Cuba was once considered one of the most regressive and closed off countries in the world, shaded from modernity by abundant plumes of cigar smoke. Today Cuba has bridged its fractious relationship with the United States and is rapidly hurtling, for better or for worse, into the twenty-first century.
Many have romanticised Cuba, envisaging a land away from the corrosive effects of capitalism where access to healthcare and education is equal across all social echelons. However, it is easy to forget the suffering that has taken place across the decades in this Caribbean paradise. Not least for members of the LGBT community.
Cuba is famed for it torrid history on gay rights which peaked during Castro’s reign after the on-off revolution of the 1950s. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, swathes of homosexual were sent to camps in order to be reeducated and cleansed of their gayness – reminiscent of contentious correction camps which still operate today. The state also forced people suffering from HIV/AIDS into quarantine until 1993. That is, despite homosexuality being partially decriminalised at the end of the 70s.
Mariela Castro, daughter of Raul Castro, rose to prominence in the 1990s as a campaigner for gay rights. This was a critical turning point in LGBT rights. Today Mariela is the head of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education and still campaigns on a broad range of civil rights issues. Thanks to Castro’s (Mariela that is) work, gender reassignment surgery is available through the state funded healthcare system and discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation is outlawed.
Back in 2010, six years before the revolutionary leader passed away, Fidel Castro apologised for the state’s treatment of LGBT people in an interview with a Mexican newspaper.
Some have criticised Cuba, claiming that progression has only occurred under a framework of wider repression where citizens don’t have the right to vote and are routinely denied basic freedoms. While this is true, it’s entirely separate from the gay struggle and the two have to be viewed as independent movements to be properly understood.
Since restrictions were lifted, a gay village is forming in the larger cities like Havana. It’s also been suggested that the repression of religion in Cuba has eased the anxieties surrounding homosexuality that exists in many ‘progressive’ countries – including the United States.
LGBT Cuba For Visitors
Cuba is widely considered a safe country for LGBT travellers to visit today, with many gay travel companies offering specially curated adventured for gay people visiting the country. It has been lauded as the gay capital of the Caribbean but given the pitiful circumstances in neighbouring countries, this is hardly a noteworthy claim of a liberal utopia.
Gay visitors are incredibly unlikely to have any problems, even if travelling as a couple and sharing a room. The upcoming Key West to Cuba festival is celebrating LGBT culture in the two localities is an excellent example of how far this stunningly beautiful country has come in recognising gay rights.