Small and Large Steps towards Equality for Gays in Cuba
By Ivet González
CIEGO DE ÁVILA, Cuba , May 20 2013 (IPS) - The lesbian, gay, bisexual,
and transgender community in Cuba has won advances on issues like the
change of name of pre-operative transgender persons, while they continue
to fight for the right to same-sex civil unions.
For the first time since 1997, a transsexual woman who had not undergone
sex-change surgery was issued a photo ID card this year reflecting her
chosen name and gender identity, Manuel Vázquez, a lawyer with the
National Centre for Sex Education (CENESEX), a government-funded body,
"We will continue supporting efforts to attain name changes in other
cases, and we hope it will become the norm," said Vázquez, who is head
of the legal services unit in CENESEX, which reports that the family and
the workplace are the spheres where the rights of LGBT persons are
violated the most.
Up to now, the photo on the national ID card of trans women and men has
had to reflect their biological sex.
In 1997, CENESEX managed to reach agreements with the ministries of the
interior and justice to change the names and photos on the ID cards of
13 transgender people who had not undergone sex-reassignment surgery,
although other civil registry documents, such as their birth
certificates, were not modified. But that had not happened again until now.
Transgender people who have undergone sex-change surgery, which is
provided free of charge in Cuba since 2008, are allowed to modify their
ID cards. In Cuba, 19 people – two of them female-to-male transgender
persons – have had sex-reassignment surgery so far, according to CENESEX.
"Now a trans person who has not had surgery is free to seek and win a
name change, thanks to this precedent," Vázquez said.
Speaking to IPS during the month-long events surrounding the
International Day Against Homophobia, celebrated May 17, Adela
Hernández, the only transgender member of a municipal assembly in Cuba,
said she had started the process of applying for a name change on her ID
Hernández, a nurse and now a municipal assembly member in the city of
Caibarién in the central province of Villa Clara, had to register as a
candidate in the October-November 2012 municipal elections under the
name José Agustín Hernández and with a photo that looks very different
from the woman who won a majority of votes in her district.
Hernández is one of the special guests on this year's agenda of
educational, cultural and – for the first time – sports activities
organised by CENESEX, which has led a month of anti-homophobia events
every year since 2008.
On this occasion, the central activities took place May 14-17 in the
city of Ciego de Ávila, 434 km east of Havana, ending with a festive
march down the central avenue Libertad, with the demonstrators waving
rainbow and Cuban flags and dancing in a conga line.
Mariela *, a 36-year-old mother, came to watch the conga line with her
nine-year-old baby. "I haven't taken part (in the activities), but I'm
not against it," she told IPS. "These events help families learn about
sexual diversity and to respect it more, and help children and young
people grow up better."
But other people are still opposed to the campaign for respect for free
sexual orientation and gender identity, which CENESEX carries out all
year long, culminating in the May schedule of events, dedicated this
year to families.
CENESEX director Mariela Castro said "the hardest thing is to change
people's mentalities," in a country that is still heavily machista and
homophobic. In fact, until the 1990s, "ostentatious public displays of
homosexuality" were illegal.
Since 2012, the LGBT community and CENESEX have stepped up their
activism demanding recognition of sexual rights as human rights in this
country, which has no specific law against discrimination on the grounds
of sexual orientation and gender identity.
The Cuban parliament has not yet debated the bill for a new "family
code", sponsored in 2008 by the non-governmental Federation of Cuban
Women and other institutions. Among other things, the bill, aimed at
updating the family code in effect since 1975, would recognise same-sex
In Latin America, same-sex marriage is legal only in Argentina and
Uruguay, as well as Mexico City and three states in Mexico. In Brazil,
meanwhile, civil unions that confer nearly the same rights as marriage
are legal, and on May 14, the National Council of Justice ordered civil
registries to allow same-sex couples who apply for a marriage license to
Vázquez called for a law on civil unions in Cuba, and said he supported
the creation of a law on gender identity, as advocated by legal experts
But until such legislation is approved, the 26-year-old lawyer's
strategy is to train attorneys and judges on how to take advantage of
existing laws in cases of violations of LGBT rights
"People also have to be brave, and report these crimes," he said.
He mentioned the first workshop on the question of LGBT rights for
lawyers and judges, held in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba.
CENESEX also plans to expand its legal services to other parts of the
"There is no law on the rights of homosexuals. There is only very vague
language about it," said Raquel Fernández of the Red de Lesbianas
Atenea, a network of lesbians based in Ciego de Ávila. Domestic violence
and limited access to housing or jobs due to homophobia are among the
limitations that lesbians suffer the most, she told IPS.
*The source asked that her last name not be used.