•  HOME 
  •  BOOKS 
  •  WWP 
  •  DONATE 
  • Loading

Follow workers.org on
Twitter Facebook iGoogle

'Gay Cuba'

Lavender & red, part 104

Published Jul 8, 2007 7:56 PM

Two Cuban-backed documentaries about changing attitudes on the island towards same-sex love and gender variance—which in turn deepened that change—opened in theaters on the island in the mid-1990s.

“Gay Cuba” (1996) was a project of Cuba’s Félix Varela Center (CFV). Activist Sonia de Vries—raised in Amsterdam and now living and organizing in Kentucky—wrote and directed the documentary, which objectively struck a blow against the political blockade of Cuba by U.S. imperialism.

“Gay Cuba” is a series of interviews—a radio host and a singer/poet, an artist and a gay male elected union general secretary, a transgender factory worker and a journalist, an HIV-positive doctor and an interpreter, soldiers and teenaged law students—who offer personal anecdotes and individual observations about attitudes towards same-sex love in Cuba.

The interviews are interspersed with archival footage of the revolutionary seizure of power. The sound track incorporates the music of world renowned Cuban musicians Pablo Milanés and Silvio Rodríguez.

The Cuban Women’s Federation (FMC) hosted the pre-release screening of the documentary in Havana in 1994. The same year, the FMC invited a group named “U.S. Queers for Cuba” to visit the island. (Leonardo Hechavarría and Marcel Hatch)

“‘Gay Cuba’ was shown at the Havana International Festival of Latin American Cinema to public and critical acclaim,” wrote Larry R. Oberg.

The documentary turned its cameras onto the audiences of “Strawberry and Chocolate” (“Fresa y Chocolate”), another film made with the help of the Cuban state. “Gay Cuba” captured some of the enthusiastic responses of Cubans who had just seen “Strawberry and Chocolate”—a 1993 film about a heterosexual communist and a homosexual Cuban—at the Yara cinema.

“Fantastic!” a filmgoer who described himself as a heterosexual, masculine male exclaimed. “If I could have a friend like that I would!”

Jorge Perugorría, a lead actor in “Strawberry and Chocolate,” said in this documentary, “‘Strawberry and Chocolate’ is the story of an encounter ... between a communist militant and a homosexual, and how their friendship develops out of this encounter. What happened with the film is that it surpassed the cinematographic phenomena, and became a social phenomenon. People had never before discussed homosexuality so much.”

Cuban journalist Gisela Arandia stressed in “Gay Cuba,” “For people in other parts of the world, ‘Strawberry and Chocolate’ might be just another movie. For Cuba, it was an essential moment in our society’s development, because never before had these topics been dealt with in public.”

Measure of change

“Gay Cuba” was a weathervane that pointed in the direction of prevailing winds of change in the revolutionary battle against the legacy of centuries of colonialist and imperialist cultural domination.

The interviews offered a cross-section of consciousness.

“They’re people. One should treat them normally, but keep them away,” one youth with her friends told the interviewer.

“They are part of our Cuban-ness, part of our people. We have to accept them as such,” said an older man.

One young woman recalled going to a judgmental therapist about her attraction to other women. “I stood up, but first told him that he was mediocre and a bad psychologist and that I regretted being there. Then I stood up and left.”

Another young woman remembered going to see a psychologist to try to change her same-sex attraction. “At the end of the week, she told me, ‘Look, love, I see that you are happy as you are. Don’t try to change. It’s nothing out of this world. Nothing bad.’”

A cross-dressing factory worker explained, “Besides working here I am an artist. I imitate Sarita Montiel. I’m a drag queen. Everyone calls me ‘Sarita.’ My relationship with the workers here in the factory is wonderful. I’ve been here 12 years.”

One young Cuban said when she was in high school, she thought that she was not accepted into the communist youth (UJC) group because there was discussion about whether she was or was not a lesbian.

Another Cuban emphasized, “I’ve read the statutes of the UJC, and I don’t remember reading any article that said that being homosexual is an obstacle to being a member of the UJC. There are thousands of homosexuals in the UJC, from the roots to the leadership.”

Lourdes Flores, from Cuba’s National Center for Sex Education, stated in her interview, “As a center we see homosexuality as a sexual orientation, just like heterosexuality or bisexuality.” She added, “We have led workshops on the topic of homosexuality; sexuality in general, homosexuality in particular. The workshops are very interesting. For example, we have workshops with teachers, doctors, the general population, community activists and youth.”

“Gay Cuba” showed viewers a transgender performance organized by a neighborhood Committee for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR).

‘Break the blockade!’

The political views towards the Revolution of those who spoke on camera in “Gay Cuba” largely could only be gleaned through their anecdotes. The individual experiences narrated in this documentary were positive and negative, in varying degrees.

Progress in Cuba is the measurable difference between the two.

It is painful to hear Llane Alexis Domínguez say onscreen that when his father found out he was homosexual, “He actually said he’d like to beat me to death!” In Cuba, however, men who have sex with men and women who have sex with women are not being tortured and lashed to fences to die, beaten to death, stabbed or shot or strangled, decapitated and dismembered—all too frequent occurrences in the U.S.

A gay male Cuban worker sums up that in Cuba in 1994 what was largely left to deal with were individual attitudes. “I don’t think that Cuba’s situation is as critical for gay people as it is in other countries,” he explained. “I have the opportunity to study and to work here and no one can stop me. They might try to, but it’s that individual, not the system itself.”

He called on the gay community in the U.S. to help break the blockade, which, de Vries pointed out in her 1994 documentary commentary, “has cost the Cuban economy over $40 billion since 1960; the resulting fuel shortages and scarcity of food and medicine have impacted all Cubans.”

Precious footage

The documentary also provides historic footage of Cuban nova trova singer Pablo Milanés singing his song “Original sin” at a 1994 public concert in Havana. (“El Pecado Original” is available on Milanés’s CD “Orígines.”)

Milanés—a Cuban who harvested in the UMAP brigades in the mid-1960s, and who is beloved in Cuba—told the concert audience, “I dedicate this song to homosexuals, to gay people, and to all those who are marginalized and are suffering in the world.”

Milanés sang: “Two souls, two bodies, two men who love each other, are being expelled from the paradise they live in. Neither of them is a warrior with victories to boast of. Neither of them has riches, to calm the ire of their judges. Neither is a president, neither is a censor of his own desires. We are not god. Let’s not make the same mistakes again.”

Larry Olberg noted, “Introduced at his annual holiday concert held in the vast Karl Marx Theater in the Miramar neighborhood of Havana, ‘El Pecado Original’ took the audience and the country by storm and did much to advance the cause of gay acceptance.” (cubasolidarity.com)

“Gay Cuba” includes footage documenting the position of gay transgender Cubans at the head of the annual, massive May Day march in 1995, which was joined by two lesbian and gay delegations invited from the U.S. There’s also footage of a lesbian and gay Cuban contingent in the José Martί procession.

At the close of “Gay Cuba,” radio host Anna Marίa Ramos concluded, “We have been in 35 years of revolution, a revolution that by no means has been static; that has made changes constantly. In every sense, we are prepared for change. The roots of homophobia have not been driven so deep into the soil of Cuban earth. They can be pulled out.”

Next: “Butterflies on the Scaffold”—creating room for more genders.

To find out more about Cuba, read parts 86-103 of Lavender & Red at workers.org.

E-mail: [email protected]