The history of gay rights in Cuba is as best described as patchy. Although they repealed their Sodomy Laws in 1979 (26 years before the US did) homosexual acts were still a punishable crime until 1988. In 1992 the Fidel Castro, the Cuban leader made a very public statement ‘I am absolutely opposed to any form of repression, contempt, or discrimination regarding homosexuals. This is what I think.’ Despite his fine words Cuba’s only gay and lesbian civil rights organization, the Cuban Association of Gays and Lesbians, which was formed just two years later by eighteen people was effectively shut down and its members arrested in 1997.
This fine new documentary from Cuban filmmaker Eliezer Pérez Angueira and Canadian producer Leigh Jurecka covers gay history on the Island from the Batista era to the Revolution to the Mariel Boatlift and focuses on current day life for six brave and strong individuals. Even the couple that choose to remain anonymous on camera were remarkably courageous. One elderly man related how in his youth he believed he was being drafted to do his Military service but with his parent’s collaboration he was herded onto a cattle train to a forced work camp for suspected homosexuals. Young Blanquita’s story was a much happier one and although his mother initially had a tough time coming to terms with her son’s sexuality, she soon supported him when much to the neighbor’s chagrin, his boyfriend moved in with them both.
The situation was no easier for lesbians too, and an anonymous woman revealed how she once married a man in order to be close to the woman she loved–and how the disaster that ensued ultimately changed her life for the better.
Pachi, a transgendered man who went through living hell at the Boarding school he went through, but found his salvation at the Habana Libre hotel where helped him overcome his past and become who is he today. His words are amongst the most poignant in this documentary when he said ‘Some gay people leave Cuba to find their freedom, and they don’t realise that they can find it here in themselves.‘ And there is ex-cabaret performer Jesus who found such through all his adversity and definitely proclaims. ‘I am Cuban. I was born here, I have every right to live here.’
Jesus is right, but he may have to tough it out still as progress is still slow. In 2003 the Government refused to sign a United Nations Resolution on Gay Rights, and in 2004 Police launched yet another homophobic campaign and started arresting transvestites in the street. Then on the other hand in 2006 State-run TV’s most famous soap opera ‘La Otra Cara de la Luna’ included a gay relationship which really started to change people’s perceptions. And then last year Adela Hernandez became the first known transgender person to be elected to hold public office in Cuba.
What strikes one most about this revealing and emotional wee documentary is the overwhelming feeling of hope.
Available on DVD and VOD
Available on DVD and VOD
Trailer at www.freehavanamovie.com