Cuba: Celebrations of advancing gay rights

Issue 

Several hundred Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people and their friends converged at the Mi Cayito section of Guanabo Beach east of Havana on June 14, to celebrate newfound pride and launch "Together with You".

Together with You is a grassroots initiative to prevent the spread of AIDS among men through sex with other men and has government support.

According to the United Nations, Cuba has one of the lowest HIV/AIDS rates in the world with a 0.1% infection rate. In contrast, the US rate is six times greater.

In Cuba, HIV treatment, related drugs, medicines and care are free. While the nation has the goal of developing a vaccine and cure for the disease, it seeks to combat more infections now through awareness, education, support and prevention.

The launch and celebration featured Cuban and rainbow flags, music, speakers, picnics, and beach and water sports.

Tangible gains

Tangible positive changes for gays that have government blessing have inspired a sense of awareness and acceptance across the population. In May, Cuba announced it would fully support and cover costs for gender-reassignment surgery. Such a bold and compassionate move makes future LGBT gains much easier.

What a different set of priorities from those of affluent gay mis-leaders in the US who focus on chasing corporate dollars and logos, while ignoring the dire plight of LGBT youth (640,000 of whom are homeless, without health care and lacking schooling), the poverty experienced by transgendered people on account of bigotry, the double discrimination and persecution faced daily by queers of colour, and the economic hardships of work-a-day lesbians and gay men.

At the same time, Cuba is refining legislation to affirm same-sex unions for 2009. Education against bullying and harassment, and for understanding and respect is part of school curriculum. Exciting literature, art, drama and history is being written and produced by Cubans not shy to declare their sexuality. The country teems with an awakening to the subject that is palpable.

Cuba endorsed and held state events on May 17 for the International Day Against Homphobia, which was attended by its national leaders. This was not the case in the US.

The Federation of Cuba Women, a volunteer organisation in which 86.7% of females over 14-years-old are members, laid the groundwork for these achievements years ago. Today many pro-LGBT changes emanate from the National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX), whose leader is eminent scholar and sexologist Mariela Castro Espin, the daughter of President Raul Castro.

CENESEX and other organisations, such as Linea Ayuda (an education and support organisation for people with HIV/AIDS) enjoy vast support, membership and participation from LGBT Cubans.

Indeed, Cuba must be doing something right as the Catholic Church recently registered concern. Havana's Cardinal Jaime Ortega said that while he applauds "efforts to humanise social life" in Cuba by condemning homophobia, he questioned embracing "First World ideologies" that promote an "anything goes" mentality!

Ahead of US

Until 2003, more than half of US states had anti-sodomy laws and some states vigorously enforced them. In Cuba, such laws were struck down in 1979. Anti-gay laws are often cited as a primary reason for homophobia, bashing and discrimination.

Cuba has had nearly a quarter-century head start over most of the US in legally and socially tackling homophobia. It follows that a society based on equality would rise to the challenge of extending it to all of its citizens.

In response to positive press coverage of rapid progress for LGBT people on the island, right-wing Cubans in Florida recruited some foolish gays there to orchestrate a fake scandal in an attempt to paint Cuba as a gulag for gays. They announced they would hold simultaneous "Gay Pride Parades" in Miami and Havana on June 25. The Miami "Unity Coalition" tracked down a couple guys in Havana to join in their shenanigans.

No "parade" was ever organised in Havana.

Here's their sham: announce a parade in Havana from Miami and then announce (also from Miami) it was cancelled for fear their Havana buddies faced imminent arrest and detention by the Cuban authorities. Shamefully, no journalist sought to verify the facts island-side. It was reported by the press as truth.

Sadly many well-intentioned LGBT and social justice activists were duped and confused. Mission accomplished, Miami! (Google "gay pride parade cancelled Cuba".)

The display of friendship, pride, confidence, fun and camaraderie expressed in the photos and videos of the June 14 Mi Cayito event should go a long way in prompting thinking LGBT people to question lurid cries that Cuba is a "police state" and "concentration camp for queers".

Right-wingers in Miami and Washington are deathly afraid Cuba's gay rights gains will win it fresh support from abroad by those also struggling for dignity and equality.

LGBT people must question mistruths spread by Miami fanatics who want to return the island to the dark days of poverty and squalor prior to 1959. They are the same forces we confront every step of the way on our road to freedom.

[Reprinted from http://gaycuba.ca/together.]