LGBT rights in Cuba
|Status||Legal since 1979|
|Gender identity||Transgender people allowed to change gender after surgery|
|Military||LGBT people allowed to serve openly|
|Discrimination protections||Constitutional protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity|
|Recognition of relationships||No recognition of same-sex unions (Same-sex marriage pending)|
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in Cuba may face legal challenges not experienced by non-LGBT residents.
Attitudes and acceptance towards LGBT people have evolved significantly in recent years. In 2018, the National Assembly voted to legalize same-sex marriage, with a constitutional referendum to be held in February 2019. However, it was later removed from the draft Constitution. In May 2019, the Government announced that the Union of Jurists of Cuba is working on the new Family Code, which would address same-sex marriage. Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is illegal in Cuba.
Historically, public antipathy towards LGBT people was high, reflecting regional norms. This has eased since the 1990s. Educational campaigns on LGBT issues are currently implemented by the National Center for Sex Education (locally known as "CENESEX"), headed by Mariela Castro, daughter of former President and current Communist Party First Secretary Raúl Castro. Pride parades in Havana are held every May, to coincide with the International Day Against Homophobia. Attendance has grown every year.
- 1 History
- 1.1 Pre-revolution Cuba
- 1.2 Post-revolution Cuba
- 1.3 Machismo and homophobia
- 2 Legality of same-sex sexual activity
- 3 Recognition of same-sex relationships
- 4 Discrimination protections
- 5 Gender identity and expression
- 6 Blood donation
- 7 Social conditions
- 8 Works
- 9 Summary table
- 10 See also
- 11 Notes
- 12 References
- 13 External links
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. Socially, gay men were considered outcasts.
[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 to be 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 the thriving industry of prostitution in Cuba, with many gay men drawn into prostitution largely for visitors and servicemen from the United States. Homosexuality also was linked to gambling and crime.
Homophobia and labor camps 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 who were 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 during 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 increased 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 they 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 the 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 was being 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 (Unidades Militares de Ayuda a la Producción; UMAP) program, located in the Camagüey Province, was set up as an alternative form of military service for members of pacifist religious groups, such as Jehovah's 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 both 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." There is a debate whether or not these camps were labor or concentration camps. That being said, these camps were notorious for holding prisoners for up to three years without a charge.
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 in the 1980s documentary Improper Conduct, Reinaldo Arenas in his 1992 autobiography, Before Night Falls, as well as in 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, with more tolerant attitudes beginning to appear in the mid-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.
A more tolerant policy slowly began to emerge in 1975.
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 decriminalization of private, adult, non-commercial and consensual 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 Public Ostentation Law of 1938 (Spanish: Ley de ostentación pública de 1938) 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 were 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 openly in the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces. However, discrimination is still common in the Cuban military so LGBT people serving tend to hide their sexual orientation.
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.
In 1995, Cuban drag queens led the annual May Day procession, joined by two gay delegations from the United States. In the same year, Fidel Castro recanted his previous anti-LGBT sentiment saying: "I am absolutely opposed to all forms of oppression, contempt, scorn, or discrimination with regard to homosexuals"
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 gay and trans people, and prevented them from meeting in the street, fined them and closed 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 Other Face of the Moon) in which a married man "discovers himself" through a sexual relationship with a male friend.
In 2012, Adela Hernandez became the first known transgender person to hold public office in Cuba, winning election as a delegate to the City Council of Caibarien in the central province of Villa Clara.
Fidel Castro admits responsibility
In his autobiography My Life, Fidel Castro criticized the machismo culture of Cuba and urged for the acceptance of homosexuality. He 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 said that the negative treatment of gays in Cuba arose out of the country's pre-revolutionary attitudes toward homosexuality.
Machismo and homophobia
Where machismo and patriarchy are often conflated, it is important to note their difference. According to scholar, Emily Kirk, "patriarchy refers to a form of social stratification that promotes male superiority" whereas "machismo is a more complex version of this social stratification, incorporating significant elements of Latin American and Caribbean colonial history" rooted in four hundred Spanish rule. As a result of this culture, female sexuality was "mystified" and misunderstood, allowing many lesbians to escape prejudice where gay men could not.
LGBT and capitalist association
Prior to the revolution, Havana was a popular tourist location. Homosexual men "received greater employment opportunities in the tourist sector, as they were often used to satisfy the prostitution needs of US military personnel and tourists." Because gay men were able to gain employment, they became the subject of scorn and disdain among many Cuban people who sought to eliminate what they perceived as "bourgeoisie". During the revolution, homosexuals did not fit into the structure of the revolution that was completely reliant on the family structure.
Legality of same-sex sexual activity
The Social Defence Code, which characterised "homosexual practices" as a "social threat" and imposed preventive measures to combat it, was repealed in 1979 by the Penal Code of Cuba. This Code did not criminalise homosexuality per se. However, Article 359(1) criminalised those who made "public display of their homosexual condition" or bothered or solicited others with "homosexual requests". The crime of "public display of homosexual condition" was repealed in 1987 and the crime of bothering or soliciting with "homosexual requests" was amended in 1997 to refer only to "sexual" requests.
Recognition of same-sex relationships
The Cuban Constitution does not ban same-sex marriage. Until 2019, Article 36 contained language defining marriage as between a man and a woman. This was repealed in a February 2019 referendum. The current Constitution states that "marriage is a social and legal institution. ... It is based on free will and equality of rights, obligations and legal capacity of the spouses." Nonetheless, statutory laws still contain prohibitions on same-sex marriage, and the country does not recognise civil unions or any other kind of partnership.
A major public campaign by LGBT groups began in late 2017 to amend the Constitution to allow same-sex marriage. In July 2018, the National Assembly approved a new draft constitution which recognised same-sex marriage in Article 68. Amidst pressure from evangelical churches who opposed same-sex marriage—even though President Miguel Díaz-Canel expressed his support for same-sex marriage that September—the National Assembly withdrew the language on 18 December 2018. As a result of removing the article, same-sex marriage is neither prohibited nor regulated by the new Cuban Constitution. Had the article remained in the draft, it would have needed to go to a referendum in February 2019. Nevertheless, media outlets spoke of a "revolution within a revolution" or of a "rainbow revolution", and pointed out how quickly the political and societal landscape for LGBT rights has changed, as just a few decades back Cuba imprisoned gay men in labor camps.
The National Assembly and Mariela Castro have stated that same-sex marriage will be legalised through a Family Code amendment instead. In March 2019, the Government began popular consultations to look into legalizing same-sex marriage in the Family Code.
Employment discrimination on account of sexual orientation is prohibited by law. The Labor Code (Código de Trabajo) does not cover gender identity, and LGBT discrimination in other sectors of society – such as education, housing and public accommodations – is not addressed by the law. Mariela Castro, director of the National Center for Sex Education, had also sought to ban employment discrimination on the basis of gender identity, HIV status and disability, but this was rejected.
In July 2018, a same-sex couple, Brian Canelles and Arián Abreu, were kicked out of a Havana bar after taking a selfie of themselves kissing. A worker at the bar asked them to leave, saying: "The bar isn't interested in the gay public. We don't want that reputation." The case was widely criticized. Merely two days after the incident, Cuba's official gazette published a decree outlining that any private business found to discriminate against clients based on their gender or sexual orientation can be fined 1,000 Cuban pesos (around 860 euros/1,000 U.S. dollars) and shut down.
|“||All people are equal before the law, receive the same protection and treatment from the authorities, and enjoy the same rights, liberties, and opportunities, without any discrimination for reasons of sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, ethnic origin, skin color, religious belief, disability, national or territorial origin, or any other personal condition or circumstance that implies a distinction injurious to human dignity.[a]||”|
Gender identity and expression
Individuals seeking to donate blood must be in good health, have a regular pulse and must not have had a viral injection (catarrh or pharyngitis) within the past 7 days. Men who have sex with men are not explicitly banned from donating.
Freedom of association
According to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association and other sources, one of Cuba's only gay and lesbian civil rights organizations, the Cuban Association of Gays and Lesbians (Asociación Cubana de Gays y Lesbianas), was formed in 1994 by eighteen people but was effectively shut down and its members arrested in 1997.
Since 2008, the National Center of Sex Education has sponsored some LGBT festivals and pride events.
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. Events have been held every year since.
Nosotros también amamos
In 2015, the project Nosotros también amamos ("We love too") which advocates for the legalisation of same-sex marriage, was funded by the human rights organisations Corriente Martiana ("Martian Current"), Fundación Cubana por los Derechos LGBTI ("Cuban Foundation for LGBTI Rights") and the gay project SHUI TUIX.
In June 2016, Babel, a socio-cultural Cuban LGBT project, declared, "all people are equal in dignity and rights beyond what differentiates us as race, skin color, sex, national origin, political, religious, ideological or sexual preferences, amongst other things"
- 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 is 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.
|Same-sex sexual activity legal||(Since 1979)|
|Equal age of consent||(Since 1979)|
|Anti-discrimination laws in employment||(Since 2013)|
|Anti-discrimination laws in the provision of goods and services||(Since 2018)|
|Anti-discrimination laws in all other areas (incl. indirect discrimination, hate speech)||(Since 2019)|
|Anti-discrimination laws concerning gender identity||(Since 2019)|
|Recognition of same-sex couples||(Pending)|
|Stepchild adoption by same-sex couples|
|Joint adoption by same-sex couples|
|LGBT people allowed to serve openly in the military||(Since 1993)|
|Right to change legal gender||(Since 2008)|
|Conversion therapy banned by law|
|LGBT anti-bullying law in schools|
|Access to IVF for lesbians|
|Commercial surrogacy for gay male couples|
|MSMs allowed to donate blood|
- CENESEX, National Center for Sex Education
- El Mejunje
- Ediciones El Puente
- Recognition of same-sex unions in Cuba
- In Spanish: Todas las personas son iguales ante la ley, reciben la misma protección y trato de las autoridades y gozan de los mismos derechos, libertades y oportunidades, sin ninguna discriminación por razones de sexo, género, orientación sexual, identidad de género, edad, origen étnico, color de la piel, creencia religiosa, discapacidad, origen nacional o territorial, o cualquier otra condición o circunstancia personal que implique distinción lesiva a la dignidad humana.
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