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In this interview by Eduardo Jimanez Garcia, which first appeared in Alma Mater, the journal of the University of Havana, Mariela Castro Espin, the director of the Cuban National Institute for Sex Education (CENESEX), advocates an amendment to the Cuban constitution to add homosexuality to the groups against which discrimination is expressly outlawed.
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 entails promoting and achieving changes in the imagination of a society that does not yet accept homosexuality, despite the fact it is more relaxed than before about the existence of this “phenomenon”.

Do you believe that the 1990s ushered in an era of greater social tolerance with respect to homosexuality in Cuba?

Yes, I believe 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 towards sexual diversity. That is why we must be very careful about how we try to achieve this.

I do not have statistics or other kinds of scientific data to prove that there is more tolerance, because there are no studies on this specific subject in our country. Yet, I can be an observer of this phenomenon as a professional and as an individual. I do believe that since the 1990s there is 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.

I think we are at a good moment to implement policies that are more explicit about the defence of the human rights of homosexuals, so that we are better prepared to confront any manifestation of discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.

By the 1970s, reforms to the penal code excluded the classification of homosexuals as a criminals [because of their sexual orientation]; 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 deserve.

Greater and more professional work is needed at the microsocial level, because what this is about is trying to change perceptions, modifying the social imagination. I see this very humanistic attempt to achieve greater respect for the rights of homosexuals as the waging of a battle of ideas in our society. I believe this notion has to be part of the cultural and political battle because that would mean a cultural, social and political strengthening for the Cuban Revolution.

Is that a proposal?

Yes. It is a proposal I am making from my position of responsibility as the director of the CENESEX. I assure you it has been heard by receptive listeners. My proposal 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 meaningful, inter-group discussion on this subject, so that Cuban society could develop a healthier culture of sexuality, one that is fairer, that helps to erode old, erroneous beliefs and prejudices that emphasize sexual orientation.

Something like this would put the revolution even more in line with its humanistic ethic; the Cuban Revolution has been possible because of the participation of all men and women, of all Cubans who have identified with the conquests and dreams of that social project. Among all those who have participated there are also people of diverse sexual orientations. Thus, it would not be just for homosexuals to be denied respect because of some ancestral taboos. This is why I believe that we have much more work to do.

How do you think our laws can better reflect respect for the rights of homosexuals?

The Constitution of the Republic protects all people, regardless of their race, sex or age. Obviously, this protection includes homosexuals, albeit not explicitly (when something like that is made explicit, it is official recognition that there is a need to avoid any type of discrimination, like racism or sexism).

In my opinion, some day, when plans are made to revise the constitution, I believe it should very explicitly include “sexual orientation”, in the same way that 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 to protect against discrimination against these people in public institutions but also in the space of the family, because it is often there that a homosexual is first insulted or rejected.

To be rejected by your own family is one of the most personally and emotionally destructive experiences a person can have, even more so when the condition that caused the rejection, sexual orientation, was not a matter of personal choice.

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

I think the greatest difficulty is that there is no unifying and convincing project, 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 permeated with sexual prejudices.

But I think gays and lesbians should try a strategy of greater integration into social spaces rather than organise, because if they “organise”, this could bring about a period of self-segregation, of isolation, and not greater social inclusion and a naturalisation of their sexual orientation in Cuban society.

I believe that male and female homosexuals should participate more in different loci of social and political discussion, despite the prejudices, so they can make their truth, their real need for equality, their beliefs known, 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 and see that they are just. 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.

[This article was translated by ABC Language Solutions, [url=http://www.abclanguagesolutions.com]http://www.abclanguagesolutions.com[/url] . For more information about Cuba, sign up to CubaNews by visiting http://groups.yahoo.com/group/CubaNews/


From Green Left Weekly, March 3, 2004.
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