HAVANA (AP) — Adela Hernandez, a biologically male Cuban who has lived as a female since childhood, served two years in prison in the 1980s for ‘‘dangerousness’’ after her own family denounced her sexuality.
This month she made history by becoming the first known transgender person to hold public office in Cuba, winning election as a delegate to the municipal government of Caibarien in the central province of Villa Clara.
In a country where gays were persecuted for decades and sent to grueling work camps in the countryside, Hernandez, 48, hailed her election as yet another milestone in a gradual shift away from macho attitudes in the years since Fidel Castro himself expressed regret over the treatment of people perceived to be different.
‘‘As time evolves, homophobic people — although they will always exist — are the minority,’’ Hernandez said by phone from her hometown.
Becoming a delegate ‘‘is a great triumph,’’ she added.
Because she has not undergone sex-change surgery, Hernandez is legally still a man in the eyes of the Cuban state: Jose Agustin Hernandez, according to the civil registry. Hernandez, who switched back and forth between feminine and masculine pronouns when referring to herself during an interview, said she hasn’t made a decision to seek an operation but doesn’t rule it out either.
Hernandez won office in early November by taking a runoff vote 280-170. Her position is the equivalent of a city councilor, and her election makes her eligible to be selected as a representative to Parliament in early 2013.
For years after the 1959 Cuban Revolution, authorities hounded people of differing sexual orientation and others considered threatening, such as priests, long-haired youths and rock ‘n’ roll enthusiasts. But there have been notable changes in attitudes toward sexuality.
‘‘I would like to think that discrimination against homosexuals is a problem that is being overcome,’’ Fidel Castro told an interviewer some years ago.
Since 2007 the island has been covering sex-change surgery under its free health care system. Last year a gay man and a transsexual woman whose operation was paid for by the state garnered headlines for their first-of-its kind wedding.
The country’s most prominent gay rights activist is Mariela Castro, Fidel’s niece and current President Raul Castro’s daughter.
As director of Cuba’s National Center for Sex Education, Mariela Castro has instituted awareness campaigns, trained police on relations with the lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender community and lobbied parliament to legalize same-sex unions.
Born in a sugar town in central Cuba, Hernandez was disowned by her family and said it was her own father who reported her to authorities, leading to her imprisonment. She had to change towns and defend herself physically from attacks.
Over the decades she found work as a hospital janitor, then as a nurse and most recently as an electrocardiogram technician. She also established herself in the community and as a longtime member of her neighborhood watch committee, which helped her win acceptance and laid the groundwork for her election.
‘‘My neighbors know me as Adela, the nurse,’’ Hernandez said. ‘‘Sexual preference does not determine whether you are a revolutionary or not. That comes from within.’’
As an elected official she promised to advocate for her constituents’ interests, but said she also wants to be a voice for gay rights.
‘‘I represent a community but I will always keep in mind the defense of gays,’’ Hernandez said.
[Organizing] the annual Day Against Homophobia contributed to the inclusion of these objectives in the agreements of the Cuban Communist Party conference.The mere fact that they are explicitly formulated within the policy of the Party and, of course, of the country, opens the doors for this strategy.
That is, it has been expressed that the country needs to work against all forms of discrimination, and that homophobia, transphobia and every form of discrimination associated with sexuality issues needs to be fought against corresponds to an emancipating as society, as the true essence of socialism.
I cannot think of socialism coexisting with forms of discrimination, and this is one of them. Work on this problem requires a deep culture change, and this is achieved through education, through policy that supports the strategy, through the media and the laws.There are several institutions in the social structure that need to be involved in all these processes. One day is not enough, the work of CENESEX and the Ministry of Health is not enough … and the fact that the Party gives a green light and harbors the objective is essential.
Besides, this is a task for the Party, because according to Marxist ideas, the Party is the vanguard, the group that carries the new ideas, to take us to a new society.If the Party cannot articulate these new ideas, how could it prepare the conditions for us to be able to create a really fair and equitable society?Therefore, I think the fact that the party so DECIDED was absolutely relevant and historic.
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.