Washington DC, May 11, 2022 – Today marks three years since the first march that the LGBTI+ population of Cuba organized independently of the National Center for Sex Education (Cenesex). The commemoration of this date occurs in the midst of sentences being given to the people who participated in the demonstrations of July 2021, the draft of the new Criminal Code, which could affect several LGBTI+ activists; and the Family Code, which speaks for the first time of same-sex marriage and adoption between same-sex couples, two demands of people with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities on the Island.
This latest reform that is being promoted by the Cuban government seems like a big step in the recognition of LGBTI+ rights in the country, however, this initiative will be submitted to a popular consultation to be approved; that is, two people of the same sex could form a family in Cuba only if the majority of the inhabitants of the archipelago approve it in a referendum that the Island’s authorities are organizing.
What happened on May 11, 2019 in Cuba?
That day, which is also known as 11M, a traditional conga (Cuban dance accompanied by drums) was going to be held in Havana against homophobia and transphobia, as part of a series of activities prior to the commemoration of the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, which takes place around the world every May 17. But, the official body that coordinates these activities, Cenesex , decided to cancel the demonstration at the last minute (as happened again today – this State entity canceled the conga that was scheduled to take place this afternoon), arguing that it could not be held because there were “new tensions in the international and regional context”, which caused great discomfort among the LGBTI+ movement in Cuba.
As a result of this, people with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities on the Island convened through social networks, and met, starting at 4:00 in the afternoon, in the Central Park of Havana. There they came from different parts and, from one moment to another and without a set course, they began to march. It was the first time that the LGBTI+ movement in Cuba demonstrated on its own, peacefully demanding their rights without the help of the Cuban government, which continues without guaranteeing full recognition of this population.
That day members of State Security blocked the demonstration, which included a kissathon (name given to the act in which several LGBTI+ people kiss in public as a sign of protest). Dozens of people who participated in the improvised conga were attacked and arbitrarily detained by the authorities.
“Despite the prohibition by the State and the repression of LGBTI activists and groups, nearly 300 people gathered and marched through Prado, calling for a diverse Cuba and shouting ‘yes it could’, alluding to the unjustified suspension of the traditional conga of diversity, the only physical and public space that the community had as part of the Cuban Days against Homophobia and Transphobia organized by Cenesex ”, says Jancel Moreno, coordinator of Dame la Mano, an LGBTI+ organization on the island.
According to various activists and organizations, May 11, 2019 marked a before and after in the struggle for the recognition of LGBTI+ rights. “It represents a cry, an act of rebellion that for some could even have been a moment of outburst, and for others it also meant a change in their lives due to the arrests. Without a doubt, it is a date to never forget, where LGBTI+ people decided to claim their rights before a State that until now has always discriminated against us”, says activist Yoelkis Torres, coordinator of the organization AfroAtenas .
What has happened since then?
“No rights have been obtained. Although the Family Code project that is awaiting the referendum includes several of the main demands of the community, it is not yet a reality and may not become so. The Code will be taken to a referendum in a country with a sexist and homophobic history that is even inherited by ‘the revolution,’” says Jancel, who also maintains that being an LGBTI+ person in Cuba means carrying stigmas and prejudices, in addition to not having support or legal guarantees. “Although progress has been made from the perception of society itself, there is still a lot to do,” they add.
Three years after 11M, the demands of LGBTI+ people in Cuba remain the same: that their rights be recognized. “There is an article in the Cuban Constitution that speaks about the principle of non-discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, but it is as if it did not exist,” says Yoelkis, who affirms that the Family Code represents hope for this population, which has been the victim of attacks, threats and murders, despite the fact that there is no known official record that counts the violence they have suffered for years.
LGBTI+ people are waiting for the referendum on the Family Code to be held, which, if approved by the majority of the island’s inhabitants, would represent a huge step in the recognition of their rights. They would go from not having a law that protects them, to being able to form a diverse family with guarantees to avoid any type of discrimination and violence.
From Race and Equality we express our commitment to accompany the demands of people with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities in Cuba and we call on the government to listen to them, in accordance with its international obligations to respect and guarantee the human rights of all people, without any kind of discrimination. This is particularly relevant because we are two months away from commemorating another milestone on the Island – the peaceful protests of July 11 and 12, which, like the 11M march three years ago, were strongly repressed by the authorities. and resulted in the mass arrest of hundreds of protesters who today continue to be sentenced for exercising their right to freedom of expression. For this reason, we also call on the State of Cuba to observe international human rights standards and its actions that greatly affect the most vulnerable populations, such as LGBTI+.