Cuba’s gay and transgendered population in the open

Posted on June 8, 2013 | By Global Post

HAVANA, Cuba — In this city’s leafy Central Park, young gay men mix
freely with lesbians, transsexuals, and others whose sexuality would
once have made them targets of harsh repression.

On a recent afternoon in the park, an older gay Cuban, who gave his
name as Jorge, marveled at how far Cuba has come since the days when
gays were stigmatized and shipped to “re-education camps.”

“Life in the past for us was atrocious,” Jorge said as he basked on a
bench. “We had no freedom.”

Gay and transgendered population in Cuba

Being gay in Cuba today is easier than it has been at any time in at
least a half-century — but it is still not without its difficulties.

That became painfully clear to a young dancer named Denis when he told
his mother he is gay.

“She smashed the television set,” Denis said during a break from his
rehearsals with the internationally renowned modern dance troupe,
Danza Contemporanea de Cuba. As he spoke, he shouted and waved his
arms to mimic her rage.

Denis is afraid to tell his father he is gay, but has told his
brother. “He supports me, but only because we are blood,” Denis said.
“He doesn’t approve of being gay.”

Even before the 1959 revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power,
gay life was largely hidden from public view because the authorities
frowned on it.

The seamy sex industry that attracted many American tourists during
that era had a strong gay
<http://insightcuba. com/blog/ 2013/03/14/ cuba-quickly- becoming- a-hotspot- for-gay-travel>

Castro and his Communist comrades have been accused of being as
homophobic as the previous regime.

Critics say they considered nonconformist sexuality anti-social and
intrinsically counterrevolutionar y.

An elderly Cuban woman named Dora remembers that era. Only gays who
remained discreet or closeted, she said, were able to live with a
modicum of security.

“Life was very difficult for them,” said Dora, who said she is not
gay. “They would meet in their homes. They were very good at hiding
they were gay.”

These days, there is no denying homosexuals exist in Cuba. Gay men and
lesbians openly flirt with each other in parks and other public
places. Transsexual women walk along streets displaying impeccable
hair and makeup. Young men openly prostitute themselves to older gay
men — Cubans and foreigners alike — at Central Park and along the
Malecon, Havana’s broad seaside avenue.

[Photo: Two Cuban boys sit in Havana’s Central Park, waiting for customers]

Gay life in Cuba is not confined to Havana.

In the provincial capital of Matanzas, a shopkeeper named Cristina
said gays in Matanzas “live normal lives and do not have trouble with
the police.”

“There are more gay people in Havana, but I don’t think there is more
homophobia in Matanzas and the provinces,” Cristina said. “The reason
some young gay men go to Havana to express their sexuality is because
there is a different ambiance in Havana.”

“There aren’t more gay prostitutes in Havana than anywhere else in
Cuba,” she said. “There are just more places gay prostitutes like to
hang out in Havana than there are here.”

At Havana’s Central Park, a gay man in his 40s named Ricardo said that
the promise of money from sex work is one of the main reasons young
gay Cuban men move from outlying provinces to Havana.

“Young people — all the young people around our park — say, ‘Look at
the wallet,’” said Ricardo, who works as a lab technician. “They
prefer it to going to school, trying to find a job. I went to school
for years, and I get $15 a month.”

A gangly, pubescent-looking male prostitute who works around Central
Park, named Rolando, is an example of how lucrative this business can

“I charge Cubans $15 or $20,” Rolando said, “but I can charge
foreigners up to $50 an hour.”

Most Cubans earn less than $30 per month.

In another part of the park, a transsexual named Cristal smoothed her
long blond hair out of her face with a slender finger. She said she
has known she is female since she was a small child, and that unlike
some Cuban parents of gays and transsexuals, hers always accepted her.

Cristal has spent the last 11 years working as a transgender advocate
for the government-funded Cuban National Center for Sex Education. The
center is run by Mariela Castro Espin, a daughter of Raul Castro, who
succeeded his brother Fidel as president of Cuba in 2011.

In early May, Mariela Castro
<http://www.voxxi. com/mariela- castro-says- cuba-to-consider -civil-unions- for-gays/>
led a vibrant gay pride march down the streets of the capital in which
supporters chanted “Homophobia no! Socialism yes!” The Associated
Press reported.

Cuba’s first gay rights organization emerged in the late 1970s, when
homophobia was still official government policy. Change began when
Raul Castro’s wife, the late Vilma Espin, president of the Federation
of Cuban Women, recommended that a special committee be established to
address concerns of the homosexual and transgender community.

In 1989, after Fidel Castro expressed regret for his regime’s anti-gay
policies and vowed to change them, the sex education center opened.

Creative artists, including some favored by the government, took
advantage of this liberalization. A film dealing with gay life,
“Strawberry and Chocolate,” was immensely popular. It won first prize
at the 1993 Havana Film Festival and scooped awards from Berlin to
Madrid to Sundance, as well as earning a nomination at the Oscars.

In 2006, one of the country’s most prominent writers, Miguel Barnet, a
supporter of Castro’s revolution, published a lavishly fictionalized
first-person account of a transsexual Cuban called “Fatima, Queen of
the Night” that won a prestigious Mexican literary prize.

In 2010, the Cuban government began sponsoring sex change operations
for transgendered individuals.

One of the gay men enjoying Central Park a few days ago was a German
tourist in his mid-30s named Marco. He said he is freer to be himself
in Cuba than he is at home.

“It is quite more liberal here,” he said, “than in the United States or Europe.”

This spring, Boston University journalism and photography students
made a weeklong trip to Cuba. By special arrangement, GlobalPost is
presenting six stories that emerged from their trip. The introductory
piece is by Stephen Kinzer, the former New York Times foreign
correspondent who was the students’ journalism professor. The five
that follow were written by his students. Photos were taken by
students working under the guidance of prize-winning photographer
Essdras Suarez.

Copyright © 2013 VOXXI

http://www.voxxi. com/cubas- gay-and-transgen dered-population /



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