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From Obscurity to the Light of Pride

“The gay and transgender community in Cuba suffer from the cruel intolerance of the Communist government after the 1959 Revolution.”

After 1959’s Revolution, life changed dramatically in Cuba. The United States government initially reacted favorably to the Cuban Revolution, seeing it as part of a movement to bring democracy to Latin America, however that stance quickly deteriorated with Castro’s legalization of the Communist Party and executions of hundreds of Batista agents, policemen, and soldiers. The promulgation of the Agrarian Reform Law, expropriating thousands of acres of farmland (including from large U.S. landholders), further worsened relations. In response, the U.S. imposed a range of sanctions between 1960 and 1964, eventually including a total ban on trade between the countries and a freeze on all Cuban-owned assets in the U.S. In February 1960, Castro signed a commercial agreement with the Soviet Union that established the Communist Party as the maximum institution of power running the government.

One of the results of communist dogmatism adopted in Cuba was an aggressive intolerance towards the gay community. The gay and transgender communities had no equal rights under the law and were relentlessly oppressed which pushed the country’s gay life underground. Often lesbian and gay artists and personalities managed to keep their private lives secret while trying to influence government representatives to soften the repression towards the gay community. Unfortunately, during the 70’s, repression worsens bringing devastating consequences for the country.

The Gray Quinquennium

Named by Cuban writer Ambrosio Fornet, The Gray Quinquennium is the period in Cuba between 1971 and 1976 known as the darkest in Cuban culture, precisely because of direct attacks on homosexual artists and intellectuals who denounced the intolerance and abuses of the Cuban government. Gay writers like Virgilio Pineira and Jose Lezama Lima were censored, and others like Reynaldo Arenas were imprisoned and tortured for their harsh criticism of the Communist Party. Cuban government went as far as creating forced labor concentrations camps for “unwanted groups of society” that not only affected the gay community but also artists, writers and people of faith, particularly the Catholic Community. Therefore, a mass exodus of professionals took place beginning in the 70s and reaching a climax known as the “Exodus of Mariel” between April and October of 1980, where more than 125 thousand Cubans left the country and were received in Florida, US.

The Light of Gay Pride

As a result of the extraordinary economic crisis that the country went through in the 1990s after the fall of the Soviet Union, Cuba began a process of social and economic reforms. The need to open the economy to Western capitalist countries brought with it a change in the repressive dynamics of the government. International pressure from foreign investors to respect human rights greatly influenced the relaxation of social repression in the country. During the 2000s, the daughter of than President Raul Castro, Mariela Castro, began a campaign for the recognition of LGBTQ+ rights that contributed to a positive change in the perception of that community by the government and society in general. In 2020, the country began an even bigger economic and social reorganization that brought positive changes for the rights of the Cuban people, including immigration and private property ownership. In 2021, a referendum proposal legalizing same sex marriage and same sex adoption was put out for a vote. The referendum was held on September 25, 2022 and was approved by an overwhelming majority.

It was a big historical day for the country, showing an evolving Cuban society embracing more progressive and inclusive policies, that made Cuba the only Communist Country in the world that ensure marital and family rights for same sex-couples.