Alberto Roque Guerra has been active in the LGBT movement in Cuba for a number of years. He was interviewed on July 12, 2015 in Havana by Stan Smith of the Chicago ALBA Solidarity Committee. May 24, 2014 he spoke in Chicago on the case of the Cuban 5 political prisoners in an event partly organized by the Chicago Committee to Free the Cuban 5.
lberto Roque Guerra is an activist and writer on gender theories, sexualities, and cultural and political aspects on gay and trans identities. He has worked closely with CENESEX (Cuba’s National Center for Sex Education) with Mariela Castro, daughter of President Raul Castro, in Havana.
Some of his articles include:
“Sexual diversity in Cuba: a human rights overview,”
“Sexual diversity in Cuban public policies: advances and challenges,”
“Sexual diversity in revolutionary times: 1959-2009”
See his blog on sexuality, gender and sexual rights: http://aroqueg.blogspot.com/
Founder and past coordinator of “Hombres por la Diversidad”, an educational and advocacy group related to the National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX). Member of the Organizing Committee for the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia in Cuba: 2008-2012. Member of the National Commission for the Integrated Attention for Transsexual Persons (Comisión Nacional de Atención Integral a Personas Transexuales).
Given the importance of the gay marriage question in the US right now, can you explain the status of gay marriage in Cuba?
We don’t have any proposals for gay marriage yet. What is taking place is that we have the Family Code, the law that regulates family relationships. You probably don’t have that in the United States. It entails that marriage as a union between a man and woman with mutual consent.
There is a proposal, a bill to recognize same sex partners, but that is not related to marriage, but to common law, that same sex partners union be recognized with the same rights, excepting adoption, which was not included in this proposal. This was an old proposal, proposed in 2005. We don’t know if this will be discussed in this session of the National Assembly, we don’t know when this discussion will take place, because it is not that easy. The first stages is to have discussion in the Assembly, and then they have a public consulting of this law, or change to the Family Code, where there is public discussion of the proposal. It is in its first stages.
It is not just about gay marriage, it includes other subjects related to the family. It speaks about parenthood, it speaks about trans people’s rights in the family, it speaks about equal rights to the father and mother regarding the children.
Mariela Castro, who is a National Assembly member now, said in public that she supported gay marriage. She said that on TV recently. She was very careful before that, 2-3 years ago, saying in public she supported same sex union, but not saying same sex marriage. Now she has changed her public presentations concerning this. When the moment is right, she will make the proposal on gay marriage.
In my opinion, I do not support marriage. But I will support the initiative because it is quite important for a lot of people, for same sex partners. In my opinion, if I have the same recognition, equal rights, if it is called marriage, if it is called common law, the problem is still the asymmetrical power relations in the family.
The way the law is now, it says the partners are equal, but it doesn’t work like that, the power is not equal. The man is the head of the family, there is a nuclear structure that is very oppressive. What we need is a Family Code inclusive of all family considerations.
A lot of people who support gay marriage in the US are not in favor of marriage as a system, but they are opposed to discriminating against a group of people because of their sexual orientation. They have a right to marry.
That’s my point too. In my opinion, we need to recognize marriage as one structure, we need to recognize other unions. It will be more egalitarian if the law recognizes other forms of union, other forms of the family, and the Family Code is not so attached to marriage.
When the state was originated, the state gave to the church control over marriage, as a way to control the population, to control production. Marriage is a very related to bourgeois ideology in my opinion, which is still very prevalent here in Cuba. Now we are in transition to socialism, so we need to move beyond this.
In Cuba it is not even that important to get married for heterosexual people. There are many family configurations here that are not recognized by the law. This is something that should be guaranteed by the state in case you have a problem.
You have a union if you have any connection with another person, so in Cuba it is probably not so strict as you have in the States, that marriage law defines certain issues, for example, when you get ill and you are in intensive care and you don’t have any possibility of taking decisions, so your partner, probably in the States your partner and you have to be legally married to decide. But in Cuba it’s not like that, given your family, your children, if they are adults, can decide, your partner, if they are a man or woman, same sex or not, they have an opinion in the decision, because decisions are taken with the whole family, not only the wife or the husband. It is discussed among all family members. In Cuba it’s probably not like in the States.
In the US marriage is partly for health insurances and tax reasons. You can lose an awful lot of money if you don’t have insurance through your partner because you are not married legally. And for inheritance reasons, and custody for children.
In Cuba we don’t have that problem with insurance [since health care is free and guaranteed for all.] But with inheritance and custody of children, we [LGBT people] are not protected under the law. We have the same problem with that here. Although in Cuba, the law is very protective of the mother’s right concerning custody. In my opinion, the mother has more priority concerning rights.
Inheritance is also very important, when you get older, most families are waiting to divide up the property, over who gets what. In Cuba this is a complex situation because many generations of a family are living together.
In Cuba we have an old-fashioned family code. It was revolutionary when it was issued in 1965, but it is not anymore.
Would you say there is a gay rights movement in Cuba?
I don’t think so. In Cuba we have new voices, we have more participation, more public discourse concerning gay rights, but not only gay rights, but sexual rights that include also LGBT rights, non-normative sexualities and genders.
There are groups that are run by the state organization, the National Center for Sexual Education, CENESEX, run by the Ministry of Health. But in my opinion I don’t think they have the appropriate autonomy to make their own demands. I was part of that. Their focus is on sexual health, of course sexual rights is part of that.
I am still providing workshops there, on skills and different rights, to human rights defenders.
We have non-governmental groups here. We have Projecto Arcoiris [Rainbow Project], that is very heterogeneous. You can be part of the group, but I am not very clear on their agenda. But this is very low profile, it is not a movement.
Is there no common feeling among gays in Cuba that they are oppressed in some way? Or denied their rights?
They do have that common feeling, but they don’t have a political approach to that, and they are not aware that this is something that we need to fight in a united way. They are aware that we don’t have the same rights. But they say, ok, we have Mariela Castro and her institution. But that’s all. And we have a here, and people dancing in the streets around May 17, when we celebrate the day against homophobia, that is a worldwide celebration.
But they don’t realize it’s not enough to have this unique opportunity in May. We need to make something broader, more powerful, to call the attention of the people who are in charge of making decisions, politicians, officials.
But the main thing is to promote a cultural change in the population as a whole, in their thinking. If you don’t do that, you can have access to same sex marriage, you can have access to very revolutionary laws concerning LGBT rights, but that is not real change. The law could be there, but it would be useless if you don’t have a change in the people’s thinking, in the way people perceive homophobia, and discrimination. So have a gay marriage law here, like you want in the US, is not really a focus for us, that is not what we focus on changing.
And one of the most important things in my opinion is also having the connection with other types of discrimination, racial, class, gender. And gender is more than women and men, it’s more than that. It’s about trans people, fluid genders.
It is something very incipient. Something is moving, but it’s not a movement. Something is moving, something is changing, we are in the process of realizing we have rights, we have a political consciousness, but where we are, it’s not enough yet.
May 17 is only here in Havana, or in other cities also?
No, it’s national, in the whole country. It’s in other cities, in the provinces. Officially we have the main celebration in Havana, but they are also in provincial capitals. Celebrations have taken place in Santa Clara, Santiago de Cuba, Granma, Las Tunas.
These are officially sponsored by the government?
Yes, the government, and also non-governmental organizations, like religious organizations, and also cultural organizations, UNEAC [National Union of Writers and Artists in Cuba], FMC [Federation of Cuban Women]. CENESEX coordinates all the activities May 17, and it does very good work concerning that. But CENESEX is one small contribution to the cause, important, but not very powerful.
The major result about these celebration campaigns, which began in 2008, is that now people are talking more about homosexuality and homophobia than before. It is still at a primary level among the population.
They probably realize that being homophobic is not politically right way to be, the same way with racism for a lot of people. Some may say, “I am not a racist person, but I do not like Black people around my daughter,” or comments like this.
Someone may say, “I am not homophobic, you can do with your body whatever you want to” but what if you had a son or daughter who is homosexual, and you say “I do not like that.” Sometimes they have a reason, it’s logical, it’s ok. I don’t like that because he or she will be discriminated against, excluded, will suffer a lot. But underneath, I think these people are uncomfortable with homosexuality.
I think some of the worst kinds of prejudicial and discriminatory behavior is among high school students. Does that occur here? There are a lot of gay, well not really gay yet, as they are unclear and confused what they are, and there are a lot of suicides among young people who are gay or who are perceived as being gay in high school. High school is like a pressure cooker type of situation. If I went to a high school here, would I observe something like that?
The pressure cooker thing, yes. Because at that age labeling is quite important, the sense of identity formation and belonging is quite important to the process of identity formation. Often young people can be very cruel in labeling people and they do not make any calculation of the consequences it might have, which can be pretty, pretty awful.
We have cases of bullying here, but at the schools they are concerned about that. Statistics are hidden, so we don’t know exactly. They do not have the tools at school to identify bullying, to say this person is a victim of bullying for any number of reasons: he looks gay, he’s transgender, he’s Black, he’s poor, he comes from a very religious family. There are combinations of reasons one person could be bullied.
When you go to the universities here, it is better, because they realize they are in a period in their ages when they realize labeling and bullying have very bad consequences on a person. They still may be homophobic, but they are more careful.
When I go to universities to give presentations and have debates, I see new generations are more flexible, more open-minded concerning sexualities and their bodies. They have, can I say, a lighter way of discriminating against other people, or they realize this discrimination is not a good thing.
Are suicides in Cuba in high school at all common?
No, not at all. But even if it happens with one person it is important. And if you are a target of discrimination, we need to change that.
Can you explain what occurred in Cuba towards gays by the Cuban government during the 1970s, 1980s, maybe start back with the 1960s, when the government took action against gays, sending them to work camps?
Actually this occurred starting with the colonial period. It’s not something that started with the revolution. In the colonial period it was called pederasty and it was a crime since the very beginning. Homosexuality was decriminalized in 1979, and removed from the Penal Code. But they still had other laws that could be used, such as being flamboyant and showy in the streets. In 1987 they recriminalized homosexual conduct and you could be sent to jail up to 3-6 months if you were teasing people with homosexual intentions on the streets, or you were offering to have sex with someone. You could either offer to pay a fine or go to jail.
Did they apply that law to straight people too?
No, only to gay people. In 1997 any mention of homosexuality, any allusion to it, was absolutely removed from the Penal Code. So it was a process, the laws moved forward, then backwards, but in 1997 it was completely removed. This was the legal history concerning homosexuality.
Socially and politically speaking, since the revolution, discrimination started from the very beginning. The first actions against gays occurred in 1961 or 1962. Then, when the universities opened to all people, not just the elite, no matter their income or class, but gays were banned from the universities. Gays were not welcome at the universities. It was thought they needed to modified, they needed to be normalized before they enter. Being gay was considered as part of the old bourgeois republic and these people need to be normalized.
In 1966, the leader of the UJC, the Young Communist League, said that homosexuality was a mental disease that needs to be approached from a scientific perspective. And we should ban homosexuals from the UJC and also from inside the universities. At that time there was still a low level of education among the population, most of the Cuban people were still homophobic and misogynist.
In the US, it was not until 1973 that homosexuality was removed as a mental disease by the American Psychological Association. And also we have a very strong influence from Stalinist ideas. Socialism here, we had different parties, revolutionary tendencies, and they united in one party, ORI, [Integrated Revolutionary Organizations] and the main force was the PSP [Popular Socialist Party, the name of the old Communist Party] which had a very long, a very strong Stalinist influence, and even in the Soviet Union, even though there was a lot of modifications after Stalin, they remained the same concerning homosexuality. Actually in Russia, homosexuality was decriminalized only in 2004.
In Russia, they have a lot of repression now, but it is not illegal. Which is worse?
In Cuba, in 1960s, a lot of people were getting ready to fight back against US government aggression. There was a lot of US hostility, a feeling there was a permanent war against us here, and everybody had to have military training. Our army was very small, very poor, not powerful at all, and for a lot of people there was a feeling we were in a war all the time.
There was also the idea of having “the new man,” it was a distortion of what Che Guevara said. Che Guevara did not say anything about gender or about sexuality in his speeches. Even the idea of Marxism, of communism as Che Guevara conceived it, gender was not part of it. It was seen as part of the class issue, of the contradiction between classes. That was how Marxism was perceived at that moment. It changed later with the feminist movement.
So the UMAPs, [the Military Units to Aid Production, the work camps] which existed from 1965-1968, this was the result of this very complex situation we had in Cuba. And sexual education didn’t exist. Heterosexual women and their rights, even reproductive rights, were fully recognized at that moment. Women in a very radical way, were equal to men, and there were a lot of contradictions, a lot of debates took place at that moment, but heterosexual ones. Lesbians, trans, they as groups, were not part of these changes.
And in 1965 UMAPs were created. These were military units, and military service was compulsory for all men. Most of the men sent to the UMAPs to learn how to use weapons and be ready to be involved in a war. We had military aggression by the US, the Bay of Pigs, the fight against the people in our mountains [ Escambray Mountains] who were against our government.
With all these men in uniform, being trained, some group must be in charge of production for them, especially agriculture. The idea developed was that a lot of people were not able to use weapons, not able to be in the military, and these were recruited to go to these camps. Like in any military unit, they were obligated to remain inside the UMAPs and could not leave them. It was the same thing for everyone, those who were in the military units and those who were in UMAPs.
And remember, we didn’t have a real army as such at that time. All young men went to military camps. Most of those sent to UMAPs were not homosexuals. In the UMAPs, most were religious people, artists, people who didn’t have any work, freakies, rockers, were sent there. Homosexuals were sent too.
Outspoken people like Pablo Milanes were sent there. He was outspoken, singing, only doing artistic work, hair in an Afro style. He was perceived as a hippie, a menace to the “new man” although he was defending the revolution. Catholic Cardinal Jaime Ortega was sent. He is a very religious person, and he loves Cuba very much.
This was something that Fidel recognized was an error -it was my whole responsibility – he said. He was prime minister at the time. Actually, it was more complex than that. Of course, many people suffered in UMAPs because they didn’t want to be there. It wasn’t their decision to be there.
The guards there were often from farms in the countryside. These guys were very rude, crude, with a low level of education and culture. The guards were awful. They committed some abuses, there was a lot of pressure around this, a lot of complaints about the camps, and Fidel ordered the units closed three years later, in 1968.
UMAPs were not a gulag. You were not sent because you committed a crime, and then sent to the countryside to do forced labor. It was not a gulag and it was not a concentration camp. It was another approach of what the military units are. And only those of military service age were sent.
Still we have military units linked to production, the Ejercito Juvenil de Trabajo. The military grows its own food. They are also involved in fighting dengue, fumigating people’s houses. They are doing their military service, which is not compulsory anymore. They have rules and regulations and have to work in production, and they need passes to go out, about once a month or so. It is easier now, it is more flexible now.
But at that moment, in the 1960s, when we were continually threatened with war, those doing military service could not leave. [All adult Cubans, no matter sex or age, are still assigned and trained to carry out certain in military national self-defense tasks in case of a US invasion.]
Then in the 1970s the situation, in my opinion became even harder. We had a congress here, the first Congress on Education and Culture, where artists and teachers who were homosexuals, or who looked like homosexuals, were banned from those jobs. That was in 1971. Poems, novels that implicitly or explicitly talked about homosexuality were banned. They censored the arts.
This was a way of saying “Hello, we are watching you. Behave.” It stayed like this for 5-6 years. That is why it was called the 5 year gray period. A lot of people suffered discrimination, they were banned from work. Many of them didn’t resume their careers afterwards. It was very discriminatory, it was a mistake.
But gays were just one of the groups sent to these UMAPs in the 1960s as a punishment?
Yes, UMAPs were not a camp for young gay men. That would be a distortion. It was much more complex than that. And I don’t think it was a punishment. For many soldiers and many officials, probably they considered it was, because they were very homophobic. But actually it was that work, labor, was seen as an education, it was an educational approach, so people realize the hard work involved in the countryside to produce.
Still many people thought it is wrong to be homosexual, that it can be cured or modified or normalized. In my opinion, the UMAPs were seen as a way of normalizing people, as the “new man” ideology associated with Che Guevara – though he said nothing about homosexuality. The “new man” was very patriotic, very strong, very firm, but very macho, fearless, virile. This is what happened for many years, up to the 1990s.
The most important thing, since Cuba had a socialist revolution, is to recognize equality for all people, for Black people, for women, but also for homosexuals, and everybody should be included. But the world didn’t think like that at that moment, in any country.
Even the left wing movements around the world were not like that. Even those who were the most progressive, and those left groups that opposed Stalinist did not operate like that, recognizing gay rights.
Vladimir Lenin decriminalized homosexuality in 1919, and then it was recriminalized by Stalin in 1934. Gulags were created and since homosexuality was a crime, people were sent to gulags.
Clara Zetkin and Rosa Luxemburg, they were recognizing gender and sexuality and they were feminist. They had some discussions with Lenin concerning that. This is something that we don’t teach at school here. We don’t speak about it being important to have a left-wing position or at least a progressive position on sexuality and gender.
Because homophobia has no ideology, you can find it everywhere, in all ideologies. And even sometimes you have the opposite, you can have very conservative and radical organizations, like you have in the Republican Party, they have an LGBT agenda. Within the Catholic Church you have people who favor same sex marriage recognition. So it is something that is not black and white.
In the case of Cuba, our history concerning that was very sad for many years, but this is our history and we need to learn from that, so we avoid repeating that.
But they have learned, right?
I think so. The Communist Party has formally recognized sexual orientation as a source of discrimination in 2010. For many years before that, it was possible to be a homosexual and part of the Communist Party.
I was part of the Communist party in 1997 – and I still am – and they knew I was a homosexual when I joined. And the same with my partner.
What do you think of the US films, Gay Cuba, which has a lot of Cuba’s history of dealing with HIV/AIDS in it, and Butterflies on the Scaffold?
The director Margaret Gilpin, she’s a US person in New York, she comes here, she’s a friend of mine. Butterflies on the Scaffold was very good. Both were shown in film festivals in Havana and the provinces. Many gay people have seen the documentary, Butterflies on the Scaffold. It is based on a culture in a community in the countryside, outside of Havana, in a very poor community. The woman, who organized the show in the community, she was a very revolutionary woman and a Communist, and a Black woman, she said, “I’m going to have these ladies performing here for the community.” It’s about drag queens and homosexuality in Cuba.
Gay Cuba is more historical. It’s pretty good. (And it includes how Cuba handled AIDS).
Do you have any connections between the LGBT groups here and gay rights groups in the US?
I have been in contact with groups in the US, there have been exchanges. For example, I have been in contact with the LGBT center in the Castro District in San Francisco. Mainly linked to health care providers to the trans community, Latino community, Mexican immigrants, where they have a lot of problems with poverty, lack of access to health care services. Magnet is one group in San Francisco. It provides free health care and HIV testing to Latino people, homosexual people, they provide condoms, antiretrovirals for free. There is also the Rainbow World Fund, which sends resources to Africa and very poor countries.
But my connections are mainly with groups in Latin America and the Caribbean. We are part of the International Lesbian and Gay Association. And I belong to the scientific organization here, Cuba Multidisciplinary Society for the Study of Sexuality. It has different sections, my section is sexual diversity. We do workshops, trainings to activists and advocates for sexual rights, sexual diversity.
The organization was founded in 1986, but we started doing this work in 2003.
Here, in Cuba, the studies on gender and sexual diversity started late, too late, in my opinion, compared to what has been happening in Latin America. Sexual rights organizations started in Latin America in the 1980s, after the dictatorships. And the oldest ones were in Argentina and Brazil. Communidad Homosexual Argentina was the first one.
Why was Cuba turning more repressive in 1987, prohibiting public displays of seemingly homosexual conduct?
Actually, it was not more repressive, the law was just moving backwards. Cuban society was already changing its attitude towards homosexuality.
In the 1980s we had more sexual education here in Cuba, we had books coming from the German Democratic Republic where it was stated that homosexuality was normal, not a disease. That homosexuals do suffer a lot, and could be mentally ill, but not because they were gay, but because they were suffering discrimination for being homosexual.
In 1987, the legal system and legal issues were very linked to the Soviet school of law, which has very little to do with our reality. But the influence was so strong, and most of the people have connection with the ideas of what was happening in the Soviet Union, that they moved backwards. And again, these ideas led officials to control sexualities, to have this repressive law about gender and sexual variance.
The AIDS epidemic was on the way as well, and they thought controlling homosexuals was a way to control AIDS. The first case was in 1986, in a volunteer soldier, a heterosexual in Mozambique.
But this case was not publicized in Cuba, it was a military information issue. The first case published in Cuba, the first who died of AIDS, was a choreographer, a homosexual, who had visited the United States. So in that atmosphere, it was not hard to take a step backwards.
At the time the police stopped gays at Coppelia [where the movie Strawberry and Chocolate opens], told them they could not be there, that they should go home to their wife.
Outside of Havana, the police were persecuting parties, making interventions in parties. The police would come in a truck and put a lot of people who look flamboyant, look different, in the truck. On 23rd and G street, there was a teahouse, and a lot of gay people were there, they loved tea, the police arrived there. From the teahouse to Coppelia there were a lot of gay people going up and down.
When was this?
Since the late 1980s up to about 1993. Then in the 1990s there were big, huge, parties outside of Havana, these were organized parties, the police did not interfere. We also had houses in the 1990s that were rented for drag queen shows. Now we have bars here, in downtown Havana. Now gays gather at night at 23rd and Malecon. Lesbians are not very common, some trans people. And there are other places in downtown Havana.
What is the relation between lesbian and gay “movements” here? – though it’s kind of a distortion to call it a lesbian or gay movement. Is there any kind of common identity?
The approach is very misogynist. This happens everywhere, not just Cuba. In CENESEX, for instance, there is a group for lesbians called Oremi, which means female friend, and you have a group Humanidad Por la Diversidad, which I founded, which includes lesbians, gays, trans people, and those with blurred identities. Identities are fluid, changing. And this was a basis for the group since the very beginning. That is a reason why they don’t use any gender in their name, their title is Humanity for Diversity. Still you find discrimination inside this group, discrimination against women, and lesbians discriminating against men. And trans people are discriminated against by all groups.
I say this is a problematic phrase, LGBT, because we are not as united as we should be, as the phrase implies.
Trans people are more complicated. They may consider themselves homosexuals. At the same time they feel they are women. People perceive sex as what is between your legs, as part of an indication of your identity, something I do not agree with.
What is some of the work you now do?
I have workshops on identities, the main goal is to make people think, when the workshops are over, ‘Who am I?” And it is a permanent question, “Who am I?” I had a workshop in June, two hours every day in the evening, for two weeks. They are participatory, people are invited to share. One is on Cuban history on sexual diversity from the colonial period to today, another about queer theory, to deconstruct all identities and labeling.
We are all queers according to this theory. You behave like this, have your hair in a certain way, you dress like this because you are repeating what the culture has instilled in you, it is your personal interpretation of that, but most of us are repeating in a very ritual way what is happening in the culture concerning gender norms. The way we speak, the tone and inflection in our voice, the way we engage with other people, your sexual practices – these are assignments of the culture. They are remodeling your body, your desires, your perception of yourself in a very conscious way, but also in a very unconscious way.
I have done these workshops in Venezuela, Nicaragua; and I provide the workshops at CENESEX.
Do you think the rights of LBGT people here in Cuba today are respected by the government, do you think a lot of things need to be done?
A lot needs to be done. But the government has this politically serious intention of changing things. Now they are aware, even if they do not agree, or if they do not understand all the complexities of the issues, they are nevertheless aware that it’s something unfair and needs to be rectified. At the very highest level, Cuban officials have this awareness. Even the very elderly men in the Communist Party, they are aware this has been an injustice, even if they do not personally agree or understand. They support what Mariela Castro is doing in CENESEX, they are supporting all the health care initiatives of CENESEX, issues concerning sexualities and gender, trans people even agender people.
Progressively we need to provide tools and knowledge to train officials, this is something that is lacking on all levels. If you are going to work for the government, you need to understand about gender and sexuality. It’s the way you use your customs, it’s related to gender issues, it’s related to sexuality.
We need a lot of instructional modifications in Cuba, not only in public spaces but in private spaces. Changes in regulations, programs, curriculums, in the way you teach about these issues. Now they are teaching gender issues in schools, but it is very low profile. Sex education in schools is very biologically based, on reproduction.
So what you are focused on the LGBT issue now is not on restrictions by the government, but raising consciousness in people? The government is not an obstacle?
Correct, but we are also concerned about making a necessary general cultural change concerning sexualities and gender. It’s not enough to have awareness by the government, programs by the government, changes in revolutionary laws, if society remains the same. We need to make changes, but not abruptly, but slowly, progressively, community-based work, to have religious allies, and we do have religious allies.
But don’t try to compare our situation in Cuba with the United States, we have different trajectories, different histories. That’s what happened when you talked about UMAPs. In the United States you are concerned about freedom of speech, liberty, and for Americans that is a priority, there is something like an obsession with that, about freedom being in danger. You are trying to interpret what is going on in Cuba from that perspective.
We are not so concerned about that. For us, the Cuban people, we need to be ourselves, we need to have our own government, our independence.
We in the LGBT movement are in a different moment from the movement in the US, with different priorities. For example, the issue of sexual diversity in Cuba was based on the health care system, because it was related to AIDS. In the States, the AIDS issue was after Stonewall, it was a different issue. You cannot interpret what is going in the movement in other countries based on your experience in the US, and apply your standards here.
Yes, in the US, wherever they are on the political spectrum, people are kind of ethnocentric.
Ok, I’ll let you say that. It’s not even something that is conscious in the US. It is like a list of items you have that you judge what is going on in other countries, and their work should be based on where you are in your work. For instance, to try to make sense of what is going on in the US movement according to Cuban standards. That’s impossible. But US people do it the other way around.
We were very strongly controlled by the States for 60 years [1898-1959], and we are still very influenced by what happens in the US, even when we have this rupture, these, let’s say, misunderstandings among governments.
We are an island, we are small, we are a developing country, we are in a post colonial and neo-colonial period, we are building a nation that is much younger than the States. Even Jose Marti, who lived in the US for 15 years, who was very worried about the States as a threat to Cuba, it was a big lion against a mouse, didn’t make any comparisons. He realized the culture there was very different.
You cannot understand what is going on in the movement in Latin and South America based on US standards. But this attitude is very common among Americans. You read in your newspapers that Cubans do not have LGBT groups, they do not have freedoms, because it is based on American values. But there are certain values that are at the core of the US nation formation, that are not Cuban at all.
For instance, for us, marriage is not a priority. That is globalizing ideas based on US values. In Cuba it doesn’t work like that. In Spain, they have gay marriage, but in the countryside it is very homophobic, so what’s the point? Gay marriage is taken out of context and applied to other countries. The marriage issue is made into one of the main standards for the LGBT movement.
Do you have a blog?
In Cuba we have a lot of bloggers on LGBT issues. I have a blog, there is another called Homo Sapiens@Cuba.
My blog is called Pro-Queer, arising from Queer Nation. The term queer, it is in part directed at gay WASP people, like what the Mattachine Society was. You are not representing our interests. We are more than gay, more than white. We are also lesbian, trans people, we are Black, Latino, poor, immigrants, unemployed, homeless, we are Muslims. We need another movement that integrates all these people. That’s what happened in the States in the 1990s, and they used the term Queer. Everybody could be queer, it’s not related to heterosexuals and homosexuals.