Editor’s note: Tremenda Nota is the Washington Blade’s media partner in Cuba. This article was originally published on Tremenda Nota’s website on Jan. 2.
SANTA CLARA, Cuba — The LGBTI+ community remains divided after the National Assembly modified the marriage amendment in the draft of the new constitution. Part of it defends the yes vote and supports the official campaign, while another group says it will vote against the constitution.
On Saturday, Dec. 22, the same day the Cuban Parliament in Havana ended sessions where changes to the draft Cuban constitution were approved, a group of young people discussed them in Vidal Park in Santa Clara, 300 kilometers from the Cuban capital.
The decision to exclude Article 68, which defined marriage as “the union of two people,” from the future constitution was received with bewilderment in the city, which is known in the country for its inclusive spaces for the LGBTI+ community.
According to the National Assembly, the suppression has the goal of “respecting all opinions,” an argument that seems to echo the anti-marriage equality campaign from various evangelical churches.
Mariela Castro Espín had referenced to the “blackmail” of these religious groups in a recent interview, although nothing suggested the constitutional text would be modified for this reason and marriage would be subject to another referendum, as part of the Family Code, under a two year deadline.
Castro Espín directs the National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX) and is also the country’s most well-known official LGBTI+ rights activist. Her work has been criticized because it intends to work the agenda of a minority that has been historically marginalized into the political discourse of the same government that has persecuted it and has not to this day offered reparations.
Ramón Silverio is another activist and cultural promoter who directs El Mejunje, a community center known across the country for its drag shows.
Silverio feels that the LGBTI+ community “did not do much to defend (Article 68).”
“There was no counterpart,” he admitted. “The churches had a lot of influence, combined with the homophobia that exists in society regarding the issue.”
Marriage now appears to be described in Article 82, a passage written in technical and ambiguous language with the declared goal of not closing the door on the legality of partners of the same sex and gender, despite the controversial referendum option.
“We are putting the rights of the most vulnerable people and groups in a somewhat critical position when taking them to a popular referendum,” warned Deputy Luis Ángel Adán Roble during Parlament’s last session of 2018.
Adán Roble is the only deputy with a speech that mirrors LGBTI+ activism. In the closing session, however, he merely confirmed his support for the change and invited citizens to vote in favor of the draft constitution.
Yes or No?
Dagnis Romero, vice coordinator of the TransCuba Network in Villa Clara Province, spoke without hesitation of what she considers a “lack of respect.” She is referring to the Article 68 modifications and the announcement of another referendum to approve the Family Code.
TransCuba is a group of transsexuals affiliated with CENESEX and lead by Malú Cano, a trans woman who frequently appears with Mariela Castro in the media and on social media.
Dagnis is 36-years-old and says she was deported to the island after visiting some Latin American cities. “I left this country because of the rampant discrimination that exists, I have not been able to operate, I have not been able to do anything,” she explains.
Thirty-nine sex-reassignment surgeries have taken place in Cuba over the last decade, according to the Trabajadores newspaper in the middle of this year. A diagnosis of “gender dysphoria,” a requirement that part of the international trans advocacy movement rejects, is still required in order to reach the operating room.
Romero categorizes the country as “very late” and says living according to her gender identity leaves her feeling isolated everyday.
“Now they are taking away from me the possibility of forming a home,” she says in relation to the draft article.
Ramón Silverio, nevertheless, assures “a large part of this community has never been interested in marriage.”
“I don’t understand why there is this setback,” said Abel Raúl, a young man with Christian parents who moved to Villa Clara from eastern Cuba.
Mariela Castro Espín, (a member of the National Assembly) since the beginning of the debates has insisted that “there is no setback” and everything is due to a misinterpretation of the parliament’s first communiqué that was published on Twitter on Dec. 18.
CENESEX launched a social media campaign during the parliamentary sessions with the hashtag #IVoteYes and the slogan “Rewrite happiness.”
Castro Espín was the furthest away during parliament’s closing session and attributed the intention of numerous people to vote against the draft constitution over the exclusion of Article 68 the announcement of another popular consultation exclusively on marriage to the “counter revolution.”
Raisel Nuñez Medina, another one of the young people who spoke with Tremenda Nota in the park in Santa Clara, considers the debates around marriage “were as if it was something abnormal, and there were thousands of more important things to discuss.”
“I know couples who have lived in the same home for more than 30 years and had put their hopes in their legal union to make their future plans,” he says.
Ramón Silverio, who agrees with CENESEX’s position, supports Article 82 and wants to influence El Mejunje’s clientele in order to get more votes in favor of the draft constitution.
“Since Sunday we have been conducting a campaign that includes exhaustive explanations of the article,” he declared to Tremenda Nota. “I am convinced that the majority is going to vote yes in the referendum.”
“For its part, an LGBTI+ group from Placetas, a city near Santa Clara, on Dec. 25 made an announcement on Facebook that left out propaganda from the yes and no (factions) and reflects on the inconsistencies of official activism.
The group considers that the version of the marriage article approved by the parliament “does not satisfy the demands of the LGBTI communities.”
“Some activists were controlled by indications of waiting later,” said a document signed by CENESEX collaborators that denounced the claims.
The revelation seems to allude to instructions sent by the institution (CENESEX) to its “community networks” in order to avoid answering questions or public acts against the homophobic campaign that various evangelical churches have promoted. The declaration suggests Placetas LGBTI will vote in favor of the new constitution, although its members also demanded the elimination from the constitutional text the provision that “authorizes” the right to marriage equality to go to a referendum.