|With Mike Moore's new doco ‘Sicko' about to appear at movie theatres, it's time to revisit the controversy about Cuba, Castro, conservatism – and change.
In the sixties, 'sodomy' was decriminalised after Castro's revolutionary regime took power. Unhappily though, out lesbians and gay men were sent to 'labour and re-education' camps, and there were purges of lesbians and gay men in elite occupations in the early seventies. In 1979, matters improved slightly when homosexuality per se was decriminalised, but with a clause against 'causing a public nuisance' and public sex inserted into the Cuban Criminal Code. In 1988, this was extended to include gay sex workers.
However, with some exceptions, things have largely improved since then. Granted, there were quarantine centres for people with HIV/AIDS in the late eighties, most of whom were foreign aid workers and soldiers who had finished humanitarian work in Southern Africa. After 1989, though, these were converted into hospices, and on entry, now predominantly gay and bisexual HIV+ men are provided with information about safe sex, hygiene, and options for medication access (given that Cuba supplies anti retroviral drugs from generic copies). Contact tracing is voluntary, as are HIV tests themselves. Comprehensive sex education occurs at an early age, and in no small part, this is due to Cuba's National Centre for Sex Education.
While Fidel and Raul Castro had lamentable track records on LGBT issues, Fidel's niece Mariela is a progressive woman when it comes to directing the NCSE. Thanks to her efforts, Cuba is considering civil unions for lesbian and gay couples and free provision of gender reassignment surgery and hormonal therapy for transwomen who need them. Unfortunately, some habits die hard.
LGBT organisations are banned outright, and there is still some police harrassment of gay pubs and street drag queens. However, several prominent Cuban authors are and were gay, drag performance (transformismo) is celebrated in Cuban society, and there is a high standard of public healthcare.
While it has a miserable past, Cuban LGBTs can look forward to a more or less pleasant future. It is a testimony to their tenacity that they survived the repression of the sixties and seventies to win current moderate acceptance.
Ian Lumsden: Machos, Maricones and Gays: Cuba and Homosexuality: Philadelphia: Temple University Press: 1996. Craig Young - 17th July 2007