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Isbel Diaz Torres: Pinar del Rio and Havana are my cities. I was born in one on March 1, 1976, and I’ve always lived in the other. I am a biologist and poet, though at times I’ve also been a musician, translator, teacher, computer geek, designer, photographer and editor. I’m very non-conformist and a defender of differences – perhaps due to always having been an ever-repressed “model child.” Nothing enthralls me more than the unknown, nature and art; these serve as my sources of mystery and development. A surprising activism has been born in me over the recent period. Though I’m not very sure how to channel it, I feel that it’s a worthy and legitimate energy. Let’s hope I have the discernment to manage it.

My Statement at the LGBTI Movement Regional Conference

May 15, 2014 | Print Print |

Isbel Díaz Torres

The Plaza America Convention Center in Varadero.

HAVANA TIMES – I had the privilege of participating in the recently concluded VI International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Conference for Latin America and the Caribbean (ILGA -LAC), held at the Plaza America Convention Center in the tourist town of Varadero.

So I want to share a summary of some of the ideas expressed in that meeting, specifically during the second panel of the Pre-conference of Gay and Bisexual Men, which was entitled “Mobilizing for our rights”.

After some international delegates asked for a condemnation of the U.S. blockade against Cuba, I asked for the floor and said:

I am the first Cuban to speak after your idea for a political vote against the blockade, and I want to thank you. At least we Cuban revolutionaries understand that international solidarity is vital, essential in this sense. The blockade directly effects Cuba’s LGBT community.

The successes we have had in Cuba in HIV treatment, for example, have been constantly beset by the U.S. blockade of Cuba, and despite this, we have had, in my opinion, very positive results.

Here we have the compatriots of the National Prevention Center (Centro Nacional de Prevención, CNP) who do an excellent job. I think that ILGA should extend to everyone the benefits of the work this institute is doing in conjunction with the National Center for Sex Education (Centro Nacional de Educación Sexual, CENESEX), because it is very valuable and can serve as a model.

I would also add that in Cuba there is a Men’s studies’ working/study group coordinated by Julio César González Pages at the University of Havana. I think if you are trying to mobilize people or organizations that work on masculinity in our nations, Cuba’s contribution would be important.

Speaking to the conference.

However, I would like to point out some shortcomings that we have here that maybe at some point ILGA could contribute to resolving. We have serious difficulties developing a truly empowered civil society on these issues. There are very few real social movements on the island. Civil society in Cuba is quite burdened by State leadership, rather than State accompaniment, that sometimes makes it very difficult to establish demands.

Our Project Rainbow (Proyecto Arcoíris) is independent and anti-capitalist, and although we are in solidarity with the CNP and CENESEX, we understand the need for a real civil society where individuals who suffer these discriminations and all these problems can become empowered and build the solutions we need, together with other institutions.

ILGA could greatly help the development of that civil society, so that social movements in Cuba could exist as counterparts to the social movements in the countries of the region and could have a dialogue, share our experiences, which are few (we are few) but we have had some results in this short time.

Individual to individual, group to group, alliances are important because what often happens at these events do not reach us. Absolutely none of this gets to the people living in Cuban neighborhoods.

Somebody mentioned Skype. Skype is not cheap. Perhaps for you it is, but we do not have Skype or internet. We do not have email. When we do have it, there are many difficulties. We live in different societies. Here we have benefits, but we have difficulties too.

We need to have access to the media on the island. Currently we don’t have it; not on the Internet, printed press, television or the radio. With much effort, CENSEX can bring several of our demands to the media, but we cannot do it directly.

The rainbow project.

How can we all collaborate?

Of course, the sovereign policies of each country determine this, but that does not mean that we should give up collaborating on improving the policies of each State, and make collaboration more accessible to civil society.

Another problem in Cuba is a lack of freedom of association. There is a law of associations, but in practice, the Registry of Associations has been closed for years. Our collective exists on the fringe of the law. There is no way to receive funding because we have no legal status. That is the case with us who have managed to be here today, but there are other collectives forming that are small, active and important, and the State needs them as a counterpart to design their policies. We need to reinforce that.

I think that ILGA, along with this vote against the blockade, could also collaborate a lot by making suggestions about how LGBT individuals could participate in the construction of public policies.

The exchange will be vital, since there are so few published and accessible investigations on what is happening in Cuba with our people. We have the National Office of Statistics that a few years ago issued very important reports on other topics, but significantly lacking the topic of LGBT. We do not know who many LGBT people live in Cuba.

The Population and Housing Census that took place in 2012 was a magnificent opportunity. Its original design included the option of reporting same-sex parents and couples. This option was eliminated a few weeks before the census began. In the end, our census does not reflect the existence of our families.

These are the things we need to strengthen in our work on the island. I am sure that working with ILGA would be very important, advising on such matters, directly exchanging with people and civil society associations.

Thank you.


What's your opinion?

  • John Goodrich

    That revolutionary Cuba is leading a great deal of the world in the area of LGBTI rights is both correct and an outstanding social work in progress.
    Cuba is setting the good example for the world to follow .
    In the U.S., the homophobes , led by the whack-job Christian fundamentalists and the Paleolithic Right are getting their asses kicked by both popular opinion and by the usually conservative Supreme Court and states are legalizing same-sex marriages at a very rapid pace .
    As it is in macho Cuba , the fight is also difficult in the USA because of long-held fallacies, machismo, and the Bronze Age morals and thinking of a very outdated Bible.
    Leviticus is most often cited by homophobes /anti-gay people as the reason for disliking the LGBTI people but a complete reading of that chapter reveals that most of it deals with how to slaughter an ox when doing sacrifices to God not having sex with your wife for so many days after the end of menstruation . Do it anytime sooner and you get run out of town or stoned.
    Right ! and the proscription against a man having sex with a man is right in there with all this other nonsense that has been entirely discarded by EVERYONE except for the part about men having sex with men for some not few people who accept the Bible as the literal word of God.
    Everyone, do yourself a favor and read Leviticus right through, SEE the insanity of it and then realize that this chapter of the Bible is what .many people base their anti-gay thinking upon.
    IT’S C-R-A-Z-Y !
    But then homophobia is a form of irrational thinking .
    “Straight but not narrow ” is the way to go if the gay lifestyle is not for you.
    Live and let live.
    and to quote from a book often maligned by me :
    ” Do unto others as you would have done unto you ” and you should have no problems with your fellow human beings.
    yc

    • Griffin

      Same sex marriage is legal in many places in the US. Being homosexual has not been illegal for decades. Compare that to the real situation in Cuba:

      In Cuba, same-sex marriage is still not legal. During the 1960’s the Revolution rounded up homosexuals, (along with hippies & Jehovah’s Witnesses), and sent them to forced labour camps, called UMAP (Military Units for the Assistance of Production). A sign over the gate of the camps read “WORK WILL MAKE MEN OF YOU”.

      During the “grey decade” of the 1970’s, homosexuals were fired from their jobs, harassed and demonized. Many were tossed into prison, such as the writer Reinaldo Arenas. Cuba only began to repeal the various laws against homosexuals in the 1990s, when they realized they needed Western tourist dollars. Today it is no longer illegal to be homosexual in Cuba, but they are still often harassed, arrested and banned from preferred jobs. If you have read Isbel’s column, you would be familiar with the persecution his partner has faced. The organization Isbel is a member of does not have official status in Cuba and is not recognized as a legal organization by the government.

      Raul’s daughter Mariela has championed LGBTQ rights in Cuba, but there are gay Cuba activists who have been shunned by her official organization because they refuse to toe the Communist Party line on human rights issues. They claim Mariela is perpetrating a “pink-wash” to appeal to Western liberals and leftists, yet another propaganda campaign by the dictatorship.

      http://miamiherald.typepad.com/gaysouthflorida/2012/05/cuban-american-gay-activists-in-miami-protest-mariela-castros-visit-to-san-francisco-new-york.html

      • ac

        Thats mostly true, but only a truth about old news from times where a lot of nonsensical things happened in a daily basis, virtually none of that is valid for more than 20 years (if not more).

        Also, you are missing an important detail: the meaning of marriage is pretty useless in the Cuban context compared to other countries.

        In Cuba, marriage is simply the social recognition of a couple cohabiting together; in practical (and legal) terms there is virtually no difference between marriage and cohabitation, to the point that a SIGNIFICANT percent of the heterosexual couples don’t ever marry, even if they have kids.

        For them, accepting the marriage of same sex couples is just a simple formality without any legal side effects whatsoever; the only reason for not doing it right away is the perceived fear of backslash from the macho and religious communities.

        That said, precisely because of the lack of legal benefits between the different cohabitation categories, the fight for same sex marriage in Cuba is largely symbolic and I don’t see the LGBT community particularly engaged; for them is more a matter of equality and fairness of public perception than actual legal differences.

        Their real fight is not with the legal system but with the general population and their backward position on the subject shared amongst most Latin America countries. Is virtually impossible to watch any Cuban show in a Cuban theater or TV (even books!) that does not include derogatory references to LGBT and that mirrors their society as a whole.

        • Griffin

          What you write is true, ac. My comment was directed toward the fatuousness of John’s comment that Cuba “leads the world” in LGBT rights.