Sexual relations between same-sex consenting adults 16 and over have been legal in Cuba since 1992, although same-sex relationships are not presently recognised by the state. In Cuba, people's organizations and public assembly must be state-approved, and LGBT associations and events were previously not permitted, however, Havana now has a lively and vibrant gay scene.[1]

Public antipathy towards LGBT people is high, reflecting regional norms. This has eased somewhat since the 1990s. Educational campaigns on LGBT issues are currently implemented by the National Center for Sex Education in Cuba, headed by Mariela Castro.

Cuba is a country where citizens can have sex reassignment surgery for free.[2][3]

Contemporary CubaEdit

Same-sex unionsEdit

Under Article 2 of the Family Code, marriage is restricted to the union of a man and a woman. No alternative to marriage such as civil unions or domestic partnerships is currently available, however according to the Diversidad (Diversity) Cuba’s parliament will present several favorable measures for the LGBT community in 2007, including the legalization of same sex unions.[4]

Public attitudesEdit

Though public antipathy towards homosexuals is gradually easing, it remains quite high according to a survey conducted in Cuban cities in 2002. More than half of the respondents believed gays and lesbians were “people with problems,” and more than one in five said they were sick and needed medical treatment. Six out of seven persons expressed aversion to lesbians, with the antipathy particularly strong among women.[5]

Sex change operations and hormonal therapyEdit

The Cuban National Center for Sex Education is presently proposing a law that would give transsexuals free Sex reassignment surgery and hormonal therapy in addition to granting them new identification documents with their changed gender. A draft bill was presented to the Cuban National Assembly in 2005. It was expected to come up for a vote in December 2006, but as of February 2008 the bill has yet to pass. If approved, it is suggested that the bill would make Cuba the most liberal nation in Latin America on gender issues.[6]

Starting June 2008, Cubans will be able to have a sex change operation for free.[7] This was one of the changes since Raul Castro took over.

HIV and AIDSEdit

From 1986 until 1989, HIV+ Cubans were quarantined to treatment centres (sanatoria). Most of the early HIV patients were heterosexual aid workers, returning from Africa. The quarantine system was relaxed in 1989, to allow travel between home and the treatment centres. In 1993, an outpatient program (el sistema ambulatoria) was set up which since the early 2000s contains the vast majority of HIV patients. By the early to mid 1990s, homosexual and bisexual men became the majority of Cuban HIV patients. The treatment centres (sanatoria) are still open for those who prefer them to living at home.

All HIV infected people are asked to attend a program called 'Living with HIV'. This program used to be held in the treatment centres, but is now mostly in the outpatient system, and assisted by peer educators, who are mostly HIV positive people. During the program patients are monitored to see if they are ‘trustworthy’ – that is, sexually responsible, and if their diet, self-care and medication is adequate. They are asked to disclose the names of any sexual partners from the last 5 years. Those sexual partners are then traced and tested for HIV. Certain groups are targeted for testing (HIV positive sexual contacts, blood donors, pregnant women, people with STDs). All testing is voluntary, but strongly encouraged amongst the target groups. All HIV+ patients retain their job entitlements and 100% of their salary, when they have to be absent from work. The stated aim of the program is to reintegrate all patients in their normal lives, and prevent discrimination or social rejection. Homophobia is recognised as a problem in Cuba, and is addressed through the HIV program (including school classes which begin at year 5 or 6) as well as through the National Centre for Sex Education. This education program includes posters, pamphlets and a television soapie which features gay, bisexual and HIV+ people in the family.

Cuba has undertaken extensive campaigns against HIV/AIDS focussing on education and treatment, and in 2003 Cuba had the lowest HIV prevalence in the Americas and one of the lowest ratios in the world. According to the Cuban National Centre for Prevention of STDs and HIV/AIDS (November 2005) there were 5,422 persons living with HIV (3,968) or AIDS (1,454). 85% of these were homosexual or bisexual men (HSH – hombres que tienen sexo con hombres).

Since 1996 Cuba has produced generic versions of some of the common antiretroviral treatment drugs (ARVT). These drugs were in short supply and imports were very expensive in the 1990s. However, since 2001, 100% of Cuban HIV+ patients have had access to a relatively full cocktail of HAARVT (highly active retroviral treatment), free of charge. The death rate from HIV infection has been falling rapidly since then, and most HIV+ infected Cubans are avoiding secondary infections.

Public decency laws Edit

In 1979, Cuba removed sodomy from its criminal code, but "public scandal" laws sentenced those who “publicly flaunted their homosexual condition" with three months to one year in prison (Article 359 of the 1979 Penal Code). The International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) reports that "public flaunting" could be interpreted to include visibly transgender people and "effeminate" men, in addition to same-sex public displays of affection. The 1979 penal code also categorized “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.”[8] A reform of the penal code in 1988 instead imposed fines on those who "hassle others with homosexual demands" (Article 303a, Act 62 of the Penal Code of April 30, 1988), and then in 1997 the language was modified to "hassling with sexual demands" and the phrase "public scandal" changed to "sexual insult".

Enforcement of public decency laws anywhere in the world is typically varied, as they may be interpreted broadly by police. For example, in England and France, when laws against sodomy were struck from the statutes, prosecutions of homosexual men increased for some time under public decency laws.[9] In China they have been the main legal means of persecuting homosexuals.

Recent crackdownsEdit

Mariela Castro, who is also an executive member of the World Association for Sexual Health, insists that job discrimination and mass arrests are a thing of the past."[Homosexuals] still sometimes face arrest by bigoted police" says Castro, adding that she has sometimes clashed with the authorities in her efforts to release gay men and women from prison."Now, society is more relaxed. There is no official repression of gays and lesbians," she argues confidently. [10] In July 2004, The BBC reported that "Cuban police have once again launched a campaign against homosexuals, specifically directed at travestis whom they are arresting if they are dressed in women's clothing."[11] This follows from reports in 2001 of a police campaign against homosexuals and travestis, who police prevented from meeting in the street and fined, closing down meeting places.[12]

According to a Human Rights Watch report, "the government also heightened harassment of homosexuals [in 1997], raiding several nightclubs known to have gay clientele and allegedly beating and detaining dozens of patrons."[13]

Freedom of associationEdit

See also: Freedom of association, Freedom of assembly

According to the World Policy Institute (2003), the Cuban government prohibits LGBT organizations and publications, gay pride marches and gay clubs.[14] All officially sanctioned clubs and meeting places are required to be heterosexual. The only gay and lesbian civil rights organization, the Cuban Association of Gays and Lesbians, which formed in 1994, was closed in 1997 and its members were taken into custody.[15] Private gay parties, named for their price of admission, “10 Pesos”, exist but are often raided. In 1997, Agencia de Prensa Independiente de Cuba (the Cuban Independent Press Agency) reported, that Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar and French designer Jean Paul Gaultier were among several hundred people detained in a raid on Havana’s most popular gay discothèque, El Periquiton.[16] In a U.S. Government report reprinted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Cuban customers of the club were fined and released from a police station the next day,[17] although according to a 1997 Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, many of the detainees claimed physical abuse and that two busloads of foreigners were transported to immigration authorities for a document check. The crackdown extended to other known gay meeting places throughout the capital, such as Mi Cayito, a beach east of Havana, where gays were arrested, fined or threatened with imprisonment.[18] According to Miami’s El Nuevo Herald, several of the dozen or so private gay clubs in Havana have been raided, including, Jurassic Park and Fiestas de Serrano y Correa.

Sanchez visit 2004Edit

Carlos Sanchez, the male representative of the International Lesbian and Gay Association for the Latin America and Caribbean Region, visited Cuba in 2004 to participate in the Third Hemispheric Meeting Against the FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas).[19] While there, he also made some enquiries into the status of lesbians and gays in the country. In particular, he asked the Cuban government why they had abstained from the vote on the "Brazilian resolution", a 2003 proposal to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights which would symbolically recognise the "occurrence of violations of human rights in the world against persons on the grounds of their sexual orientation." The government justified their abstention by arguing that the resolution could be used to attack and isolate "Arab countries", consistent with US aggression against Afghanistan and Iraq.

Sanchez also wanted to ascertain the possibility of creating a lesbian and gay organization in Cuba. They responded that the formation of an LGBT association would "distract attention" from national security.

Sanchez also met with some local lesbians and gays while there, and he reported the following observations:[19]

  1. There are no legal sanctions against LGBT people.
  2. People are afraid of meeting and organizing themselves. It is mainly based on their experience in previous years, but one can assume that this feeling will disappear in the future if lesbians and gays start to work and keep working and eventually get support from the government. (The National Center for Sexual Education is offering this support).
  3. "Transformismo" (Drag performance) is well accepted by the majority of the Cuban population
  4. There is indeed a change in the way people view homosexuality, but this does not mean the end of discrimination and homophobia. The population is just more tolerant with lesbians and homosexuals.
  5. Lesbians and gays do not consider fighting for the right to marriage, because that institution in Cuba does not have the same value that it has in other countries. Unmarried and married people enjoy equal rights.



In colonial Cuba and in the Batista era, homosexuality was outlawed. Repression and poverty forced many gay men underground into prostitution. Laws against homosexuality were much stricter and much more enforced.

In 1938, the Cuban Penal Code—the “Public Ostentation Law”—was enacted. This law mandated state penalties for “habitual homosexual acts,” public displays of same-sex affection and/or gender-variant dress and self-expression.

Post revolution CubaEdit

Following the 1959 revolution, Cuba’s communist government embarked upon a pervasive effort to rid the nation of homosexuality, which was seen as a product of a capitalist society. Through the 1960s and 1970s this campaign included the frequent imprisonment of lesbians and gays (particularly effeminate males) without charge or trial, and confinement to forced labor camps. One must keep in mind however, that homosexuality was illegal also in the United States and subject to hard labor and long jail penalties, and gay bars were frequently raided and attacked by police. Many have said that even though homophobia remained in place after the Revolution, it was much less prominent in Cuba than in the United States. This period was dramatically documented by Reinaldo Arenas in his 1992 autobiography, Before Night Falls, as well as his fiction, most notably The Color of Summer and Farewell to the Sea. Homosexuality was formally decriminalised in 1979.

Cuban society has become more welcoming to gays and lesbians since the 1980s, and toward the end of the decade, literature with gay subject matter began to re-emerge. In 1994, the popular feature film Strawberry and Chocolate, produced by the government-run Cuban film industry, featuring a gay main character, examined the nation's homophobia. The year prior to the film's release, Fidel Castro stated that homosexuality is a “natural aspect and tendency of human beings”, and gay author Ian Lumsden claims that since 1986 there is "little evidence to support the contention that the persecution of homosexuals remains a matter of state policy".[20] However, the state's treatment of homosexuals remains a subject of controversy, and like other subjects relating to Cuba, the accounts of supporters of the Castro government are often quite different from those of its opponents. In 2006, the state run Cuban television began running a serial soap opera titled The Dark Side of the Moon[21] with story lines that focus on HIV infection and AIDS. Cuban gays describe a narrative in this soap opera capturing one character's sexual awakening as a pivotal moment in Cuba's long history of discrimination against homosexuals.

Cuban socialism and masculinityEdit

While traditional Spanish machismo and the Catholic Church have disdained effeminate and sexually passive males for centuries, the Cuban revolution in the 1950s ushered in a new era of anti-homosexual repression which coincided with a "masculinization of public life".[20] Barbara Weinstein, professor of Latin American history at the University of Maryland and co-editor of the Hispanic American Historical Review, claimed that the Cuban revolution had "a stronger sense of masculinity than other revolutions."[22] Cuban gay writer Reinaldo Arenas wrote that in Communist Cuba, "the 'new man' was being proclaimed and masculinity exalted."[23]

Castro's admiring description of rural life in Cuba ("in the country, there are no homosexuals"[15]) reflected the idea of homosexuality as bourgeois decadence, and he denounced "maricones" (faggots) as "agents of imperialism".[24] Castro explained his reasoning in a 1965 interview:

[H]omosexuals should not be allowed in positions where they are able to exert influence upon young people. In the conditions under which we live, because of the problems which our country is facing, we must inculcate your youth with the spirit of discipline, of struggle, of work... [W]e would never come to believe that a homosexual could embody the conditions and requirements of conduct that would enable us to consider him a true Revolutionary, a true Communist militant. A deviation of that nature clashes with the concept we have of what a militant Communist must be.[25]

Many gays were attracted to the socialist promise of an egalitarian society; some of them important figures among the left-wing intelligentsia, such as the writers for the popular journal Lunes de Revolución.

UMAP Labor CampsEdit

A couple of years after Castro's rise to power, however, Lunes de Revolución was closed down amidst a wave of media censorship; its gay writers were publicly disgraced, refused publication and dismissed from their jobs.[26] In the mid-1960s, the country-wide UMAP (Unidades Militares de Ayuda a la Producción) program sent countless gays (particularly effeminate males) to forced labor camps for "rehabilitation" and "re-education", without charge or trial. Even after the end of the UMAP programs, effeminate boys were forced to undergo aversion therapy.[27] A 1984 documentary, Improper Conduct, interviewed several men who had been sent there.



  • Furia del Discurso Humano (The Fury of Human Discourse) is a novel by Miguel Correa Mujica, the celebrated author of Al Norte del Infierno, that addresses the topic of persecution of homosexuals in Cuba.[28]


  1. Havana rights. The Guardian (2007-03-28).
  2. Cuba approves sex change operations. Reuters (Jun 6, 2008).
  3. HEALTH-CUBA: Free Sex Change Operations Approved. Inter Press Service (Jun 6, 2008).
  4. Change of sex will be free. Progreso Weekly.
  5. Acosta, Dalia, “Gay finding greater acceptance in Cuba,” Inter Press Service, 5 March 2003.
  6. Israel, Esteban, "Castro's niece fights for new revolution", Reuters, 2006-07-03
  8. Acosta, Dalia, “TV Opens Debate on Taboo Subject – Homosexuality,” Inter Press Service, 7 April 1998.
  9. Jackson, Julian (2006). "Sex, Politics and Morality in France, 1954–1982". History Workshop Journal 61: 77–102. doi:10.1093/hwj/dbi076. 
  10. As Castro fades, a crop of new leaders Christian Science Monitor
  11. Cuba: "campaña" contra travestis, Fernando Ravsberg, BBC, Havana. Monday, 26 July 2004, 14:53 GMT. Article online (Spanish language)
  12. ¿Nueva campaña contra gays en Cuba?, BBC Friday, 23 February 2001, 15:40 GMT. Article online (Spanish language).
  13. Human Rights Watch World Report 1998 (Cuba)
  14. World Policy Institute, Sexual Orientation and Human Rights in the Americas, Andrew Reding (Senior Fellow, World Policy Institute; Director, Project for Global Democracy and Human Rights). December 2003. Report online.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Gay Rights and Wrongs in Cuba,, Peter Tatchell (2002), published in the "Gay and Lesbian Humanist", Spring 2002. An earlier version was published in a slightly edited form as The Defiant One, in The Guardian, Friday Review, 8 June 2001.
  16. Government Attacks Against Homosexuals, By Jesus Zuñiga, APIC. September 3 1997. (Translated by E. Treto).
  17. What is the status of homosexuals in Cuba?, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Citizenship and Immigration Services Responses, 9 August 1999.
  18. Correa, Armando.Reprimen de nuevo a los homosexuales El Nuevo Herald (Miami, 3 September 1997).
  19. 19.0 19.1 Carlos Sanchez, ILGA LAC rep tells us about his cuban experience ILGA Documents
  20. 20.0 20.1 Machos, Maricones, and Gays: Cuba and Homosexuality, by Ian Lumsden. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996. ISBN 1-56639-371-X
  21. Controversial gay soap opera grips Cuba, By Fernando Ravsberg, BBC Mundo, Havana. Wednesday, 3 May 2006.
  22. Che Guevara: liberator or facilitator?, By Drew Himmelstein, Friday, October 29 2004
  23. Before Night Falls, Reinaldo Arenas. 1992. Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-015765-4
  24. Llovio-Menéndez, José Luis. Insider: My Hidden Life as a Revolutionary in Cuba, (New York: Bantam Books, 1988), p. 156-158, 172-174.
  25. Lockwood, Lee (1967), Castro's Cuba, Cuba's Fidel. p.124. Revised edition (October 1990) ISBN 0-8133-1086-5
  26. Marshall, Peter (1987). Cuba Libre: Breaking the Chains?, London : Victor Gollancz, 1987. ISBN 1-55778-652-6
  27. Disingenuous apology for Castro's persecution of homosexuals, Steven O. Murray's review of Lumsden's book, June 19 2001. Stephen O. Murray is a sociologist who has written several widely read works, including "Latin American Male Homosexualities" (University of New Mexico Press, 1995) and "Homosexualities", (University of Chicago 2000).
  28. Rosero, Jessica; "A voice for the homeless" Author Tackles homosexuality in the Cuban machista society; The Union City Reporter; February 18, 2007; Page 5

External linksEdit

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See also Edit

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LGBT rights in North America
Sovereign states
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