In Government’s Shadow, Gay Cubans Test Communism

Old vestiges of the revolution have dropped away, but the fully assimilated “New Man” lives on, leaving no room for gay rights groups. Chacon explains:

You cannot create your own organization, because all of the organizations for the government, it’s a threat, they’re enemies. They refuse to support the other groups. … Gay concentration means that you can be thinking on your own – you can have your own ideas. That is not welcome in Cuba. Everybody has to follow the Communist Party’s ideas. You have to follow the guidelines.

The Cuban government will do anything to maintain its communist roots, even if that means quietly including the gays. Western activists, however, insist on the creation of gay bars, magazines and, as Berensky said, pride, yet it is impossible for gay activists to achieve the same recognition in Cuba as enjoyed by Westerners. The long odds aren’t not necessarily a lack of experience, as some more arrogant activists may proclaim, but because the government’s structure simply will not allow it. A theoretical communist society cannot allow civil space to sprout, thus making such identity-based movements impossible. They’re absolutely antithetical to the government’s nationalized existence.

If you’re still unconvinced, consider Guerra’s interpretation of “activism.” While Human Rights Watch’s Dittrich and others confirmed that there are gay activists in Cuba, Guerra can’t bring himself to admit a social division: “We do not have an activist movement concerning LGBT rights in Cuba.” To Guerra, activism simply doesnot exist. It’s a part of the larger national machine: “I prefer to call activism “education and advocacy.” I prefer the institutional work.” Without a civil society and a government that fosters discussion, any and all positive “developments” will occur within preset parameters. Too often international activists neglect to acknowledge the challenges particular to “collective” governance. And, as they project democratic ideals, they also project decidedly Western images of “gay.”

Berensky insists same-sex supportive magazines and bars are “part of being gay,” and thus implores the Cuban government, “Let us have the opportunity to express ourselves the way we’d like to express ourselves, in our parades – in our – whatever we want to do. That is part of being gay.” To some, that may be true – many gay people find comfort in being different, perhaps even segregated from the rest of society. In a communist context, however, sexual identity politics are meant to melt away into the larger social scheme. There is no “being gay” in Cuba. People must first be Cuban.

Despite Castro’s anti-queer comments in 1965, Guerra’s state-sanctioned statements do ring true: “The ideal communist society states and advocates the principles of equity and non-discrimination. Ideologically speaking, there is not any contradiction between communist ideas and homosexuality.” This brings us back to civil unions and CENESEX’s focus on the family. If gays can be integrated into the family structure, says CENESEX, then they’re being integrated into the center of Cuban society and can be assimilated into the greater social and political landscape.

In order to survive, the Cuban government began loosening its restrictions. It’s only a matter of time, however, until the steps prove too little and Cubans again begin asking for more. And gay activists will no doubt be at the forefront of the movement. How they go about their business remains up to them, and, in many ways, depends on how they define “gay.” If they align with the Western conception, CENESEX’s civil unions ploy will likely face opposition. On the other hand, if gays decide to join the theoretical communist fun, then Cuba could be in for smooth sailing.

History has taught us, however, that communist nations often cannibalize their base. Social and political purity are dependent on centralized control and, unfortunately, this control often entails violent repression, as has happened time and again in Cuba. If the changing tide proves too much for Raul Castro and the Cuban government, they’ll face two choices: put their foot down or take more steps toward progress, thus further diluting the government’s revolutionary goal. Not only will gay inclusion test the government’s priorities, it will test Cuba’s entire political system.