In Government’s Shadow, Gay Cubans Test Communism

Editor’s Note: This piece picks up where yesterday’s “Cuba’s Gay Politics Mired In Past” left off. The uninitiated may want to catch-up.

As the decades wore on and the Communist government found its internal popularity sagging, officials had no choice but to make certain concessions and open their doors to less desirable elements. Not only would the move ensure political survival, says Cuba-born AIDS activist Leonard Chacon, but also had a decidedly diplomatic purpose:

Now because the government has not so many followers, they have to get people from other areas of society, like gay, like Catholic, people from other religions. Because in the past, if you belong to the Communist Party, you cannot be a gay… Now it’s different. They want to bring a better image to the other people, to the international community.

And these international public relations efforts put Cuba in a sticky situation.

Though certainly interested in courting positive international opinion, Cuba must be careful not to alienate its more conservative allies. And, in order to avoid diplomatic awkwardness, Cuba’s United Nations representatives are known to leave the room for lavender-tinged votes. Human Rights Watch’s Boris Dittrich, also a former MP from the Netherlands, explains:

Every time something like that comes up, Cuban representatives are very quiet. They don’t speak in favor of LGBT organizations and when it comes to a vote, they always leave the room. So, we asked them, “Why do you leave the room? Why don’t you vote in favor of LGBT organizations?” And they always say, – and this is confirmed by other missions to the UN, from other countries – “Of course we are in favor of LGBT rights, but we are afraid that our allied friends wouldn’t like it if we voted in favor of LGBT rights.”

Those “allied friends” include the stridently anti-gay Egypt and Pakistan. While the United States maintains sanctions against Cuba, some States-based groups, like Florida’s fiercely anti-Castro Unity Coalition, are moving in on the island. And their approach suggests larger misconceptions in the fight against Cuban homophobia.