Is Cuba Gay Friendly? Then and Now: A Talk with Gisela Arandia Covarrubia

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A Talk with Gisela Arandia Covarrubia

Is Cuba gay friendly? Well, let’s find out!

“I, myself, don’t have any phobia against homosexuals. I’ve never felt that phobia and I’ve never promoted or supported policies against homosexuals…” -Fidel Castro, 1992

However, Castro’s actions, particularly in 1965, didn’t entirely align with his words. This led me to wonder: “Is Cuba gay friendly?” The answer isn’t a simple yes or no.

The Historical Unfriendliness

In 1965, Cuba underwent a brutal anti-gay purge, one of the most inhumane of modern times. An initiative known as the Military Units for the Aid of Production (UMAP) launched, creating forced labor camps for those deemed ‘different,’ primarily male homosexuals, imprisoning and enslaving them. Despite the immediate international outcry, it took till 1967 for the protests to make an impact, forcing Castro to dismantle the camps.

Also Read: Silenced Rhythms: Unmasking the Intersection of Race and LGBTQ+ Life in Cuba

The Voice from Inside: Gisela Arandia Covarrubia

It’s essential to bring in the perspective of Gisela Arandia Covarrubia, an author, researcher, and affiliated member of UNEAC, the Cuban Union of Artists and Writers. In a 1994 interview, she addressed the UMAP era saying, “UMAP was for the ‘different.’ The ‘different’ were homosexuals. The ‘different’ were Black Cubans who adopted the Afro hair style.”

Gisela also pointed out that it’s not entirely fair to lay the blame for UMAP and the ill-treatment of homosexuals solely on the government. “The guilt is not just on the government,” she said. “It was a social consensus. The homosexual was seen as a threat to the family and people wanted to remove that threat. In Cuban society many people would rather see their child dead than Gay.”

Strawberry and Chocolate: A Game Changer

Fast-forward to 1993. Enter “Strawberry and Chocolate”, a Cuban film that seemingly transformed the nation’s view on homosexuality. The film navigated the unlikely friendship between an older, openly gay man and a young, homophobic communist. It highlighted not only homophobia but also other prejudices, something the audience seemed to overlook. According to Gisela, “the people that face the most discrimination in Cuba are Blacks, women, and religious groups.”

Also Read: The National Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays: The Ultimate Guide!

The Current Situation: Are the Past Evils Really Behind?

When it comes to the question, “Is Cuba gay friendly?”, the situation has improved, but it’s far from ideal. There are fears of recurring purges, given Cuba’s past. Luis Alberto Nortario, an official with the Union of Young Communists, asserted that another UMAP-like situation was unlikely, but his statement’s vagueness couldn’t entirely erase the fears.

Breaking Down the Prejudices: One Step at a Time

While the film “Strawberry and Chocolate” managed to shift societal attitudes toward homosexuality, it did not eliminate all forms of discrimination. Gisela elaborates, “While the movie led us to a new level of tolerance, the double standard didn’t change.” The film tackled the issues of women, Blacks, and the LGBTQ+ community. However, the audience largely missed the nuances and focused on the obvious – the treatment of homosexuality.

This imbalance of perception is symbolic of the larger social construct. As Gisela further explains, “Racial prejudice is more subtle for women. Often, they’re not conscious they’re being discriminated against. But discrimination against women is actually worse than that against Blacks.” While a step forward, the journey towards a genuinely inclusive and diverse society is far from over.

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The Intricate Fabric of Discrimination

One may argue, why single out Cuba for its past misdemeanors? Is it fair to harp on one aspect of a society so complex and diverse? In truth, every society has its own intricate fabric of prejudices and biases, woven over generations. The discrimination and prejudices faced by the LGBTQ+ community in Cuba is part of this larger fabric that spans the globe.

But isn’t it also true that recognition is the first step towards resolution? Gisela’s frank admission of the multiple layers of discrimination prevalent in Cuba is precisely the honesty needed to stimulate dialogue, raise awareness, and usher in change.

Also Read: Unraveling the Story of NCBLG: An Oasis for Black Queerness

Change is Coming, But Patience is Key

Cuba’s reputation as a gay-friendly destination has improved over the years, with an increasing acceptance of the gay community. Yet, the reality remains complicated and nuanced, and the journey towards a truly inclusive society continues.

To answer the question “Is Cuba gay friendly” comprehensively, we need to understand the intricacies of cultural conditioning, societal norms, and historical baggage. Yes, the country has taken significant strides towards LGBTQ+ acceptance. But there are still miles to go.

After all, as the saying goes, “Listen to what people say but watch what they do.” Cuba, like many other countries, has a way to go in ensuring that its actions align with its words. It is this continuous journey of evolution and self-discovery that keeps the world spinning, and human societies intriguingly complex and beautifully diverse. For the time being, all we can do is watch, hope, and work towards a better future for all.

And maybe, one day, we’ll be able to confidently answer “Yes” when asked “Is Cuba gay friendly”. Only time will tell.

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Serwaa, a gifted storyteller with a knack for uncovering the extraordinary in the ordinary. Her words dance across pages, painting vibrant narratives on culture, human rights, and everything in between. While she's not weaving tales, you'll find her playing the cello or planning her next globetrotting adventure. You might say she's a bit of a 'renaissance woman' - but she'd just call it 'embracing her curiosity'!