Eliminating All Forms of Discrimination and Restoring Freedoms
Cuba: Eliminating All Forms of Discrimination and Restoring Freedoms
May 20, 2013
HAVANA TIMES — Reading Granma’s cultural pages recently, I came across
two things that would not have caught my attention had they been
published separately. Seeing them in the same news piece, however, made
me think my eyes were deceiving me: beneath a headline that read “Cuba
Holds Gala against Homophobia”, the article featured a photo of Rene
Gonzalez, one of the Cuban Five, next to Mariela Castro.
I wasn’t dreaming: before opening the gala, Cuba’s National Center for
Sexual Education (CENESEX) and LGTB-HI movement had given the Cuban Five
a special token of acknowledgment, which Gonzalez accepted on his own
behalf and that of the remaining imprisoned members of the group.
I couldn’t help asking myself what the fight against homophobia has to
do with the Cuban Five, as they are known around the world. The words
pronounced by Gonzalez on receiving the award appear to answer this
question: “We’re involved in a struggle against attitudes that have made
many people suffer. The suffering over being deprived of our freedom
unites us. All forms of discrimination and of depriving people of their
freedom must be eliminated.”
I had expected the gay rights movement and Center for Sexual Education
to offer this award to someone who had been sent to one of Cuba’s
Military Units for Aid in Production (UMAP) in the 60s and had remained
in the country to tell their story, or someone who, homosexual or not,
had devoted outstanding efforts to the struggle against discrimination
based on sexual orientation.
I know I haven’t the slightest right to question who the CENESEX and
Cuban LGTB-HI chose to acknowledge, for whatever reasons they deem
appropriate. What’s more, I shouldn’t be so surprised, not when slogans
such as “No to homophobia, yes to socialism” are being yelled out, even
though it was a socialist system which sent homosexuals to forced labor
camps and expelled them from workplaces and educational institutions.
Today, more than acknowledge and rectify past mistakes, our government
seeks to keep abreast of the times, to catch up to the 21st century. In
this century, it is considered politically incorrect to be a homophobe
or a racist.
In addition to this, in contrast to the times when it was thought that
being a homosexual was tantamount to being a counterrevolutionary (by
counterrevolutionary, I mean a person who did not support the
government), today our leaders have noticed that someone can be
homosexual, bisexual or transgender and revolutionary (that is, in favor
of the government, the Party and the continuation of Cuba’s socialist
model) all at once.
A person who’s homosexual, bisexual or transgender can also yell out
slogans such as “No to homophobia, yes to socialism.”
That said, I cannot help but identify with the words spoken by Rene
Gonzalez; I want to believe that they are sincere. What I’m curious
about, though, is this: since when does he think it’s necessary to fight
against these attitudes that have made so many people suffer, attitudes
which were part and parcel of our government’s former policies?
I can agree with the idea that the suffering over being deprived of
one’s freedom can unite human beings, even when the nature of the
freedom one is deprived of is different, provided we are able to walk in
someone else’s shoes.
I’ve never been able to understand how a person who has suffered
discrimination for their sexual orientation can have racist views, or
how someone who’s suffered racism directly could discriminate against a
fellow Cuban for having been born in a different region of the country.
I’ve even seen homosexuals discriminate against transgender persons.
Is it safe to assume that Rene Gonzalez feels that having been deprived
of his freedom somehow brings him closer to those who were deprived of
it in 2003, during Cuba’s so-called Black Spring, to those who have
endured this because of their criticisms of the government?
I completely support the statement that we must eliminate all forms of
discrimination and of depriving people of their freedom.
My question is whether Rene Gonzalez is also thinking of freedom of the
press, expression and association when he speaks of restrictions that
must be eliminated, for, as they are referred to in our Constitution,
where they are recognized only within the framework of socialism, they
are not yet freedoms.
Those who disagree with the statement that these freedoms do not exist
in Cuba resort to the argument that they do not exist anywhere in the
world, or that their existence does not guarantee that a country is
I can’t say whether these freedoms are illusory the world over, for I
haven’t traveled outside of Cuba. But, even if that’s the case, I don’t
believe that is a strong enough argument to make us resign ourselves to
living without such freedoms.
I concur with the idea that freedom of the press, expression and
association do not guarantee the existence of democracy, in and of
themselves. But I am convinced democracy cannot exist without them.
Is Rene Gonzalez willing to recognize that everyone, including those who
oppose the government and the system he defends, are entitled to these
There’s a phrase I try never to forget: “I disapprove of what you say,
but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
It is not a question of supporting the ideas expressed by Yoani Sanchez,
but of defending her right to express them and of ensuring the Cuban
people, the common Cuban, can be exposed to them directly.
It is not a question of affiliating oneself to the party Eliecer Avila
wants to found, but of defending his right, as a citizen who is
unsatisfied with the country’s existing party structure (both official
and unrecognized), to create his own.
It is not a question of disagreeing with the Cuban government, but of
recognizing the right of people to do so. Today, though many important
things remain to be done, it is not so difficult to oppose
discrimination based on sexual orientation. But men and women need more
than sexual freedom in order to live happily.
I can only hope Rene Gonzalez will be able to act in accordance with his
words. It is a great challenge.