Cuba and gay men [was Tibet and gays]

Jamie Owen Daniel jdaniel at
Mon Jul 6 16:05:46 PDT 1998


In response to a number of comments recently, such as that below, on the Cuban policy on homosexuality (it's not merely Fidel's position!), I want to comment at some length:

In the first decade or so of the Revolution, the official policy on homosexuality between men remained what it had been in the Catholic Church, i.e., it was assumed that homosexuality was equivalent to paedophilia, and that homosexual men would be unable to control themselves around young people and children. They were therefore not allowed to be teachers--there is a moving reference to this in relation to the great literacy campaign of 1960 in Tomas Gutierrez Alea's Strawberry and Chocolate film. This was, I emphasize, a hand-me-down from the Church and NOT a new policy on the part of the government. I know of no Venceremos Brigadistas murdered because they were gay, but several were indeed deported once their preferences became apparent. Homosexuality generally was considered socially dangerous and therefore anyone known to be gay was not likely to be promoted to higher positions at work, etc. Those who fled to Florida were usually treated just as badly by their fellow "exiles"--remember how angry Mas Canosa was when he realized a lot of the Mariel boat people were not only black, but also gay?

Even if you have only a perfunctory knowledge or memory of the "heroic" period of the Cuban Revolution, you know that it was characterized by an emphasis on heroic, self-sacrificing homosocial masculinity--the martyrs of the Revolution, Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos, were both as conventionally masculine as as all get-out (it was the late 1950s, remember!); they wore uniforms all the time, carried pistols, smoked endless cigars, etc. They equated effeminacy with self-indulgence, weakness, a negative femininity, as this quote from the journal Revolucion in 1965 makes clear:

No homosexual represents the Revolution, which is a matter for

men, of fists and not feathers, of courage and not trembling,

of certainty and not intrigue, of creative valor and not sweet

surprises. Obviously, "homosexual" meant the stereotype of the effeminate, overly sensitive, "obviously" gay man. For a period early on, such openly gay men were sent to internment camps. Lesbian women didn't fare quite so badly, but were often prevented from joining organizations such as the Federation of Cuban Women.

These hardline positions have changed in the last 15 years or so. In 1988 the criminal code de-criminalized homosexuality, and it was increasingly mentioned as an "option" in official materials on sexuality to be used in schools. There has been much more mention of it in public discourse, esp. in films and literature; Strawberry and Chocolate was the most watched and discussed film in Cuba for months after it was released.

When I was in Cuba last, in summer 1997, I had a long talk with a translator who was working with the group I was part of. He was pretty open about being gay, and offered to take the gay members of our group to a couple of underground gay clubs in Havana. When we talked, he said that there was a kind of unofficial but fairly widely practiced "don't ask, don't tell" policy in force, meaning that all kinds of gay men and lesbians were working in all kinds of positions and were not bothered as long as they didn't "make a big deal" of it. I asked him whether he'd prefer to be more openly gay at work, that is, to be able to self-identify as gay or queer. He said, somewhat surprisingly to some of our gay colleagues, that "he wouldn't want to self-identify as gay like they do in the U.S.", that is, to make it seem as if being gay was his primary identity. He said quite plainly, "I am a Cuban and I am a Revolutionary--that I am gay shouldn't make any difference to anyone except to me and whomever I love."

When I asked about whether he expected Fidel to ever be less uncomfortable about homosexuality, he laughed and said, "Do you know ANY 70-year old Latin men who feel comfortable with homosexuality?"



On Mon, 6 Jul 1998, Rosser Jr, John Barkley wrote:

> Guess I can't resist noting that the official position
> of China on "homosexuality" is that it is a manifestation
> of "bourgeois decadence."
> Also, although I understand that, rather like the
> Dalai Lama, Fidel Castro has somewhat evolved his position
> on gays recently, in the early 1970s a number of American
> gay Venceremos brigade members were murdered for their
> sexual preferences in the sugar cane fields in Cuba.
> Barkley Rosser
> --
> Rosser Jr, John Barkley
> rosserjb at

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