The Worker

The State of the LGBT+ Struggle in Cuba

By S.V. Welborn.

Until recently, the Constitution of Cuba explicitly defined marriage as between a man and a woman [1]. This reflects the history and culture that Cuba inherited from its pre-revolutionary stage of development. Thanks to the grass-roots organization and democratic participation of many LGBT+ groups in tandem with the Cuban working class at large, this is no longer the case.

Central to this struggle has been CENESEX, The Cuban National Center for Sex Education (Centro Nacional de Educación Sexual). CENESEX was founded in 1989 with the mission of coordinating the participation of the Cuban people through community work and education in order to help people have healthy, pleasant and responsible sex lives [2]. The seeds for this were planted much earlier, however. In 1962, The Federation of Cuban Women (Federación de Mujeres Cubanas, FMC), together with public health specialists began a new program of sexual education, family planning and reproductive health. Later in 1972, The National Working Group on Sex Education (Grupo Nacional de Trabajo de Educación Sexual, GNTES) was formed, consisting of workers from the Ministry of Public Health, the FMC and various youth groups. GNTES had a goal of implementing and developing the National Sex Education Policy and Program as well as training the councilors, researchers, sex educators and sex therapy workers. GNTES was the direct predecessor of CENESEX, and in 1989 would be refounded as such.

CENESEX has been greatly influential in the LGBT+ community in Cuba. It is instrumental in educating the population about AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. In 2008, it pushed a passage of a law in that would eventually guarantee transgender people the gender affirming healthcare they need and the full legal recognition of their gender identity [3]. Discrimination based on sexual orientation was banned in 2014, and of course CENESEX was a proponent of this. Interestingly enough, Fidel Castro’s niece Mariela Castro, the director of CENESEX, voted against this. Not because she disagreed, but because it did not go far enough. The bill did not also guarantee protections on the grounds of gender identity, and this is what Mariela Castro took issue with [4]. This was the first time a representative voted against a bill in the Cuban parliament. Of course, the bill was still passed, but she took the opportunity to bravely stand with people of minority gender identities. Today, they are currently leading the charge towards full marriage equality.

Mariela Castro has long been an outspoken advocate for the LGBT+ community [5]. She is the daughter of Raúl Castro, former First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party, and Vilma Espin, an important revolutionary and founder of the FMC. In 2018, Mariela Castro proposed a reform to remove the gendered language regarding marriage from the Constitution. President Miguel Díaz-Canel openly supported this move. In February 24, 2019, 90.6% of Cuba’s people voted to approve this new constitution [6]. Now, Article 82 of the Constitution of Cuba says:

Marriage is a social and legal institution. It is one of the forms of family organization. It is based on the free consent and the equality of rights, obligations and legal capacity of the spouses. The law determines the form in which it is constituted and its effects.

This was progressive victory for Cuba. Although same-sex marriage was not explicitly legalized, the path to full legal protection was made clear.

Now, a new Family Code has been passed officially legalizing same-sex marriage, same-sex adoption and providing many other protections for women, families, and the LGBT+. This code also introduces new protections for minors, parental equality in duty and rights[7], and for the rights of the disabled [8].

Cuba is making great progress. In 1963, the great revolutionary Fidel Castro said about homosexuality that “Our society cannot accommodate such degeneration”. Later, in his autobiography, Fidel implored us all to accept the LGBT+ community. In 2010, Castro declared the prosecution of gay people during the revolution “a great injustice” [9], reflecting the development of Cuban society as a whole. We must remember, Cuba inherited machismo and the homophobic attitude from the pre-revolutionary period and we should all be impressed at the leaps and bounds they have made in the time since then. Now, when it comes to gender and sexuality, many consider Cuba the most progressive country in Latin America.

Excerpts from an Interview with Fidel Castro

Carmen Lira Saade

La Jornada newspaper, Havana
Tuesday, August 31, 2010, p. 26

Although there is nothing that indicates discomfort in him, I think that Fidel is not going to like what I am going to tell him:

–Commander, all the charm of the Cuban Revolution, the recognition, the solidarity of a good part of the universal intelligentsia, the great achievements of the people against the blockade, in short, everything, everything went down the drain because of the persecution of homosexuals in Cuba.

Fidel does not shy away from the subject. He neither denies nor rejects the assertion. He only asks for time to remember, he says, how and when prejudice broke out in the revolutionary ranks.

–Five decades ago, and because of homophobia, homosexuals in Cuba were marginalized and many were sent to military-agricultural labor camps, accused of being counterrevolutionaries.

“Yes”, he remembers, “they were moments of great injustice, a great injustice!” He repeats emphatically, “whoever did it. If we did it, we… I’m trying to limit my responsibility in all that because, of course, personally, I don’t have that kind of prejudice.”

It is known that among his best and oldest friends there are homosexuals.

–But, then, how was this hatred conformed to the different?

He thinks that everything was produced as a spontaneous reaction in the revolutionary ranks, that it came from the traditions. In the previous Cuba, not only black people were discriminated against: women were also discriminated against and, of course, homosexuals…

“Yes Yes. But not in the Cuba of the new morality, of which the revolutionaries inside and outside were so proud…”

–Who was, therefore, responsible, directly or indirectly, for not putting a stop to what was happening in Cuban society? The Party? Because this is the time when the Communist Party of Cuba does not make explicit in its statutes the prohibition to discriminate based on sexual orientation.

“No,” Fidel says. “If anyone is responsible, it’s me…It is true that at that time I could not deal with that matter… I was immersed, mainly, in the October Crisis, in the war, in political questions…”

–But this became a grave and serious political problem, commander.

“I understand, I understand… We didn’t know how to value it… systematic sabotage, armed attacks, they happened all the time: we had so many and such terrible problems, problems of life or death, you know, that we didn’t pay enough attention to them.”

–After all that, it became very difficult to defend the Revolution abroad… The image had deteriorated forever in some sectors, especially in Europe.

“I understand, I understand” he repeats,  “it was just…”

The persecution of homosexuals could occur with lesser or greater protest, anywhere. Not in revolutionary Cuba, I tell him.

“I understand, it’s like when the saint sins, right?… It’s not the same as the sinner sins, right?”

Fidel sketches a faint smile, and then turns serious again:

“Look, think what our days were like in those first months of the Revolution: the war with the Yankees, the issue of weapons and, almost simultaneously with them, the plans for attacks against me…”

Fidel reveals how tremendously he was influenced and how his life was altered by the threats of attacks and the attacks of which he was a victim:

“[A revolutionary] couldn’t stay anywhere, he didn’t even have a place to live… Betrayals were the order of the day, and he had to walk like crazy…Escaping from the CIA, which bought so many traitors, sometimes among one’s own people, was not an easy thing; but in the end, anyway, if you have to take responsibility, I take mine. I am not going to blame others…”, maintains the revolutionary leader.

He only regrets he didn’t correct it back then…

Today, however, the problem is being faced:

Under the slogan “Homosexuality is not a danger, Homophobia is!” the third Cuban Day for the World Day Against Homophobia was recently celebrated in many cities of the country. Gerardo Arreola, correspondent for La Jornada in Cuba, gives a timely account of the debate and the struggle that is taking place on the island for respect for the rights of sexual minorities.

Arreola refers that it is Mariela Castro, a 47-year-old sociologist, daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro, who heads the National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX), an institution that, she says, has managed to improve the image of Cuba after marginalization from the 60s.

“We Cubans are here, men and women, to continue fighting for inclusion, so that this is the fight for all, for the good of all”, said Mariela Castro at the opening of the day, escorted by transgender people holding a Cuban flag and a multicolored one from the gay movement.

Today in Cuba, efforts for homosexuals include initiatives such as changing the identity of transgender people or civil unions between people of the same sex. Since the 1990s, homosexuality on the island has been decriminalized, although there are still cases of police siege. And since 2008 free sex change operations have been practiced.

“The world of the future has to be common, and the rights of human beings have to be above individual rights… And it will be a rich world, where rights are equal for all…”

How are you going to achieve that, Commander?

“Educating… educating, creating love and trust.”

[1] Constitution of Cuba, 1992


[3] Reuters, “Cuba approves sex change operations”

[4] The Guardian “Raul Castro’s Daughter first lawmaker to vote ‘no’ in Cuban Parliament”

[5] Caribbean Net News, “Castro’s niece fights for new Revolution”

[6] Reuters, “Cubans overwhelmingly ratify new socialist constitution”

[7] Granma “The new Family Code provides the fathers with rights that were exclusively of the mothers.”

[8] Granma “How does the new Family Code protect persons with disabilities?”

[9] La Jornada “Soy el responsable de la persecución a homosexuales que hubo en Cuba: Fidel Castro”

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