Cuba and the gay movement

Posted September 20, 2010

[In 1980, at a time of  severe economic hardship on the island, the Cuban government agreed to allow as many of its citizens to leave the country as chose to do so.  Between April 15 of that year and October 31, when the program ended, some 100,000 Cubans had left for the United States and other countries through the Cuban port of Mariel.  Among them were many lesbians and gay men.  The events reinvigorated a controversy within the gay movement dating from its earliest days, and continuing to the present, having to do broadly with whether the movment should be concerned narrowly with questions of sexual orientation, the more conservative position, or should see itself as part of a broad struggle including all oppressed peoples, the leftist position.

The following is my translation of a statement issued jointly by three lesbian and gay organizations of Mexico concerning the Mariel boatlift, as it came to be known, as published in the July 26, 1980, issue of  Gay Community News of Boston.]

OIKABETH,Grupo Lambda de Liberación Homosexual, and Frente Homosexual de Acción Revolucionaria

A revolution not only affects the nation that carries it out but its example spreads to other nations as well. In this sense, the Cuban revolution transcends the borders of that island. On the other hand, its success depends implicitly on the solid support of other oppressed peoples of the world, among which, in the specific case of Cuba, the Latin American peoples figure prominently.

Within that framework, the Mexican people have strengthened that support against imperialism in a vital way as a political and economic mobilization and as impetus to work.  Nevertheless that support has not depended on the sex or sexual preference (heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, etc.) of the thousands of individuals given dignity by the Cuban liberation toward socialism.

At present, more than twenty years after the outbreak of revolution in Cuba, the world reads and listens anxiously for news of the exodus of dissatisfied Cubans. Faced with this fact, imperialism, represented primarily by the Carter government, takes advantage of the anxiety to promote the cold war already in progress, attempting to discredit the Latin American process toward socialism. That being the case, if we really support what is revolutionary, we should not pass judgment, either for or against, on the basis of appearances only and without an intense and profound analysis.

Who is going into exile and why? As Guillermo Almeyra wrote so correctly in Uno Más Uno (“Cuba: Por qué se van y por qué se quedan?”, Sunday, April 20,1980, p. 9):

If the position of the United States, that the exiles are political refugees, is completely false, that of the Cuban press is also wrong. If it is true that all the refugees are criminals, bums and homosexuals, we should wonder how it is that after twenty years of revolution and in a country that defines itself as socialist, homosexuality is persecuted as a crime to the extent of forcing those who practice it to leave in exile and how and why there could exist so many bums and criminals, particularly among the young, the children of the revolution.

Most international demonstrations of support for Cuba today reflect vestiges of a profound Stalinism when they fail to mention the sexist manipulations that Cuban state institutions continue to practice. The words of Fidel Castro in response to criticism of machismo reveal very clearly a conception of women as useful to men, to the family and to the state as reproductive beings; his perspective reveals an anti-feminist socialist conception:

If there is to be privilege in human society, some inequality, it should be in favor of women, who are physically weaker [sic], who have to be mothers [sic], who besides their work carry the burden of motherhood. And if they tolerate the sacrifices of motherhood that these functions imply, it is only fair that in society they receive all the respect and all the consideration they deserve. And I say this clearly and frankly, because there are some men who think they have no obligation to give their seat to a pregnant woman or to an older woman or to any woman on a bus. (Fernanda Morais, La Isia: Cuba y los Cubanos Hoy, Ediciones Nueva Imagen, Mexico City, pps. 68-69)

With this statement as with many others, Fidel Castro stands as a “Victorian figure possessed of a heterosexist gallantry that, as Kate Millett says in Sexual Politics, establishes a dichotomy which “rests on the real existence of two kinds of women—wives and prostitutes—who embody sociosexual division founded on moral duplicity.” (p. 119)

Or as David Cooper says, “It is a question of a means of social control, of a means of micropolitical manipulation of persons, which in an exploitative society can lead in turn only to a false reciprocity.” (La Gramática de la Vida, Ediciones Ariel, p. 15.) Here “exploitative society” should be read not only as “capitalist society” but also, and in an important way, as “sexist society.”

Nevertheless, in Cuba all of this goes beyond gallantry to develop from an economistic and biologistic view of sexuality into repression of homosexuality at a time when homosexuality, in full public view, demands recognition as having a revolutionary potential already demonstrated to a great degree.

It is necessary to stress the importance of criticizing the errors of those of us who are fighting for socialism, beginning with the supposed revolutionary marxist, criticism of whom from within the socialist movement is indispensable. Concealment of reality is inconsistent with revolution; as such it is counterrevolutionary.

We should not blind ourselves to the evidence; the way the Cuban government has classified homosexual refugees reflects a progressive bureaucratization of the revolution reveals the problem of a lack of freedom of political dissent and bears witness to the twenty-one years of marginalization and persecution of homosexuality.

At the First National Congress on Education and Culture, which took place in Havana from the 23rd to the 30th of April, 1971, “The Year of Productivity,” Fidel Castro declared in the name of the Cuban government that:

Concerning homosexual deviations their nature was defined as social pathology. The militant principle of rejecting and not admitting in any form these manifestations or the spreading of them was clearly established… A careful study was made of the origin and development of the phenomenon as well as its present extent, the antisocial nature of this activity and the preventive measures that should be taken. The reorientation and even the control and relocation of isolated cases, always with the goal of education and prevention was studied. There was agreement on differentiating between cases, between their degrees of deterioration and the necessarily different approaches to different cases and different degrees …
The commission reached the conclusion that in the treatment of aspects of homosexuality it is not permissible that known homosexuals, through “artistic qualities,” attain influence which might affect the formation of our youth.
As a consequence of the above, an analysis is needed to determine how the presence of homosexuals in different agencies of the cultural front should be approached.
A study was suggested to apply measures permitting the relocation in other agencies of those who, being homosexual, should not have direct contact in the formation of our youth through artistic or cultural activities.
It should be avoided that artistic representations of our country be presented abroad by persons whose morals are not in accord with the prestige of our revolution.
Finally, it was agreed to request severe punishment in cases of corruption of minors, recurring depravities and incorrigible antisocial elements.

It is clear then that the supposed “eradication” of the “problem” of homosexuality in Cuba is a result of official terrorism and repression, not of the “social process of healing” that the Cuban state is triumphantly undertaking or of the “elimination of the open sores of rotten bourgeois society,” but of the reconstruction of institutions and attitudes about sexuality, work and social organization scandalously similar to those of “rotten bourgeois society.”

We raise our voices in protest before the recent events in Cuba without losing sight of the social context in which they occur. The protests of our movement must be carefully formed in the perspective of countering effectively the stigmatization and demonization of refugees who are gay men, lesbians or prostitutes. The action should be carefully suited to a situation in which refugees are being taken advantage of in an opportunistic way by U.S. imperialism, among other capitalist governments, in their assumed role as leaders of democratic freedom. And at this moment it is also important to point out that repression and persecution of homosexuals in the capitalist “liberal democracies” includes several other forms of violence.

Even the tolerance of homosexuality shown to a greater or lesser degree by “free and democratic” societies has consisted of marginalization and the obscurity of the ghetto (bars, baths, movie theaters, dark corners), the object of which is to “accept” us and silence us in clandestine affairs without permitting the removal of the heterosxist norms that maintain repressive, authoritarian and exploitative structures.

We socialist, antisexist lesbians and gay men should not lend ourselves to the anti-socialist manipulations praciced by capitalist imperialism.  On the contrary, at the same time that we denounce homophobia and other sexist vestiges of the Cuban government, we firmly defend and support the Cuban people in its revolutionary process.