prisoners of fear, they are
denied the right to love and be loved freely.
Jackeline is lesbian, though few people know it. She has not been
very lucky in her love life, she is afraid of being ostracised. “My
position is quite healthy with respect to others. I’ve tried to follow
the canons that society imposes, to not complicate my life. Seeing the
situations of my friends, I believe that it’s better like that way. I
believe discrimination continues. It’s contradictory, but the more
people learn that homosexuals are asking for social recognition, the
more they reject them; it should be the other way around, but that’s
how it is.
“I don’t want that to happen to me. Despite these campaigns,
there’s no change taking place. I come here and see people applauding.
I recognise myself in those who speak and say with pride that they’re
gay or lesbian, but then I think it through, and I realise that this
isn’t going to work. It’s going to be a long time before we see any
The lesbian group Fenix from Cienfuegos Province doesn’t think the
same way. They have a place at what’s called the Health Palace in their
city where they meet to give and receive seminars on the inclusion of
homosexuals in the active life of society as they work to seek greater
acceptance. Vivian and Miyita told Havana Times: “We’re doing a study on
lesbophobia, which consists of socializing lesbians with the family,
and vice versa. The objective of the initiative is to ensure that
society understands that the woman has always been the matriarch of the
family, whether or not she has children or is married or divorced.
“We see the woman as a primordial link in society, from the
creative point of view, as a creator, incorporating society,
independent of her sexual orientation. Our families have come all the
way from Cienfuegos to give support today. In a past we had problems
with heterosexuals, now there’s a bit more understanding. We are
advancing little by little, step by step.”
Twenty-five years in an undesirable marriage
Amparo: `They forced me to marry when they saw something different in me.'
A moving testimony was given by Amparo, a resident from a town in
Pinar del Río Province, who was obligated to marry a man she didn’t
love. She was a member of the Catholic Church, almost the right hand
of the town’s parish priest. She had had “that feeling” for a long
time, but it was repressed by her parents, who were much older and did
not understand anything.
“They forced me to marry when they saw something different in
me. In a rural community, everything is more complicated. I was married
for 25 years, and I suffered a great deal. The only good thing from
that time are my two children. Then came a person who made me realise
my sexual orientation; we fell in love and I decided to break with
“My parents had already died. I understood that this was the
moment to give myself a chance. At what other time was I going to do
it? I had waited long enough. I thought about myself for the first time
in my life, and I acted. I was ostracised by the church, but I knew
that would happen. I dropped out on my own, I stopped going to
communion. I believe in God; God is love, and I think that if I feel
love for a person, even though they are of my same sex, then God is
“But that goes against the commandments of the church, and
people put us down a lot. They say it’s not right if a woman loves
another woman, and she feels sexual desire for her. I advise all people
who have that type of feeling in their heart that they not hesitate for
anybody. Life is yours and there’s only one. There’s no reason to waste
it for the sake of being accepted, people will always talk. I worried
about my children a great deal, but they are wonderful, they’re mine.
“No one can take away my being a mother, on the contrary. My
older child is now 24, and he is very loving with my current partner,
he very respectful. My daughter is 13 and is my best friend. They
accept me because I’m their mom. Like I say, when there’s love
everything flows. They love me as a mother, as a woman, as Amparo.
“The sexual relationship is something that’s yours; you don’t
have to share it with anybody. It’s like when somebody prefers a
certain flavour of ice cream; why would you take the flavour that
somebody else wants? I suffered a lot when I made my decision; I broke
a lot of chains, but my children supported me, as did my partner back
then. I finally overcame it all, and today I’m a happy woman. At my job
I’ve been accepted as a human being, and that’s the fundamental thing.”
The life of homosexual people in Cuba is not rose-colored; they have to face prejudices, dogma, labels, hate and machismo.
Raydel, a 40-year-old professional, talked about his experience as a person who is gay: “I
went to eat with my partner and we were stopped up by the police more
than five times in less than 15 minutes, each asking us for our IDs. They dealt with us badly, even though we were not in a gay place or
dressed in women’s clothes. They looked at us as if we were robbers or
“Bad behaviour exists among all social groups. Once I was held
an entire night for riding on a bike with my partner. And then when
you’re in jail they’ll accuse you of anything; they can say that you
were in a park naked having sex openly with another person, or they’ll
say that there is a law against you, against male prostitution. It’s
your word against theirs. The police of the Ministry of the Interior do
not wear badges, so you can’t identify them or accuse them. Without
proof, you can’t do anything. When they want to, they can destroy you
and screw up your life.”
Injustice goes unanswered
This information doesn’t come out in the press; there is no coverage
about the injustices committed. It is difficult to sensitise a
population that doesn’t know that these persons suffer or what they
must endure. Gays are often rounded up; the truck arrives and takes
them away even though they have not done anything. These are only
stories that circulate by word of mouth and don’t make it to
higher-ups, to people who could do something to improve the situation.
Be careful, when you hate you can hurt someone you love.
Homophobia among police, soldiers and officials is a thorny issue.
Groups like CENESEX have been trying to sensitise them but it’s a
difficult slow process. There is no stipulation in Cuban law against
someone dressing in the clothes of another sex, nor is it illegal to
express one’s homosexual orientation openly, the 1997 criminal code
modified a previous article. What the police do stems from their own
prejudices, from their macho perceptions that have failed to change.
In the ongoing “Diversity is Natural” campaign the focus is being
placed on university students, those who will one day be able to change
the thinking of society. The drive is also appealing to the family as
the fundamental base for the creation of values, feelings and
principles among the next generation.
According to Mariela Castro, “An effort is being made from the
grassroots. You cannot go directly to the army and impose measures on
those who are not prepared. If through educational campaigns it is
possible to influence the family, subsequently soldiers, officials and
police officers who are a part of Cuban life will also change, and they
themselves will introduce transformations in military institutions.”
To affect change we must continue working for people’s mutual
respect in all spaces. We must work for harmony between people, and
especially not forget that there are human beings who discriminate and
are discriminated against, those that humiliate and those humiliated.
There are people who accept or don’t accept their neighbor. Homophobia
is a wrong that can be eradicated, although it will take time, tenacity
Mariela Castro says prejudices in Cuba delay homosexual law reforms
12 January 2010
She says "prejudices" are the reason the parliament has not yet
approved laws which would approve gender identity and homosexual union
reform laws, changes promoted by her organisation (CENESEX) for many
"Prejudices are at the root of all the resistance, all prejudices ..
related to the roles of women and men" said the sexologist and daughter
of President Raul Castro.
CENESEX promotes a law of gender identity which can legally recognise
trans-sexual change in gender without the need for surgery, and a
reform to Family Law to create homosexual legal unions, a matter which
has now been before the Cuban Parliament for more than two years.
Despite the delays she remains optimistic that they will get the changes through this year.
One of the changes that faced most resistance was the application of
the term 'marriage' to homosexual unions; so this is not on the current
agenda. However they are proposing a 'legal union' which would
guarantee all the same rights to homosexual couples who are 'married'.
Hija de Raúl Castro dice "prejuicios" frenan ley de unión homosexual
La directora del Centro Nacional de Educación Sexual de Cuba, Mariela
Castro, afirmó hoy que los "prejuicios" son la causa de que no se hayan
aprobado todavía en la isla leyes relativas a la identidad de género y
la unión legal de homosexuales, promovidas por su institución desde
"Los prejuicios son los que están en la base de toda la resistencia,
todos los prejuicios, todo lo que sólidamente se fue construyendo a lo
largo de la historia, con relación a la mujer, al hombre, a los roles
del hombre y de la mujer, lo que pueden y lo que no pueden...", afirmó
a la prensa la sexóloga, hija del presidente cubano, Raúl Castro.
Mariela Castro explicó que su institución promueve una ley de identidad
de género, para que se reconozca a los transexuales su cambio legal de
género sin necesidad de someterse a una cirugía, así como una reforma
del Código de Familia a fin de crear la unión legal de homosexuales, un
tema que se encuentra en manos del Parlamento cubano desde hace ya más
de dos años.
"Estamos todavía tocando puertas para ver cuándo nos dan una
respuesta", dijo Castro, mostrándose "optimista" acerca de que se
produzcan avances. "Yo todos los años digo `este año lo vamos a
lograr`, y no lo hemos logrado. De todas maneras voy a seguir siendo
optimista y decir que tal vez este año lo vamos a lograr".
La responsable del Centro Nacional de Educación Sexual (CENESEX) afirmó
que entre los temas que más "resistencia" encuentran en Cuba está el de
que se utilice el término matrimonio en relación a las parejas
homosexuales, algo que, según dijo, no se pretende hacer en la isla.
"Vamos a respetar esa categoría histórica para las parejas
heterosexuales. Sin embargo, lo que estamos proponiendo es la unión
legal para las parejas del mismo sexo, de manera que puedan
garantizarse los mismos derechos que se les garantiza a las parejas
heterosexuales a través del matrimonio", afirmó.
"No estamos usurpando la categoría matrimonio. Se creó otra, la de la unión legal que garantiza derechos".
En Cuba se celebra desde 2008 el Día Mundial contra la Homofobia, el 17
de mayo, con un amplio programa de actividades oficiales, lo cual
encuentra el rechazo por parte de la Iglesia católica local. Mariela
Castro dijo no obstante comprender y no sentirse molesta por dicha
"Yo me imagino que cada vez que hagamos una jornada contra la
homofobia, la Iglesia católica va a tener que declarar algo desde sus
puntos de vista. Yo lo entiendo. (...) No me molesta para nada,
sinceramente. Yo entiendo el lugar y el papel que le corresponde", dijo
"Podemos convivir con nuestros puntos de vista diferentes. Ellos desde
su punto de vista hacen su trabajo por el bien de las personas y
nosotros desde nuestro punto de vista también lo hacemos".
Según Castro, se ha explicado a la jerarquía católica cubana que las
reformas legales previstas no incluyen que el concepto del matrimonio
abarque también a los homosexuales, ni que se les permita a parejas
homosexuales adoptar niños.
"Lo que sí se opusieron fue a las operaciones de cambio de sexo, de
reasignación sexual, pero nosotros ahí sí dijimos que eso lo vamos a
cambiar, porque eso es parte de un tratamiento de salud consensuado
internacionalmente y ahí sí que no vamos a ceder".
Castro efectuó sus declaraciones al presentar el Quinto Congreso Cubano
de Educación, Orientación y Terapia Sexual, que se celebrará del 18 al
22 de enero en La Habana bajo el título "Sexualidad, educación y salud.
Derechos para un mundo mejor".
El congreso tiene entre sus principales áreas temáticas la sexualidad,
educación y desarrollo humano; la salud sexual, reproductiva y calidad
de vida, y la sexología clínica. En la reunión se prevé la
participación de 250 expertos cubanos y 50 extranjeros provenientes de
México, Argentina, Venezuela, Chile, Brasil, Suecia, Puerto Rico,
España y Uruguay.
Castro, presidenta del congreso, pronunciará una conferencia de título
"La educación sexual como política de Estado". Según la experta, la
educación sexual se convirtió en política de Estado en la isla en 1975,
cuando el Primer Congreso del gobernante Partido Comunista de Cuba
(PCC) decidió destinar recursos a esta área.
En general, Castro afirmó que en Cuba existe un apoyo político a las
reformas que el CENESEX y otras instituciones estatales tratan de
impulsar, aunque éstas encuentren resistencia: "El apoyo político está,
ahora, que es un apoyo político que tiene contradicciones para tomar
decisiones. Pero eso es muy bueno, porque cuando hay contradicciones,
hay movimiento y hay aprendizaje".