The last few years in Cuba have been marked by important legislative achievements for the LGBTIQIA+ community. On September 25, 2022, a new Family Code was approved in the country by popular referendum, revoking the one that had been in force since 1975. The new legislation introduced rights such as equal marriage, same-sex couples adopting children, greater protection against domestic violence , among other advances.
The result was the product of decades of cultural, social and political struggles and the debate, opened by the referendum, generated public clashes that Cuba had not witnessed for a long time. The discussion, both in favor and against the new code, opposed neoconservatives who articulated against the code and activists who fight for the expansion of rights on the island.
The progress made by the New Family Code is even more relevant, considering that many Caribbean countries have historically been hostile to LGBTIQIA+ rights and, only in recent years, legislative advances have been made in the decriminalization of homosexuality.
In 2022, two Caribbean countries – Antigua and Barbuda, on the one hand, and Saint Kitts and Nevis, on the other – overturned laws that made homosexuality and gender diversity a crime. In this context, the approved legislation places Cuba among the most advanced countries in terms of civil rights and represents an important leap in the achievement of rights in the region.
The right to exist
“In recent years, there has been a boom in activism in Cuba,” says activist Merle Rodríguez to Brazil in Fact.
“Education and the creation of spaces for dialogue are very important, but we cannot stop there. It is also important to go to the streets and help people, try to alleviate the difficulties of those in need”, he says, who coordinates the group “Trans Masculinos Cuba” in Havana. Sitting in a square in the neighborhood Sevillianin a municipality October 10thMerle talked to the reporter.
A few meters away, some boys and girls play together, running with their cars, while the adults responsible for them exercise. Merle speaks as he greets passing neighbors.
“Our goal is to help our community. And not just materially, but also by creating support networks. Many of these young people come to the group fleeing a society that stigmatizes them, mocks them, and sometimes even fleeing their own families that don’t understand, support or even acknowledge their identity.”
“They come to this group, where we recognize them, we tell them ‘yes, you are a trans boy’. We help them with psychological and financial support, advice if they want to change their name and a support network”, says Marle about the work they do.
The group was born at the beginning of the year and during this period Merle had to assume his first major mission in the entity: organizing a fair to raise funds to buy various supplies for the treatment of people who are part of the collective. The blockade against Cuba, added to the crisis in the country, makes it difficult for many transgender people to access the hormone treatments they need.
“A few years ago, I was part of a small group that was basically dedicated to doing information campaigns on social media. We spent a lot of time there, discussing and trying to inform both the trans community and the LGBT community in general. But it was with the debate about the new family code that everything started to become more visible. Suddenly, it wasn’t just some debates on social media, but practically all of us were discussing these issues. That’s when we realized, in the group, that we had to go out and do these I remember we printed some pro-code stickers and went out and pasted them around town,” recalls Merle.
It was through this social media activism that he met his girlfriend, Verde Gil, a young activist from the state of Santa Clara. For a while, the relationship was merely virtual. But two years ago, Merle and his girlfriend traveled to Santa Clara to attend one of the most important festivals on the island, Trova Longina.
“It was Verde who started the idea of creating a space for trans masculinities. A space where we can meet, exchange experiences and follow each other’s processes. There is a lot of ignorance about trans masculinities, especially in the interior of the country”, he says. Merle.
Despite the different public policies implemented against discrimination, as well as the expansion of rights that current legislation grants, discrimination is a social reality that these groups face every day. The experience of Trans Masculinos Cuba indicates that there is still much to fight for.
“These people often think they are alone, because of everything they’ve been through. Because society, schools, families turn their backs. They think it’s them against the world. But it’s not.”
“We are many who went through the same thing, discriminated against, stigmatized, marginalized and, fortunately, at this moment they are also uniting, supporting each other. We are showing the rest of society that we also matter and that we are not alone. That we have us ’ reflects Merle.
The activist speaks while watching children playing in the square. He smiles and says, “If we don’t understand certain things, it’s only love that should speak. Beyond beliefs, ideas or what you think is right or wrong, beyond your truth. The love you feel for another person should be enough to support and help her”.
Ely Malik is in the last year of the Physical Education course. He says that when he decided to start transitioning his gender identity, it was like “coming out of the closet for the second time”. Currently, he participates in Masculinidades Trans Cuba.
“Gender identity is not a simple choice, like choosing which pair of sneakers to wear,” he said. Brazil in Fact. “We always have to make it clear that a person in the community is not choosing, because no one is going to choose to be marginalized, attacked, discriminated against. That’s just the way we are.”
“Currently, we have much more rights with the new code, this is very important, but we have to keep fighting. Because, although the fact that there is equal marriage is a great advance, the truth is that, as a trans person, I still cannot marry respecting my identity”, says Ely.
A law that allows the legal recognition of gender identity is one of the main demands of the trans community in Cuba. Allowing gender to be legally recognized without requiring psychiatric or physical examinations or the person having to undergo sex reassignment surgery exists in several countries on the continent, such as Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador and Peru.
The group also seeks to deconstruct the meaning of “masculine”. In a society like Latinas, where machismo is still a big problem, they rethink and discuss what kind of man they want to be. Ely is convinced that this is not only a very important fight, but also a difficult one.
“I choose the person I want to be. And I don’t want to be the normative man. I don’t want to be a macho man, a man who mistreats. I want to be something totally different, I want to be a man who can understand and an egalitarian man”, adds Ely .
“It is often said that women are weak. I believe the opposite. Because it takes enormous strength to do everything they do. Even if they often have to endure a lot of injustice.”
“I think that we men could be much freer if we allowed ourselves to be more connected with what happens to us: with our pains and fears. But, above all, if we learned to ask for help. There is a lot of suffering and a lot of violence in the mandates what it means to be a man”, reflects Ely.
It was Ely’s girlfriend who led him to LGBTIQIA+ activism. For years, she has been involved in dual activism: black racial activism and sexual dissent. It was she who convinced him that ending all forms of oppression, including understanding how they relate to each other, intersecting.
“Discrimination is the coward’s shield. He who is not brave, who does not dare to go beyond what he knows. He who sees something different and is not able to understand. Instead of seeking to understand it, he uses discrimination .
Ely started to practice physical activity at a very young age. For years, he had to endure prejudice when training. Today, she dreams of opening a gym where the LGBTQIA+ community can work out without having to go through the discomfort that often exists in the gym world because of mockery or misunderstanding. At the same time, she points out that the commitment to transformation is accompanied by the commitment to create spaces where children can grow up free of prejudice.
“Something that worries me a lot and is on my mind is transgender children. In Cuba, we have many children who are being raised again under patriarchy, under machismo, and they don’t feel safe.”
“Maybe if you give them a place where they can be themselves, it helps them. And it prepares them in a different way for the future and they are born as more capable young people, which I didn’t have. Because in my day, I felt like a child, what I got was teasing and cancellation: ‘don’t behave like that’, ‘don’t do that’. That’s what I’m looking for, that we who are involved in this become stronger and that trans children learn and have a place to be themselves.”
Editing: Rodrigo Durão Coelho