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social sciences

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Following a Stalinist conception of socialism, the revolutionary government also formed UNAPs, or Military Units to Aid Production. Many homosexuals were forced to work in these units to "correct" their "anti-social" behavior. Moreover, the Declaration of the First Congress of Education and Culture that was held in 1971 explicitly rejected homosexuality and excluded homosexuals from social and cultural activities.

Government policies created a climate that made homoerotic sociability difficult, but despite the hostility toward them, gay men and lesbians struggled to find creative ways to meet, build informal social networks, and express their sexuality, albeit discreetly.

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Although reforms in the penal code in the 1970s eliminated references to homosexuality as a criminal offense, this act has not been sufficient to establish respect and equality for Cuban gay men and lesbians. Among those Cubans who have emigrated from the island, including many in the Marielita exodus of 1980, have been many gay men and lesbians who were denied social space within the country. Others have been enticed by economic possibilities abroad.

To date, the only Cuban homosexual organization that has formed on the island is ONE, Organización Nacional de Entendidos, or National Organization of Gay People. It operated entirely underground between 1996 and 2001, and then disbanded. Founded by Adolfo del Pino, ONE developed out of the need for homosexuals in general, and writers in particular, to have a social space where they could exchange ideas. The group published Hola Gente (Hi Folks), a magazine that was printed on a computer three times a year, with one or two copies of each edition circulating among its readers.

Contemporary Cuba

In contemporary Cuba, one cannot speak of a gay community. One can, however, speak of a homoerotic environment for meeting and socializing in Havana that is constantly moving and reshaping itself. Ironically, the most frequented location is an area of the city known as Vedado, which is where a similar social life thrived during the colonial period and the first half of the twentieth century.

In the 1990s, a more liberal attitude on the part of the state tolerated overt manifestations of homosexual socializing. During these years, gay men and lesbians could meet openly in bars and discos that featured drag shows. However, at the end of the decade the government cracked down on such places, driving drag shows to underground meeting places.

In 2003, the Minister of Domestic Commerce issued Resolution Number 2, which redefined nocturnal recreation sites and turned many of the city's most popular discos into vegetarian restaurants. Under the pretext of controlling illicit drug use, many spaces occupied by homosexuals have been eliminated. Weekend socializing has been reduced to congregating in front of the Yara movie theater under the eyes of the police and participating in semi-secret parties in out-of-the-way places.

Within the homoerotic world, Cuban transvestites suffer the most social discrimination. Although there is no law that prohibits cross-dressing, transvestites are constantly harassed by authorities on the street and are not allowed to work in state-run enterprises. Several years ago, the National Center for Sex Education issued letters for people diagnosed as that, to a certain extent, protected some transvestites. However, people began to copy and forge these letters, and soon thereafter the police ignored their validity.

Humanistic ethics are embedded in the ideals of the Cuban Revolution, and the country's Constitution prohibits discrimination based on ethnicity, sex, and age. These values should logically extend to gay men, lesbians, and people to protect them from discrimination by public institutions and within the family. Unfortunately, they do not.

Abel Sierra Madero

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social sciences >> Overview:  Argentina

Although Argentina recently became the first Latin American country to attain marriage equality nationally, the country has a long history of defining itself in terms of masculinity and in opposition to sexual deviancy.

social sciences >> Overview:  Brazil

A notably diverse country, Brazil is also home to one of the world's most dynamic glbtq political movements.

social sciences >> Overview:  Cross-Dressing

Cross-dressers have often been misunderstood and maligned, especially in societies with rigid gender roles.

social sciences >> Overview:  Gay Left

The Gay Left refers to a cluster of positions on the political spectrum that has existed within the lesbian and gay rights movement at least since the Stonewall riots.

social sciences >> Overview:  Inquisition

In the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, the Inquisitions of Aragon and Portugal prosecuted almost 1500 trials for sodomy of various kinds.

arts >> Overview:  Latin American Art

Gay and lesbian Latin American artists frequently use their art to portray their desire for sexual and political liberation, often combining traditional subject matter with personal symbols and insights to stress their longing for acceptance.

literature >> Overview:  Latin American Literature

Although Latin Americans have produced many works that have homoerotic themes or gay and lesbian characters, their sensibilities are largely different from those of North American and European writers.

social sciences >> Overview:  Latin America: Colonial

Same-sex sexual practices among the indigenous peoples of Latin America were seen by their Spanish and Portuguese conquerors as evidence of their cultural inferiority and were repressed through both religious and civil means.

social sciences >> Overview:  Mexico

Although Mexico has had a long history of homosexual activity that began before the Conquest, its Latin American machismo has problematized the acceptance of glbtq people.

social sciences >> Overview:  Puerto Rico and the Caribbean

Although the islands of the Caribbean are renowned for their pleasant tropical climate, the social climate for glbtq people is not always inviting and is sometimes dangerous.

social sciences >> Overview:  Santería and Vodou

Santería, Vodou, and related belief systems comprise a complex of religious ideas, practices, and imagery whose origins can be traced to West African traditions.

arts >> Almendros, Néstor

Acclaimed cinematographer Néstor Almendros earned fame for the painterliness of his film work, but he also directed documentaries exposing the persecution of homosexuals in Castro's Cuba.

literature >> Arenas, Reinaldo

Persecuted for his homosexuality by the Castro government he had once championed, Cuban novelist, essayist, and poet Reinaldo Arenas challenged all types of ideological dogmatism.

arts >> González-Torres, Félix

Cuban-born American artist Félix González-Torres shaped an art that was at once personal and political, reflecting his AIDS and gay rights activism.

literature >> Lezama Lima, José

A major Latin-American literary figure, Cuban José Lezama Lima included problematic homosexual passages in his two best known novels.

social sciences >> Stonewall Riots

The confrontations between police and demonstrators at the Stonewall Inn in New York City the weekend of June 27-29, 1969 mark the beginning of the modern glbtq movement for equal rights.


Bejel, Emilio. Gay Cuban Nation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001.

Lumsden, Ian. Machos, Maricones, and Gays: Cuba and Homosexuality. Philadelphia, Penn.: Temple University Press, 1996.

Quiroga, José. Tropics of Desire: Interventions from Queer Latino America. New York: New York University Press, 2000.

Sierra Madero, Abel. La nación sexuado. La Habana: Editorial Ciencias Sociales, 2001.

Young, Allen. Gays under the Cuban Revolution. San Francisco: Grey Fox Press, 1981.


    Citation Information
    Author: Sierra Madero, Abel  
    Entry Title: Cuba  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated July 19, 2005  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc.  


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