Tremenda Nota originally published this story on its website in Spanish.
HAVANA — Recently private bars in Havana have used the “right of admission reserved” to keep the doors closed on LGBTI+ people. Recent incidents expose the lack of Cuban legislation to prevent discrimination and protect victims.
At midnight on July 8, while Brian Canelles and Arian Abreu were having a drink at the Efe Bar in El Vedado, Havana, they decided to take a selfie of themselves giving each other a kiss. The bouncer told them they were not allowed to take the photo and the couple was eventually kicked out because “the bar didn’t want to have a gay image.” The bouncer argued, “We’re not interested in that type of publicity, and we don’t want to get that reputation.”
The Efe promotes itself on Facebook as a disco, nightclub and restaurant that wants to distinguish itself with its live music. That was why José Luis Nodarse, a Cuban living in Miami, chose it to meet his friends. One of them, Coco, was refused entry. The supervisor on duty told Coco that he could not come in because “they know him” and they had seen him in “an unacceptable state.” This argument was sufficient under the “right of admission reserved” to refuse him entry. “My friend is known to be gay and I think he should have been kicked out only if he was behaving badly or had a bad attitude at that moment,” José Luis argues. “It was clearly homophobic.”
José Luis asked to see the manager and asked whether they refused his friend entry because he was gay. The unnerved manager told him; “No, no, it’s not about that but we reserve the right of admission,” but gave no further explanation.
Brian Canelles called out the Efe Bar on his Facebook profile, generating reactions from dozens of LGBTI+ activists. The Efe Bar published a response saying that it will “always raise the flag against homophobia.” They also argued that their “policy has been and will always be to respect others as people, regardless of their sex, race, sexual orientation or social status.” According to management, “it’s a shame that a false and damaging opinion is being created about many people based on the opinion of just one.”
An Efe Bar employee who identified himself as Roberto, “one of the managers,” took Tremenda Nota’s call to the bar but refused to offer their version of the incident which led to Brian Canelles and his boyfriend being thrown out.
He revealed, “I was working that day…but I’m not going to make any comment. I’d need the bar owner’s permission.”
Brian says he was not given the opportunity to talk to this manager. “I asked him [the bouncer] to call the supervisor, but he said that he wasn’t going to waste his time and we should leave the bar.”
“I told him that I wasn’t going anywhere, that I had already spent 100 CUC ($100) at the bar, for them to just kick me out without even taking the photo,” Brian added.
His complaints, along with those of his boyfriend and sister, hastened their removal.
“He grabbed me by the arm and took me to the exit,” Brian remembers. “They told me they had the right of admission reserved and they decided who was allowed to enter their bar. We argued back that being a private business didn’t give them the right to treat us like that, but they just shut the door.”
Homophobia in private bars, with rights?
KingBar is just a block away from the Efe Bar. Its logo makes a bold reference to anal sex.
Initially it wanted to present itself as a gay-friendly space. Mariela Castro, director of the National Center for Sexual Education and the country’s most famous LGBT activist, even attended the opening.
However, LGBT activists have reported KingBar because of exclusions that seem to be based on sexual orientation, gender identity and class.
On June 27, 2015, to commemorate the Stonewall riots, playwright Norge Espinosa and a dozen gay men and lesbians went to KingBar for a “public kissing” to call attention to discriminatory access to public spaces.
According to Espinosa’s article published on the Proyecto Arcoiris blog, the owners of the bar “didn’t feel comfortable with so many gays and lesbians inside their property” and applied a “selective entry policy.”
The playwright argues that the activists’ visit led to “an argument regarding the house reserving the right to admission.”
A tourism website recently listed KingBar as one of the “seven best gay parties in Havana.”
The majority of legislation recognizes the right to reserve admission for reasons that are outlined and are objective, without compromising the rights of customers to equality and protection against discrimination. There are no laws on this subject in Cuba. Nor are there antidiscrimination laws explicitly regarding the LGBTI community.
However, the Cuban Criminal Code includes the crime against the right to equality, for people who “discriminate against another person or promote and incite discrimination” which can be punished with a fine or up to two years in jail.
In the three decades since the law was established only one person has been charged with this crime. It was used last year when student Yanay Aguirre reported that a driver threw her out of a private taxi because of the color of her skin. The Attorney General’s Office said, “Cuba does not need laws against racism.”