Gay History 101: The Cuban Edition

During an interview, Fidel Castro blamed himself for the mistreatment of homosexuals in Cuba.

LGBT persons in Cuba may face legal challenges not experienced by non- LGBT residents. Public antipathy is high, reflecting regional norms. This has eased somewhat since the 1990s. Educational campaigns on LGBT issues are currently implemented by the National Center for Sex education, headed by Mariela Castro daughter of President Raul Castro.

No alternative to marriage such as civil unions or domestic partnerships is available. Several measures favorable to the LGBT community, including the legalization of same-sex unions, have not passed the National Assembly. Since June 2008, qualifying Cubans have been able to have free sex reassignment surgeries. In his autobiography “My Life,” Fidel Castro criticized the machismo culture of Cuba and urged for the acceptance of homosexuality.

He has made several speeches to the public statements regarding discrimination against homosexuals. In a 2010 interview with Mexican newspaper La Jornada, Castro called the persecution of homosexuals while he was in power "a great injustice, great injustice!" Taking responsibility for the persecution, he said, "If anyone is responsible, it's me.... We had so many and such terrible problems, problems of life or death. In those moments, I was not able to deal with that matter [of homosexuals]. Castro personally said that the negative treatment of gays in Cuba arose out of the country's pre-revolutionary attitudes toward homosexuality.

Richard Blanco (1968) is an American poet, public speaker, author and civil engineer. He is the fifth poet to read at a U.S. presidential inauguration, having read for Barack Obama's second inauguration. He is the first immigrant, the first Latino, the first openly gay person and the youngest person to be the U.S. inaugural poet.

Born in Madrid he immigrated as an infant with his Cuban exile family to Miami, and was raised and educated there. He explored his Cuban heritage in his early works and his role as a gay man in Cuban-American culture in Looking for the Gulf Motel (2012). He explained: "It's trying to understand how I fit between negotiating the world, between being mainstream gay and being Cuban gay, I don't exclusively align myself with any one particular group—Latino, Cuban, gay, or 'white'—but I embrace them all.

On August 14th 2015 Richard Blanco read on the grounds of the formally reopened U.S. Embassy in Havana, a poem he wrote for that occasion. He dedicated his poem titled "Matters of the Sea" to "the people of both our countries who believed that not even the sea can keep us from one another… the 90 miles between these two countries, might as well be 9,000 miles. So I started thinking about that and how to make that something not about separation, but about unification. And so it's the sea that separates us, but it's also the sea that unites.”

Reinaldo Arenas (1943 –1990) was a Cuban poet, novelist, and playwright who despite his early sympathy for Fidel Castro and the 1959 revolution, grew critical of and then rebelled against the Cuban government. He was persecuted by the Castro regime because his writing and homosexuality defied socialist orthodoxy. His autobiography, “Before Night Falls” was on the New York Times list of the ten best books of the year in 1993. In 2000 this work was made into a film, directed by Julian Schnabel. An opera based on the autobiography with libretto and music by Cuban-American composer Jorge Martin was premiered by the Fort Worth Opera on May 29, 2010. Before Night Falls, tells his life story ,the film stars Javier Bardem as Arenas and co-stars Sean Penn and Johnny Depp. At the 2000 Venice film festival it scooped the grand jury prize, and Bardem was nominated for best actor. In 1987, Arenas was diagnosed with AIDS, but he continued to write and speak out against the Cuban government. He committed suicide on December 7, 1990. In a letter written for publication, Arenas wrote: “Due to my delicate state of health and to the terrible depression that causes me not to be able to continue writing and struggling for the freedom of Cuba, I am ending my life. . . . I want to encourage the Cuban people abroad as well as on the Island to continue fighting for freedom. . . Cuba will be free. I already am.”

Cuban-American actor Guillermo Diaz (1975) of “Half Baked” fame is openly gay.

Fellow Cuban-American Mario Lavandeira (1978) writes about celebrities on his notorious gossip blog

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