Cuba's emerging LGBT nightlife comes into focus
04/08/15 06:57 AM—UPDATED 04/08/15 06:58 AM
By Johnny Simon and Rebecca Sanchez
Proving true to the complexities of Cuba's social and political
climates, LGBT nightlife on the island is no less multifaceted.
Regular gay-oriented parties, which started to pop up a little more than
five years ago, are held in state-run clubs, but, technically listed as
"audio-visual projects," are not themselves state-run.
Still, despite the ongoing political alterations, there is still a lot
of fear in the LGBT community. Same-sex couples don't typically hold
hands in the streets. Even if accepted by their families, partners are
typically referred to simply as "friends," and coming out to the public
remains socially tense. It can still be difficult for LGBT people to
evade workplace discrimination, as well.
But this isn't the first time the island's political landscape has shifted.
Pre-revolution Cuba had several gay-friendly bars but very strict laws
criminalizing homosexuality and targeting gay men for harassment.
Homosexuality was linked to prostitution, especially in relation to
tourism, gambling and crime.
But the 1959 revolution eradicated the profitability that made
homosexuality more palatable in Cuban society, and the minimal tolerance
that had existed prior to the revolution quickly faded. Homophobia
became institutionalized. Suspected LGBT individuals were abused,
imprisoned and sent to labor camps— often without a charge or trial.
Cuban President Fidel Castro, while describing his admiration for rural
life, once famously said "in the country, there are no homosexuals,"
concluding that LGBT people were just agents of imperialism.
"We would never come to believe that a homosexual could embody the
conditions and requirements of conduct that would enable us to consider
him a true Revolutionary, a true Communist militant," he said. "A
deviation of that nature clashes with the concept we have of what a
militant Communist must be."
Though same-sex relationships were technically decriminalized in 1979,
it wasn't until 1993 that Fidel Castro publicly stated his opposition to
policies against LGBT people. He said that he had come to understand
homosexuality as natural and apologized for the many years of
maltreatment under his government.
Following the long-time president's comments, the last two decades have
seen a gradual liberalization and slow changes around LGBT issues and
rights, albeit not without some major setbacks.
As an example, the Cuban Association of Gays and Lesbians—the island's
only LGBT civil rights association—was formed in 1994, but shut down
just three years later, in 1997, ending in the arrest of all 18 founding
Though gay marriage is still not legal and alternatives like legally
recognized same-sex unions have not yet passed the National Assembly of
People's Power, qualifying Cubans have had access to state-covered sex
reassignment surgeries and hormone treatments since 2008.
In 2013 the island celebrated its first International Day Against
Homophobia with a week of drag shows, marches and social and cultural
events throughout Havana.
Today, the National Center for Sex Education leads various educational
campaigns on LGBT issues. Programs to battle homophobia include HIV
education, school classes for students beginning at the age of five and
a televised soap opera featuring gay, lesbian and HIV positive people.
Cuban-American photographer Lisette Poole has been documenting the
country in transition, in particular the recent months since the United
States began taking steps to normalize relations with Cuba.
Take a look at this portrait of a community that is now asserting itself
after decades in the shadows.
Source: Cuba's emerging LGBT nightlife comes into focus | MSNBC -