Active Citizens, Gender, Gender Identity, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean, LGBTQ

Cuban Activists Defend Sexual Rights as Human Rights

The 2011 conga dance against homophobia in Havana. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The 2011 conga dance against homophobia in Havana. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

HAVANA, May 17 2012 (IPS) - The Fifth Cuban Day Against Homophobia focused on recognising and including sexual rights as human rights, a cause increasingly advocated by activists demanding respect for sexual diversity in this Caribbean island nation.

Current legislation denies “the legal personhood of a large group of human beings in Cuba because of their sexual orientation and gender identity,” said gay activist Dr. Alberto Roque, the coordinator of a group of social networks supported by the government’s National Sex Education Centre (CENESEX).

Men for Diversity (HxD), a group led by Roque and sponsored by CENESEX, called on the Cuban government to legalise “every possible union between same-sex couples, including marriage, as well as adoption of children and assisted reproduction for homosexual persons.”

The demands were expressed in a declaration read out on May 12 to hundreds of people who participated in the customary conga dance along 23rd street in central Havana ahead of the International Day Against Homophobia, celebrated Thursday May 17, and in educational and awareness-raising activities in the Cuba Pavilion in the capital.

While these demands have always been part of the LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people) agenda in this country, adoption and assisted reproduction – at present only permitted for heterosexual couples in stable marriages – are now at the forefront of activists’ requests to the government of Raúl Castro.

In the text, Men for Diversity called for the approval of a bill on gender identity, awaiting consideration by the Council of State; a new Family Code to replace the one in force since 1975; and “all other laws that progressively incorporate more human rights” for the LGBTI community.

A new Family Code bill that includes provisions for civil unions between same-sex partners is awaiting discussion in the Cuban parliament. Mariela Castro, the head of CENESEX – and the daughter of Raúl Castro – said she expects the bill to be debated in parliamentary sessions this year.

Cubans still remember clearly the institutionalised homophobia of the 1960s and 1970s, when gays were excluded from public office and sectors of education and culture. Up to the 1990s, Cuba penalised “ostentatious displays of homosexuality in public.”

Today the country has no law penalising sexual diversity. But it also has no legislation protecting such diversity, according to legal experts. In January, the first National Conference of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) set the goal of combating all forms of discrimination, explicitly including discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Activists view inclusion of the issue of sexual diversity in the social policy of the PCC, the country’s sole recognised political party, as a sign of official recognition, and it has aroused expectations of advances in the field of human rights. “Now we must wait and see how all this will be implemented in laws, policies and decisions,” Mariela Castro told IPS.

HxD, made up of sexually diverse women and men, has held workshops since 2011 on sexual rights for groups belonging to the CENESEX social network, like Oremi, for lesbian and bisexual women, and Young People for Diversity.

“It is a working strategy that aims to raise self-esteem and empower people in these groups,” Roque told IPS.

This year the recently formed Network of Lawyers for Sexual Rights joined these efforts “with the goal of driving legislation” on sexual rights. Together with the National Union of Cuban Jurists, it is contributing to the educational campaign that CENESEX carries out year-round.

The Fifth Day Against Homophobia, celebrated in all the Cuban provinces, emphasised the question of rights. For the first time, a Workshop on Law and Sexual Orientation in the Caribbean was held.

The debate on sexuality, gender identity and sex education was taken into the community when a public discussion panel was set up on 23rd and G streets, a corner in central Havana, attracting local residents, passersby and activists.

In the Latin American region, Argentina and Mexico City have legalised same-sex marriages and the adoption of children by homosexual couples. And civil unions recognising equal rights for same-sex couples are legal in countries like Uruguay and Brazil.

Misunderstanding, prejudice and fear still emerge in Cuban society when the topic of respect for sexual diversity and corresponding rights is broached, even after five consecutive annual Days Against Homophobia.

This year’s activities are scheduled May 8-18 and have their main base in the city of Cienfuegos, 232 km from Havana.

“People do show us more respect, although we still have a long way to go,” Carolina, a 23-year-old transsexual, told IPS. In contrast, a 24-year-old biological science researcher said: “I see as much homophobia and machismo as before the campaign, in the circles I work and move in, at least.”

“Many people say they accept homosexuality, but in their daily lives they keep gays at arm’s length: they do not make close friends with them, or share certain public spaces with them. That is a homophobic attitude,” said the young scientist, who asked not to be identified.

Both the women reckoned “there is a long road to travel” to win true acceptance and respect in such a machista society as Cuba, which is still caught in the dilemma of whether or not to include the protection of sexual rights in its legal system. (END)

 
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