[Marxism] Cuban TV Opens Debate on Taboo Subject - Homosexuality

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Tue Apr 20 23:21:33 MDT 2004

RIGHTS-CUBA: TV Opens Debate on Taboo Subject -
By Dalia Acosta

HAVANA, Apr 7 (IPS) - The host of a popular local Cuban TV
programme, psychologist Manuel Calvino, dared to break the
silence and intolerance surrounding the question of
homosexuality in this Caribbean island nation.

In a fifteen-minute portion of his programme 'Vale la Pena'
that he dedicated to the issue, Calvino carefully picked
apart the prevailing homophobic arguments, and called on
Cubans to respect homosexuals.

''We must respect people's private lives,'' Calvino, a
professor at the University of Havana's Faculty of
Psychology, urged the millions of viewers who tune into
state-run channel six in the evening.

Calvino said homosexuality was a sexual orientation like
any other - something many people in a 'machista' society
like Cuba find difficult to accept.

''The world is going one way and Cuba the other. Here not
only the rejection we experience is silenced, but new
scientific discoveries on homosexuality are not even
discussed,'' Maite Perez, a pyschologist who openly admits
to being a lesbian, told IPS.

''He must be into something,'' if he defends homosexuals
like that, ''you can be darn sure he plays on both sides of
the tracks'' (is a bisexual), was the reaction of Jorge
Liriano, a department store clerk, to Calvino's programme.

This is the second time this year that the programme
Calvino has hosted for the past 10 years has taken up the
question of homosexuality, ignored by the local press for

Homosexuality is a taboo subject, like prostitution until
early this decade or drug consumption even today. But
Calvino's pathbreaking programmes could mark the start of a
public debate on homosexuality and homophobia.

Short stories, several theatre productions, the film
''Strawberry and Chocolate'' and the novel ''Masks'' by
Leonardo Padura have tackled the parallel questions of
homosexuality and homophobia in Cuba over the past few

But addressing the issue in the arts is far different from
a recognition by the state-controlled media, which toes the
Communist Party policy line, of the widespread intolerance
in Cuba.

Calvino's bold move followed last year's approval of
reforms of the Penal Code that did away with the last
traces of homophobia. The category ''public scandal'' was
replaced by ''sexual insult,'' which includes harassment
with ''sexual demands,'' previously defined as ''hassling
with homosexual demands.''

Article 359 of the 1979 Penal Code, which provided for
fines and detention for those who ''publicly flaunted their
homosexual condition or hassled or solicited another with
their demands,'' had been overturned in 1988.

That article also described ''homosexual acts in public, or
in private but exposed to being involuntarily seen by other
people'' as ''crimes against the normal development of
sexual relations.''

But last August's police raid and closure of a gay bar-
discotheque holding more than 800 visitors at the time was
widely interpreted as a possible resurgence of government
intolerance towards homosexuality, and a return to the
hostile climate of the past.

Although they were short-lived, few have forgotten the
Military Units of Support for Production (UMAPs) in which
many people, including a number of homosexuals, were held
and submitted to forced labour in the 1960s.

Priests, like the present Archbishop of Havana, Cardinal
Jaime Ortega, figured among the victims of the UMAPs, as
did Pablo Milanes, one of Cuba's most internationally
reknowned singer- songwriters.

Homosexuality was seen as incompatible with the education
of children, and meant immediate dismissal from teaching
jobs or positions in the area of culture. For many long
years, homosexual preference was grounds for not being
allowed to hold posts of responsibility and for being
refused admission to the Communist Party and even certain
university departments.

Conservative calculations estimate that four to six percent
of Cuba's 11 million inhabitants are homosexuals.

According to the National Centre of Sexual Education, under
the Ministry of Public Health, homosexuality is ''just
another sexual behaviour, and a healthy expression of
love.'' But attempts by the centre's specialists to promote
tolerance and comprehension have come up hard against

''Homosexuality has not been excluded from the mantle of
silence, a mix of prejudice and ignorance that has covered
all aspects of sexuality,'' a prominent local obstetrician,
Celestino Alvarez Lajonchere, wrote in a report on

Nevertheless, Cuba's homosexual community is alive and
kicking, with known meeting places, ''cruising'' routes and
underground clubs.

In a survey carried out in 1993 by the weekly 'Juventud
Rebelde', the publication of the Union of Young Communists,
most of the gays and lesbians interviewed said they felt
that the worst had already passed, but that they feared a
return to the past.

The survey, based on interviews with 75 homosexuals, forms
part of a broader study still in progress, which includes a
poll of more than 300 Havana residents.

A majority - 72.9 percent - of the gays and lesbians
interviewed said homosexuality was the key characteristic
defining their lives, and 63.5 percent said homosexuality
was an option as valid as heterosexuality.

But 40 percent said they feared rejection, 32.9 percent
said they had problems with their families, 20 percent were
''in the closet'' with respect to their families, and 27
percent said they tried to pass as heterosexuals.

In the second 'Juventud Rebelde' survey of the population
at large, only six percent of those consulted said they
considered homosexuality ''normal.'' The poll was carried
out in Havana, the least conservative part of Cuba.

Seventy-eight percent said society marginalised gays and
lesbians, while 10 percent said they would be capable of
physical aggression against homosexuals. Although 55
percent claimed they would treat homosexuals in a ''normal
manner,'' 52 percent referred to gays and 76 percent to
lesbians in derogatory terms. 


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