The truth about queer rights in Cuba

August 21, 2009

Having just returned from Cuba, I find some US-propagated lies about the country particularly galling. I want to lay some to rest.

The Cuban Revolution nationalised US agribusiness, telecommunications, petrol and every other private robber baron that pillaged the island.

Angry at arable land being given to peasants, holiday homes given to the poor and natural resources being used for the betterment of the majority, the US invaded, bombed, engaged in chemical warfare, economically blockaded and lied about Cuba.

None of these tactics worked. The Cuban Revolution remains 50 years on — an example to all countries seeking to feed, clothe and educate their people.

One of the lies spread by the US government is that gays and lesbians are oppressed in Cuba.
A 1999 US Department of Homeland Security report said: "Freedom for Cuban gays and lesbians continues to be limited [and] reinforced by decades of government persecution."

This allegation is made by a government institution of a nation with an appallingly high incidences of hate-crimes — and a wave of bans on same-sex marriages.

It was only in June 2003 that the US Supreme Court struck down Texas's discriminatory same-sex sodomy law. This ruling struck out other US sodomy laws.

Prior to this, 14 states in the US listed sodomy as a crime. Michigan meted out the toughest sentence — sodomy was punishable by 15 years in jail for the first conviction and life imprisonment for the second. This was until 2003.

In comparison, Cuba had removed all anti-sodomy laws by 1973. By the early 1990s, no Cuban laws mentioned homosexuality. Cuba, with a much higher education and cultural level than the US, suffers no hate-crimes against homosexual or transgendered people.

Every second night on Cuba's state television channel, ads made by Cenesex (the government-run Centre for Sexual Education) are broadcasted in favour of sexual diversity. The ads show same-sex couples going about their daily life and end with the message: "Diversity is natural."

A half-hour youth program screened while I was in Cuba interviewed young and old Cubans about attitudes to transgendered people. Attitudes were supportive.

Cubans support the government policy of free gender change operations for transgendered people. In Australia, no trans person risks the operation offered by the public system. They travel to Thailand for a $20,000 male to female operation or pay the local private health system $25,000.

Australian female to male breast reduction operations will set you back a maximum of $10,000.

In Cuba, this is all free.

Cuba's National Assembly is discussing the question of same-sex marriage. Cenesex is conducting a massive sexual education campaign in the lead-up to more formal government moves.

Fifty years ago the revolution opened up profound discussion about human rights. One of the remaining chapters in this country's impressive history is gay and trans rights. Cuba is writing this chapter much faster their hypocritical imperialist neighbour.

[Rachel Evans is a Community Action Against Homophobia and Socialist Alliance activist and in 2008 successfully took the NSW government to court in defence of the right to protest against the visit to Sydney by Pope Benedict.]

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