Thursday, July 24, 2014

Does Cuba Intend to Fight For Gay Rights?

Does Cuba Intend to Fight For Gay Rights?
JULY 23, 2014 8:58 PM )

A pioneer in the region, Cuba has begun to add to its list of internal
advancements LGBTI rights; the 1990s saw the abolishment of many
oppressive laws and practices towards gays while the National Center for
Sex Education (CENESEX, Centro Nacional de Educación Sexual) was founded
to affect policy change and to provide sexual education programs. As
with just about anything occurring in Cuba, despite many progressive
accomplishments, many Cubans strongly disagree with the purported extent
of the changes and their use as propaganda by the Castro government
abroad. Dissidents, activists, and human rights organizations denounce
the government's scope of inclusion and depth of understanding.
Homosexuality is a topic that has faced a deluge of inconsistent
government attitudes and policies, illustrating incompleteness and
failure on the part of the government to include all Cubans within the
Revolution, illustrating incompleteness and failure on the part of the
government to include all Cubans within the Revolution.

Regardless of government attitudes, the LGBTI community in today's
Havana is thriving, and open enough to be visible. The Teatro Nacional
(National Theater, usually home to the ballet) hosts Proyecto Divino,
featuring live music, shows of strength, and male strippers until 6AM.
It acts as the government's official endorsement of a gay party while
keeping everything under one roof. On the other hand, certain privately
owned bars are known for their clientele and public locations around
Havana serve as informal meeting places such as a wooded area near the
baseball stadium on the outskirts of the city. Support for the community
tends toward obvious displays such as Proyecto Divino while excluding
other more critical items. Nightclubs and discotecas, like all major
venues, are government-owned in Cuba, and have therefore historically
not been amenable to homosexuals. Legislative reform has also not
assisted in the creation of safe and comfortable gathering spaces, and
the government regularly shuts down popular gay bars and organizations.

The Castro regime and Cuba as a whole has a long history of LGBTI
discrimination with which to contend. Cuba used to be one of the most
repressive socially and politically towards homosexuals. Communism did
not include gays, who had been supportive of Fidel's revolutionary
movement with hopes for societal change and abolishment of
pro-harassment laws. These laws were maintained under the principle that
gay men were not the Revolution's envisioning of Che Guevara's 'New Man'
and between 1965 and 1966 homosexuals were placed in UMAP labor camps
along with others considered unfit for military service and HIV patients
quarantined from 1986 until 1993.

Nowadays, gay rights tend to extend only as far as one operates within
the government. Cuba legalized state supported sex changes in 2006,
openly serving as gay in the military in 1993, and the right to change
one's legal gender on their government ID Officially, marriage in Cuba
is defined as being between a man and a woman. This is less important
than in the United States,, as marriage does not hold the same societal
values or financial rewards. CENESEX is currently working on legalizing
civil unions, the reluctance on the part of the governing body
illustrating to many Cubans the rifts between the political desires of
the Castro family and actual government policies. Despite policy
changes, however, advocacy and organizing attempts that test boundaries
beyond government-endorsed measures are met with anger and attacks by
the Castro family and government supporters.

Gay rights advocacy in Cuba, although effective, has similarly failed to
resolve some of the more probing issues within the Cuban LGBTI
community. CENESEX (Centro Nacional de Educación Sexual), founded by the
feminist Cuban Women's Federation, is the only legal channel for gay
rights activism in Cuba. It has proven vital in opening the public
debate on the topic, producing a series on television (the best way to
reach everyday Cubans) called the Dark Side of the Moon about a married
man who realized he was bisexual, supporting sexual diversity classes
among students, publishing the journal Sexology and Society, and
directing an educational association on human sexuality. Other chapters
such as the Cuban League Against AIDS and Divine Hope technically
function illegally. Functionally, this limits the degree of social
change that can occur and the support provided to the LGBTI community.
Similarly, many gay activists are also 'dissidents,' consistently
followed and observed by the government as with Isbel Díaz Torres or
beaten up (ostensibly by) the police as with Mario José Delgado.

As can be expected in Cuba, personal involvement by the Castro family in
promoting LGBTI rights account for some of the greater contributions —
and­ failures — of the Cuban government on the issue. In the 1990s,
Fidel took full responsibility for Cuba's homophobic policies in the
1960s, paving the way for some resolution of institutionalized
discrimination and harassment. In practice, though, the government often
appears disingenuous, paying lip service to the cause than actually
changing it.

Castro family involvement in gay rights has continued over the years,
with Mariela Castro, the government's representative for sexual health
and rights, at the epicenter of the debate. Mariela is the daughter of
current President Raúl Castro and niece of Fidel and serves as the head
of CENESEX . She is both advocate and propaganda machine, although her
unwillingness to more extensively combat LGBTI issues has led to ample
criticism and backlash. Dissident Yoani Sánchez and activist Mario José
Delgado both target her personally in columns and tweets as culpable for
failing to follow through with HIV/AIDS support and more profound
structural changes that would truly assist the LGBTI community.

In Cuba, everyone is equal and everyone shares the same opportunities
and benefits— this is the continued rhetoric of the Cuban government
apparatus since its inception in 1959. Nevertheless, Cuba is not a
utopia, and despite attempts to achieve communist ideals it is largely
stuck when it comes to guaranteeing fair treatment of the LGBTI
community. Discrimination of any kind is difficult to correctly
identify, especially considering the effect of inconsistent, but
intense, government involvement. By and large, this means that LGBTI
rights are treated like a non-issue, halting further consciousness of
bias towards homosexuals. Well-meaning Castro involvement has only
fostered uncertainty, whereas real progress through renegotiation of
party policies remains indecipherable outside of official circles. If
true progress towards LGBTI equality is in the works, Havana's
bureaucrats have little intention of letting it show.

Source: Does Cuba Intend to Fight For Gay Rights? | Brown Political
Review -

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