So after half a century of Cold War posturing by both countries, the U.S. and Cuba have decided to get over themselves and normalize relations between the two countries. For most Americans, this amounts to an anti-climax; even young Cuban-Americans think the embargo against Cuba should be lifted. After all, if we can have diplomatic relations with Vladimir Putin’s Russia, why not Cuba?
But the Putin example raises an interesting question for the Obama Administration. Cuba is nowhere near as harsh as Russia in its treatment of LGBT citizens. But Cuba has a horrible record on human rights, and that includes its treatment of gay people. After all, this is the country that quarantined HIV-positive people during the height of the AIDS epidemic and cracked down so hard on the gay population in the 1960s and 1970s that Fidel Castro admitted (in 2010) that it was “a great injustice.” You can complain about America’s history of LGBT oppression, but Cuba’s has been far worse.
Things are better than they were, but Cuba is hardly a lavender paradise. There is no independent LGBT rights movement. Instead, the only legal entity representing the community’s interests is led by Mariela Castro, a straight woman who is Fidel’s niece and the daughter of the current president, Raul Castro. And Mariela hardly has a track record of embracing a diversity of opinion. In essence, the state is the LGBT movement.
There are no pride parades in Cuba. The only official event is the International Day Against Homophobia. Harassment of gay men by authorities is still common, particularly if they are considered dissidents. Beatings by police — even fatal beatings — are not unheard of. The strong vein of homophobia that pre-dates the Revolution and that owes a lot to Catholic condemnation may not be as prominent as it once was but it is still very much present.
Now that the U.S. is talking to Cuba, will the Obama Administration be willing to raise these issues as part of the conversation? The Administration had a few moment of forcefulness at the height of the Olympic Games homophobia. But when the spotlight faded, so did the rhetoric.
The U.S. and Cuba have a lot of things to discuss, and in all fairness, LGBT issues aren’t going to be at the top of the list. But the question will be, where are they on the list? Or are they on the list at all? It’s worth keeping on eye on the developing relationship to see just how much the Administration thinks our community in Cuba really matters.