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1980: Homosexuality

'A visible feature of Cuban society'

Lavender & red, part 96

Published May 5, 2007 12:25 AM

The thunderous, monopolized voice of the U.S. media machine dwelled on homosexuals who left Cuba from the port of Mariel in 1980, omitting the role of the CIA in instigating migration. At the same time, the U.S.-led political blockade of Cuba silenced the voices of Cubans who chose to stay, working together to actively defend their workers’ state against the most powerful imperialist empire in history.

Researchers Lourdes Arguelles and B. Ruby Rich stated, with the clarity of courage, “For all the gay men and the few lesbians who left, there were many more who chose to stay. Their lives had been constantly improving. The revolution might not yet speak to the homosexual in them, but it continued to address other vital aspects of their being.” These Cubans, they reported, “steadfastly refused to fulfill their gay identity at the cost of their national and political identities.”

Few lesbians left from Mariel, Arguelles and Rich found. “Their small number by comparison with that of gay men points, again, to the fuller integration of women into Cuban society and the increased status and freedom enjoyed by lesbians, as women, under the revolution.”

Ada, a lesbian Cuban rural nurse, said that everything in Cuba wasn’t “perfect.” But, she said, “I remember how it was before [the revolution] and for the first time, I feel I’m a human being.’”

Arguelles and Rich reported that in this period of their research—1979 to 1984—the homosexual population was “a visible feature of the Cuban social landscape”—part of every sphere of economic, social and governmental organization, as well as at the point of production of art and other forms of culture.

Arguelles and Rich observed, “They are no longer confined to an underworld economy or alienated from the mainstream of social life as they were in the pre-revolutionary era. Particular individuals are well known and pointed to with pride as evidence of revolutionary non-discrimination.”

Arguelles and Rich reported finding “a flourishing homosexual social scene centered around private parties and particular homes.” They described this social networking at parties and beaches as “a feature of Havana life in general.”

Arguelles and Rich added, “While their sexuality may be an open secret inside Cuba, many lesbians and gay males who participate in cultural and academic exchanges with the United States become more guarded when abroad, fearful of how homosexual issues are utilized in the war against the Cuban revolution.

“But many still take the opportunity to visit lesbian and gay bars and bath houses in New York or San Francisco,” Arguelles and Rich pointed out in the mid-1980s. “Ironically, their own adjustment to a greater social integration in Cuba causes them increasingly to feel out of place in these sites, viewing their sexual consumerism as bizarre.”

Jorge, a Cuban artist, concluded that “there is more true sexuality for gays in Cuba.” (Arguelles and Rich)

Arguelles and Rich returned to the island after their research had been published in Spanish in the Mexican newspaper La Jornada. The response they got from lesbian and gay Cubans was that “Overwhelmingly, they felt that progress was more marked than we suggested and that conditions of daily life had significantly improved during this decade.”

A gay Cuban named Roberto who said he had left from Mariel “for the adventure” went back to Cuba to visit. Roberto’s subsequent experiences in the U.S. drew him to the Antonio Maceo Brigade—pro-revolutionary Cubans in Miami and New Jersey. (Jon Hillson, “The Sexual Politics of Reinaldo Arenas”)

When Roberto returned to the island, he visited the factory in which he used to work. His co-workers had known he was homosexual. As Roberto got up to speak to an assembly of 700 of his former factory co-workers, they all rose to give him a standing ovation.

Lift the blockade!

Cubans who are homosexual, transgender and transsexual did not need imperialism to “liberate” them from their own people, their own revolution. They needed and deserved support from the revolutionary and progressive movements in the U.S.—the citadel of anti-Cuban finance capital—and around the world to help defeat imperialism.

Cubans of all sexualities, genders and sexes were suffering, and are still suffering, under the economic warfare of the U.S. blockade.

In addition, the blockade impacted on sexual and gender expression on the island. For example, it put enormous strain on housing, which in turn determines literally how much room and privacy people have to explore their sexual curiosity and desire.

The constant state of military alert demanded a mass mobilization of Cuban women, as well as men, in a collective effort for national defense. Revolutionary military preparedness values courage and strength, dignity and discipline. For half a millennium, colonialism and imperialism had extolled these virtues as birth traits of masculine males.

Colonial ideology, backed up by the ruling church and state, enforced masculine gender expression in males. The Spanish military and church brought anti-homosexual epithets that seared like branding irons, as its state cruelly punished same-sex love and gender variance.

The most common slur hurled at male homosexuals, which has endured from the medieval Inquisition in Europe, translates into English as “stick of wood.” It refers to the feudal European punishment of burning alive at the stake males who had sex with other males, or those deemed inappropriately gendered. Colonialism brought the fire of the Inquisition with its armadas. In the mid-1600s, for example, the Spanish captain general who ruled over the rural and urban enslaved population of Cuba sentenced 20 “effeminate sodomites” to be burned alive.

The anti-gay epithet—hurled at those not considered “manly” enough—has another meaning: coward. It’s an accusation that those who fled Cuba in the Mariel boatlift faced.

All women, together with the overlapping populations of those battling oppression based on their sexuality, gender expression and sex, have a common interest in debunking the gender prejudice that femininity is innately “cowardly” or “weak,” as well as confronting prejudice against same-sex love.

Cuban community defense and military ranks, however, were organizing and mobilizing the entire population as a popular army to defend the collective gains of the Cuban Revolution, not inculcating the kind of Rambo-masculinity indoctrination that the Pentagon drills into its ranks of the foot soldiers of an imperialist empire. Cuba’s foreign policy, by contrast, was the export of revolutionary solidarity.

Next: Sex education created basis for scientific approach to AIDS.

E-mail: lfeinberg@workers.org