Waiting for a Revolution: Tackling Homophobia in Cuba and Beyond
Only days before today, the International Day against Homophobia, a Russian man was beaten, mutilated, and murdered after revealing he was gay to two strangers. His death reminded me of the many other deaths and injustices that occur on a daily basis, the harsh discrimination that people endure on the basis of who they choose to love, and the fact that homosexuality was only removed from the list of mental illnesses by the World Health Organization in 1990. Most of all, the murder was a call to action, a reminder of the need to continue fighting until every individual has the freedom to live free of discrimination and violence.
Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting one of the staunchest fighters in the fight for LGBT rights: Cuban President Raul Castro’s daughter Mariela Castro. As Director of Cuba’s National Center for Sex Education and President of the Multidisciplinary Caentre for the Study of Sexuality, Castro has gained international attention for her leadership in promoting LGBT rights in Cuba, a country that decriminalized homosexuality in 1979 and saw a public apology from Fidel Castro for the Revolution’s treatment of gays only three years ago.
Today, thanks to Mariela’s leadership, Cuba has one of the most progressive comprehensive sexuality education programs in the world, transgender individuals receive sex reassignment surgery free-of-charge, and each May, the streets of Havana are packed with gay pride celebrations and marches for equality.
Castro showed a video of these marches. Interspersed between celebratory images of drag performances and marches along Havana’s legendary waterfront, man-on-the-street interviews illustrated that there is still more to be done to counter homophobia. While some interviewed were supportive of the right of the LGBT community to mobilize, others were not: “It is something like a plague,” said one man. “They [LGBT individuals] have become a plague.” Another man called the month-long pride celebration “disrespectful.”