The gay community all over the world wonders if Cuba already opened its doors to the LGBT public, and of course, there is no simple answer to that question. The truth is that for the last few years, the daughter of president Raul Castro (Mariela Castro) has championed gay rights in Cuba.
Since 1989 Cuban National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX) has encouraged a more enlightened outlook on homosexuality and started to undermine traditional sexual prejudices and taboos, with the strong backing of Mariela, who is now the head of that institution, the only state agency advocating for LGBT rights in the Island.
Yes, the same Cuba that once imprisoned the gay poet Reinaldo Arenas and others just like him is reportedly opening its doors to the gay community.
And this is not something that just happened when President Obama announced his plans to heal diplomatic relations with Cuba, and travel restrictions were lightened, allowing Americans to travel to the country for the first time in three generations. Long before Obama stepped in to ease tensions and reopen borders, Cuba had already begun tackling a different political issue, one that would help reinvent the country as a place of acceptance and tolerance.
In 2010 the Cuban government began supporting gay rights at the United Nations, and in 2012 the country elected its first transgender politician. In 2016, the country’s tourism offices began offering LGBT-focused press trips, flying in journalists from mainstream gay travel magazines so they could see for themselves just how welcoming the country had become.
The blockbuster movie Fresa y Chocolate (Strawberry and Chocolate, 1994) certainly brought the issue to the forefront, yet little has changed in the prevailing views of this macho society.
However, even with all the progress, members of the LGBT community visiting the country would be wise to curb their expectations. Right now homosexuality is not illegal in Cuba, but in general, the country has a poor record on gay and lesbian rights, and while the situation has improved somewhat, there are still high levels of homophobia and broad societal rejection of gays and lesbians.
While travelers are generally not hassled in Cuba and given some leeway in terms of social mores, same-sex signs of physical affection are rare and frowned upon across the country. Gay and lesbian couples and singles should take the prevailing social climate into account when traveling in Cuba. Also, please note – there are significant differences between Havana and the rest of the cities.
The land of the Castros is still a far cry from the land of the Castro — San Francisco’s gay neighborhood and ultimate gay mecca. It’s still difficult to be gay in Cuba.
Demands of the LGBT community in Cuba
Although Cuban society is gradually warming up toward homosexuality and LGBT rights, many homophobic elements remain. Uncertainty still remains, and the government and society as a whole still display a certain level of uneasiness regarding homosexuality.
- Cuban LGBT suffer the lack of a substantive legislation in order to legitimize their rights, and defend effectively against discrimination in public spaces, and within their families. They demand a General Act against Discriminations.
- They need free access to media (totally in the hands of the government).
- They still don’t enjoy the freedom of association legally protected.
- They demand the legal recognition of homo-parental families.
- They need public and accessible researches and statistics, which describe the real situation of LGBT public.
- Trans people, who don’t live in Havana, also need access to specialized treatment and hormones therapy in their own territories, and under their own terms.
- Both private or public gay clubs are too expensive for most locals to attend.
- None of the official leaders has publicly declared support for LGBT rights, nor recognized and apologized for the historic institutional harassment towards LGBT community.
Progressive LGBT policies
In May 2008, the state-television network transmitted Brokeback Mountain on TV, the first time a gay film had been broadcast in Cuba. Cuba also held an anti-homophobia day every May, promoted by Mariela Castro. The legalization of same-sex marriage has also been talked about, but so far no progress has been made. In addition, sex change operations were legalized in 2008, and in 2010, Cuba’s first transsexual appeared in a documentary on the island publicly detailing her transition for the first time.
There used to be only one openly accepted gay and lesbian establishment in Santa Clara: El Mejunje (a nightclub and gathering space for drag queens, lesbians, queers, artists, and outsiders), but nowadays you can find tens of this sort of nightclub in Havana and other cities.
In 2012 Cuba Communist Party Conference approved a guideline against prejudices and discriminatory behavior, and another guideline recommending the presence of sexual diversity in the national media. Two years after that, National Parliament passed a Labor Act which recognizes on its article 2 the right to work for every person, regardless the sexual orientation. Mariela Castro voted against this Act, since it didn’t have a direct mention of the gender identity.