Thursday, December 2, 2010

Sexual Orientation Vote in UN Panel Kicks Up Controversy

"Sexual Orientation" Vote in UN Panel Kicks Up Controversy
By Dalia Acosta

HAVANA, Dec 1, 2010 (IPS) - An unusually strong controversy has broken
out in Cuba over a vote by the delegation from this Caribbean nation in
favour of an amendment that left out the specific mention of sexual
orientation in a United Nations General Assembly resolution on
extrajudicial, arbitrary or summary executions.

In a country where people generally agree with or simply do not question
the stances taken by the government in international forums,
representatives of different sectors of civil society, as well as the
governmental National Centre for Sex Education (CENESEX), have expressed
concern over the position taken by the Cuban delegation.

"Failure to specifically mention discrimination on the grounds of sexual
orientation gives the green light for many states and governments to
continue to treat homosexuality as a crime," Alberto Roque, president of
the sexual diversity unit of the Cuban Multidisciplinary Society for the
Study of Sexuality (SOCUMES), told IPS.

Cuba is the only country in Latin America that backed the amendment
introduced by Morocco and Mali on behalf of African and Islamic nations
that called for replacing the words "sexual orientation" with
"discriminatory reasons on any basis."

Cuba thus joined "countries that do not condemn killings and other
discriminatory treatment on the basis of sexual orientation, such as 76
countries that criminalise homosexuality, including five where it is
punishable by the death penalty," added Roque, a medical doctor who
works with CENESEX.

The vote cast by Cuba in the Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Affairs
Committee, better known as the "Third Committee", of the U.N. General
Assembly, which met in November, ran counter to the Cuban government's
support of the U.N. declaration on sexual orientation and gender
identity, presented to the General Assembly in December 2008 but not yet

Roque said the fact that Cuba was the only Latin American nation which,
after supporting the declaration of 2008, now voted in favour of
excluding sexual orientation, makes this country "a politically
unfavourable scenario" and contradicts the spirit of the National Sex
Education Programme.

A joint statement issued Nov. 24 by CENESEX and SOCUMES pointed out that
Cuba's laws do not provide for penalties based on sexual orientation or
gender identity and reiterated an interest in offering "a reference
framework" to political decision-makers, in order to continue
recognising sexual rights as human rights.

The statement was also signed by journalist Francisco Rodríguez Cruz,
the creator of the "Paquito el de Cuba" blog and a prominent gay
activist, who also published an open letter Monday addressed to Cuban
Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, under the title "let's not
make a mistake again".

The letter sent to the Foreign Ministry expresses the "total and
vigorous disagreement" on the part of "a Cuban citizen, Communist
militant and member of the island's LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and
trans community)."

Rodríguez Cruz warned that "incoherent stances" like the vote in the
U.N. could be counterproductive when it comes to overcoming "outdated
mental states" that justified homophobic actions after the triumph of
the 1959 revolution, and could hinder the promotion of respect for the
freedom of sexual orientation and gender identity as a human right.

Cuba's vote shows that, despite CENESEX's unflagging efforts over the
last few years, the rights of sexual minorities are still not "a
political priority," Rodríguez Cruz, a journalist with Trabajadores, the
weekly publication of the government-aligned Cuban Confederation of
Workers (CTC), commented to IPS.

The reporter said "it also stands out sharply that with its vote, Cuba
diverged from the position of strategic allies in the Bolivarian
Alliance for the Peoples of Our Americas (ALBA), like Venezuela and

Besides these two countries, the Latin American nations that voted
against deleting the explicit mention of sexual orientation were
Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador,
Guatemala, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay. Bolivia and
Nicaragua were among the 26 countries absent when the vote was held.

"I hope that in the future, positions will be adopted on human rights
like the ones we have taken on women's and children's rights and so many
others, even if our vote is not in line with our sister nations from
Africa, the Middle East and Asia," Roque said, adding that he was not
aware of why the Cuban delegation voted for the amendment.

The amendment was passed on Nov. 16 by a vote of 79 to 70 with 17
abstentions. It was then approved by the Human Rights Committee, and is
set to be formally adopted by the U.N. General Assembly this month.

While the removal of the mention of sexual orientation from the
resolution on extrajudicial killings has been loudly protested on web
sites, blogs, social networking sites and email distribution lists, the
government-controlled Cuban media have remained silent on the subject,
and the Foreign Ministry has not taken a public stance.

Feminist blogger Yasmín Portales wrote that the vote in the Third
Committee "reveals the same resistance met, in society as well as in the
government," by a series of legal proposals in favour of the rights of
the LGBT community

"Votes like the one Cuba cast on this occasion express the implicit
consideration that sexual, reproductive and sexual diversity rights,
which to me form part of a single anti- patriarchal package, are
negotiable and dispensable in the name of political alliances," the
author of the blog "En 2310 y 8225" told IPS.

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