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   Vol. 67/No. 34           October 6, 2003  
‘Gay rights strengthen Cuban Revolution’
Director of Cuban sex education institute discusses changing attitudes, need for further steps
Below is an interview with Mariela Castro Espín that appeared in the May 23 edition of Alma Mater, the journal of the University of Havana. Castro is the director of the Cuban National Institute for Sex Education. The interview was published under the title, “Cuban Society and Homosexuality.” Translation and subheadings are by the Militant.

More relaxed. Not more tolerant.

Achieving dignity and respect for the rights of Cuban homosexuals is no easy task. Yet it hardly seems humane to wait another century for some sort of “natural evolution” to bring about justice. The full emancipation of gays and lesbians in Cuba also entails promoting and achieving changes in the popular conceptions of a society that does not yet accept homosexuality, despite the fact it is more relaxed than before about the existence of this “phenomenon.” In an interview with Alma Mater, Mariela Castro Espín, director of the National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX), expressed her belief that “we are now poised at the most opportune moment for homosexuals to gain more space and representation in Cuban society.”

Question: Do you believe that the ‘90s ushered in an era of greater social tolerance with respect to homosexuality in Cuba?

Answer: Yes, I believe so, that people are a little more relaxed about a homosexual presence, both in public and in the privacy of the family, but only a little bit relaxed, not more tolerant. We have much more work to do in our society for this “relaxation” to mean real respect toward sexual diversity. Sexuality is more complex than what science has been able to establish, and what we are able to imagine. That is why we must be very careful about the decisions taken in this respect.

I do not have statistics or other kinds of scientific data to demonstrate that there is more tolerance, because there are no studies on this specific subject in our country. Yet, I am able to observe this phenomenon as a professional and as an individual. I do believe that since the 1990s there has been a greater acceptance of the presence of homosexuals by some portion of the population and public institutions. That does not mean that the contradiction has been resolved for all individuals at all levels of society.

In terms of our society as a whole, I think we are at a good moment to implement policies that are more explicit about the defense of the rights of homosexuals, so that we are better prepared to confront any manifestation of discrimination on account of sexual orientation.

By the 1970s, reforms that were made to the Penal Code excluded the classification of homosexuals as a criminal; any word that discriminated against homosexuals was modified. However, that is not enough because I think our laws should better reflect the respect that homosexuals merit.

Greater and more professional work is needed at the microsocial level, because what this is about is trying to change perceptions, modifying popular conceptions within society. That is why I identify this very humanistic attempt to achieve greater respect for the rights of homosexuals with the Battle of Ideas that is being waged in our society today. I believe this battle, in the field of culture and politics, should include such a necessity, because it would mean a cultural, social, and political strengthening of the Revolution.

Q: Is that a proposal?

A: Yes. It is a proposal I am making, at appropriate opportunities, from my position of responsibility as the director of the National Center for Sex Education, with the aim of achieving this type of analysis. And I assure you it has reached receptive ears. My suggestion is in no way removed or distant from the spirit of the Revolution, or from the entire process that has brought about this call to a Battle of Ideas. It would be wonderful to be able to spark a deep-going discussion on this subject among various groups, so that Cuban society could develop a healthier culture of sexuality, one that is fairer, that helps to overcome the erroneous beliefs and prejudices of our ancestors with regard to sexual orientation. Something like this would put the Revolution even more in line with its humanist ethics; because the Cuban Revolution has been made with the participation of all Cuban men and women who have identified themselves with the conquests and dreams of this social effort. Among all these participants are also people of various sexual orientations. Thus, it would not be fair to trample on the dignity of homosexuals because of some ancestral taboos. That is why I believe this to be a fundamental task, in which we have much more work to do.  
Constitution and sexual orientation
Q: How do you think our laws should better reflect respect for the rights of homosexuals?

A: The Constitution of the Republic protects all people, regardless of their race, sex, age. And, obviously this protection includes homosexuals, albeit not explicitly (when something like that is made explicit, it is a recognition that there is a need to avoid any type of discrimination, such as racial or against women). In my modest opinion, some day, when plans are made to revise the Constitution, I believe it should explicitly include sexual orientation, in the same way it includes race, gender, and other considerations. I don’t consider this to be an urgent matter, but I do believe we should be clearer about this in our laws, more evident, not only as a protection of these people from discrimination in public institutions, but also within the family, because it is often there that a homosexual is first insulted or rejected.

To be rejected by one’s own family group is one of the most destructive experiences for one’s personality, and even more so when the condition that caused the rejection—that is, sexual orientation—was not a matter of choice.

Q: Why do you think the gay community in Cuba has not organized itself, as it has in other countries, to demand, among other things, greater space and respect at a social level?

A: I think the greatest difficulty is that there is no unifying and convincing effort, because male and female homosexuals are as heterogeneous as heterosexuals. Yet I don’t see this as an obstacle; I see it as a complicated reality. It is also true that one should be able to count on support from the rest of Cuban civil society, a society still very permeated with sexual prejudices.

But I think gays and lesbians should try a strategy of greater integration into society, because if they “organize themselves,” this could bring about a period of self-segregation, of isolation, rather than to become more part of Cuban society, and to make their condition more natural within it.

I believe that male and female homosexuals should participate more in the different opportunities for social and political discussion that currently exist in Cuba, despite the prejudices, so they can make known their truth, their legitimate need for equality, their beliefs, in order to gain support from the scientific community, and in that way bring to bear arguments that can effect the changes that are necessary in society—which are also just and fair. I think such a strategy would be more effective and healthier, too.

I believe we are now poised at a very opportune moment in which people with a homosexual orientation can be better understood and integrated into different places of our society.  
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