For years Mariela Castro, daughter of Raul Castro and niece of Fidel Castro, has combated ignorance and discrimination towards gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Cubans. She is considered by many in the international LGBT rights movement to be the founder of the modern Cuban gay rights movement. She is the foremost straight ally of LGBT Cubans. Mariela Castro is director for the National Center for Sex Education where she leads the fight for appropriate sexual health care and human rights for sexual minorities.
Conditions in Cuba have improved remarkably for gay, lesbian, and transgender individuals in recent years. Today LGBT Cubans can be seen in public together, have access to social services and discrimination-free employment, march in government-sponsored pride parades, and partake in public social events.
Things weren’t always so open. In the early years after the Cuban revolution, LGBT people in Cuban society were horribly stigmatized and not given recognition by the government. But in 2008 changes started to occur. Transgender individuals were given the right to change their legal gender free of charge through surgery provided by Cuba’s free universal health care system. In 2010 Fidel Castro even apologized to the LGBT community, saying that discrimination was wrong and the past discrimination against them was unfortunate.
Mariela Castro has introduced a civil union bill into the Cuban National Assembly several times. Although it did not pass initially, the bill is being reintroduced this year and is in the legal research phase, meaning the Assembly is assessing its legal impacts. The bill would also prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity both in the Communist Party of Cuba and in public life.
To say how great something like this is would be an understatement. Cuba is advancing a broad-based human rights agenda for LGBT people ahead of the United States, which continues to have a muddied and mixed track record at best on LGBT issues.
The time has come for the United States to end the embargo and perhaps take a lesson from the book of Cuban human rights in regard to LGBT issues. In the United States it’s illegal to have a sex change and to be recognized as the opposite gender in three states: Tennessee, Ohio and Idaho. And there are still sodomy laws here in the United States despite the Supreme Court’s Lawrence v. Texas decision that decriminalized same-sex relationships.
That isn’t to say that Cuba doesn’t have more progress to make in overcoming stereotypes about “masculinity” and “femininity,” and prejudice and discrimination against those who defy the stereotypes. But thankfully the National Center for Sex Education and Mariela Castro are empowering the Cuban population through education to eradicate these stereotypes and advance equality.
If her bill passes in Cuba, the island nation will be not only a leader in tolerance and human rights for LGBT people but also set an example for both the developing world and other socialist countries that LGBT rights are compatible with a socialist agenda. Who knows the broader impact of this legislation? Maybe China or Vietnam will feel compelled to follow their Cuban comrades and enact pro-LGBT legislation as well.
Photo: Mariela Castro answers questions during a news conference in Havana, May 10, 2008, at the launch of a campaign to defend the rights of gay and lesbian minorities in Cuba. Javier Galeano/AP
I would first like to express my total solidarity with the people of Cuba.
The Revolution in Cuba has been a mixed bag of both progress and failure. It has created excellent levels of health and education in a third world nation, even outside observers from the capitalist states have stated that…
Comrade, I appreciate many of the things you wrote, but I feel I need to speak to some of your criticisms of the Republic of Cuba. Firstly, the notion of ‘democracy’ much like the word ‘socialism’ has to take on characteristics representative of their context. In other words, the western notion of democracy consisting of rights dialogue, voting, and individualized freedom is somewhat alien to the Cuban context. As Huey Newton put it: “In the west, as well as in Latin America, people say there’s no democracy in Cuba because they’re not putting the ballot in the box. So therefore the people are not consulted. On the other hand, Fidel Castro says that the people are consulted in an even more severe way; that the authority is put to the acid test. The acid test is that for a long time the people can be fooled, but they can’t be fooled and misused all of the time. The test would be the doom of authority through armed revolution. That is the way the people are consulted in the final analysis.”
The fact that the people are consulted, and that Cuba actually enjoys a level of democracy that we certainly don’t have in the United States, is reflected in the access to free health care, first rate daycare centers, championing of LBGT rights (including free surgery for trans-people), a literacy rate higher than the united states, and infant mortality rate lower than many places in the united states, the fact the women can walk around without the fears that characterize the experience of American women, and so on. In the end where is there more freedom and democracy? And if this notion of ‘democracy’ is preventing us from living a life free of fear from how we are going to pay for our medical expenses, to even walking the streets at night, how useful of an idea is it?
The Federation of Cuban Women didn’t consult the men suffering from backward and patriarchal ideas in their campaigns for Women’s rights, they took them with power, and the whole society is reaping those benefits. Sometimes this step is necessary in advancing the consciousness of people plagued by the capitalist social relationship, in fact this is the very premise of revolution. A revolution means forcibly imposing the will of one section of society over another, and we better deliver on our promises by any means necessary if we dare to win. The Cuban people and the communist party have delivered their promises to an unparalleled extent, and we have a great deal to learn from their example.
As a revolutionary you know that the media and the other sources which have swallowed their anti-communist rhetoric are not to be trusted. I advise you to visit Cuba, and ask the people themselves, as many of our comrades in the SWP have. Many people do have criticisms of the government, but you will be hard pressed to find a down-right anti-revolutionary. When the people see themselves and their needs reflected in their government, the most important and difficult task of socialism has been met.