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Homofobia: Challenges to the Cuban Family and Society

Enjoying our sexuality is inherent to our nature and a prerogative that is rightfully ours, and passing laws to protect the rights of the least favored groups has been intrinsic to the Cuban Revolution’s humanist nature. It’s not about being ready; it’s an act of justice that must be dealt with immediately.

Avatar of Alessia Valenza

20th May 2010 22:52

Alessia Valenza

by Alberto Roque Guerra, May 16, 2010

Remarks given at the opening of the panel on the family and society
during the observation of World Anti-Homophobia Day, 2010

A CubaNews translation.
Edited by Walter Lippmann.

We are holding the Third Cuban Conference against Homophobia at a time when our nation is immersed in a lively discussion about sexual diversity that stands as a great opportunity for most of those who have joined the Educational Campaign for Respect to Free Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity to gain sustained and enriching knowledge on these topics.

Fortunately, people have reacted to this campaign in ways no less diverse and supportive, showing respect and solidarity as much as ambivalence, rejection and skepticism. A very small minority, admittedly backed by the U.S. Interests Section in Havana and a Spanish LGBT organization tied to the fascist Popular Party, have launched a counter-campaign based on cock-and-bull stories and lies to bring discredit on our work.

So much rage and fuss is due to the fact that in the last three years we have made progress in raising awareness that the sexual rights should be considered as human rights. As a result of Resolution No. 126, approved in 2008 by the Ministry of Public Health to regulate every medical procedure that all transsexual individuals are entitled to receive free of charge, they can be recipients again of gender reassignment surgery.

Furthermore, the Cuban Multidisciplinary Society for Sexuality Studies issued a statement making clear that transexualism is not a mental illness and urging to guarantee the medical and psychological care as well as the social and legal help that these individuals need as victims of gender-based discrimination.

In this connection, on December 18, 2008 our state and government endorsed in the General Assembly of the United Nations the Declaration against human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity, a clear sign of the positive turn taken by the dialogue with our top leaders.

In January this year, the National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX) signed a cooperation agreement on Sexual Diversity with the Office of the Ombudsman of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. We recently held the first seminar that paves the way for the inclusion of this topic in the governmental policies laid down by ALBA member countries.

However, our domestic legislation still has many obstacles in its path. The modifications to our Family Code proposed to the National Assembly of People’s Power in 2005 have remained shelved ever since, a delay apparently caused by the hesitation to provide for the legal recognition of same-sex couples and the legitimate right we all have to adopt and build alternative family models. Another significant step would be to make assisted reproductive technology available to lesbians with the same rights as heterosexual couples.

Some well-intended people are wondering whether our society is ready for this new Code, which suits Cuban families in our country today. I will answer them with other questions: were we by any chance ready to recognize Cuban women’s full rights in 1959? Where we ready to establish in one fell swoop the laws that protect people from racial discrimination?

Enjoying our sexuality is inherent to our nature and a prerogative that is rightfully ours, and passing laws to protect the rights of the least favored groups has been intrinsic to the Cuban Revolution’s humanist nature. It’s not about being ready; it’s an act of justice that must be dealt with immediately. As a Cuban citizen, I ask our compañero deputies to think about these facts carefully and fairly.

Another important matter is the negative reaction of some Cuban churches to these legislative proposals, particularly to the alleged danger that “same-sex marriage” be condoned and the Decree-Law on gender identity which, if approved, will recognize a transsexual individual’s right to alter their gender of identity even if they can’t or won’t have a sex-change operation. Come from where it may, fundamentalism severs human freedom. I have every confidence that our secular state will never give in to pressure based on pseudoscientific and medieval judgments.

Luckily, not all Cuban churches have taken the same stance. The presence in this Conference of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Center, the Christian Student Movement, the Martin Luther King Jr., the Oscar Arnulfo Romero Reflection Group, the Protestant Seminary of Matanzas, the Genderism Institute, and members of Christian orders from the U.S., Brazil and other countries, is further evidence that we are not alone in this struggle.

As to education, the inclusion in syllabi at all levels of subjects related to sexual diversity is still pending. Reluctance to implement the National Sex Education Program eternalizes homophobia, lesbophobia and transphobia at school and legitimates the two-fold approach to gender –masculine and feminine– sprung from heterosexual, patriarchal, sexist norms. If we really want a cultural change capable of tearing apart patriarchy’s hegemonic powers, we must make sure our children start getting this kind of education at an early age.

In this same respect, our media are obviously more willing to join our campaigns to raise public awareness of these issues. However, those in charge of designing editorial and informational policies should come up with methodical strategies and think about seeking advice to ensure the proper dissemination of the educational messages about sexual diversity. No debate or process of absorbing cultural change is ever free of resistance. We are witnessing a dynamic of swift changes in Cuban society that our media cannot overlook at the risk of damaging our nation.

I’d like to make a brief reference to the LGBT policies within the Communist Party of Cuba. I’m convinced that the individual is political and, therefore, that the party statutes should ban sex and gender discrimination. Despite a number of appropriate and positive changes along these lines that we have seen in this political organization, some of its members still believe that “homosexuality is a remnant of the bourgeoisie and contrary to socialist morals”. In light of present knowledge, there’s plenty of proof that homophobia is bourgeois and contrary to socialist morals if anything is. Failure to address this issue in the statutes surely paves the way for discrimination.

Homosexuality has been decriminalized in Cuba since the 1990s. No one can be arrested or brought to trial on grounds of their sexual orientation or gender of identity. Despite the training that both CENESEX and the National Center for STD and HIV/AIDS Prevention give in a number of units of the National Revolutionary Police (PNR), some police officers still harass LGBT people in the places where they gather. It’s regrettable that many of these officers are out of line with the law and keep acting on the basis of prejudice and lack of knowledge about these facts. Likewise, we disapprove of any citizen’s behavior in violation of the current laws regardless of their sexual orientation or gender of identity. Taking into account the experience we have gained from our work with the police force, we urge CENESEX and PNR to step up their joint efforts. I am specifically suggesting that a Training Program on Sexual Diversity be developed on the basis of a methodology designed by all the parties involved that makes it possible to train a group of police officers as promoters of these issues among their colleagues.

Finally, I’d like to reassure all people, be they lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersexual or heterosexual, as well as those who identify themselves with none of the above definitions, that each and every one of us are individual agents of socio-cultural change devoted to fighting homophobia, machismo and patriarchal power. May the coming sessions continue to provide a framework that sets an example of collective participation in our steps toward such a difficult and long-cherished goal.

Thank you very much.