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    Cuba’s emerging LGBT nightlife comes into focus

    Cuba’s emerging LGBT nightlife comes into focus
    04/08/15 06:57 AM—UPDATED 04/08/15 06:58 AM
    By Johnny Simon and Rebecca Sanchez

    Proving true to the complexities of Cuba’s social and political
    climates, LGBT nightlife on the island is no less multifaceted.

    Regular gay-oriented parties, which started to pop up a little more than
    five years ago, are held in state-run clubs, but, technically listed as
    “audio-visual projects,” are not themselves state-run.

    Still, despite the ongoing political alterations, there is still a lot
    of fear in the LGBT community. Same-sex couples don’t typically hold
    hands in the streets. Even if accepted by their families, partners are
    typically referred to simply as “friends,” and coming out to the public
    remains socially tense. It can still be difficult for LGBT people to
    evade workplace discrimination, as well.

    But this isn’t the first time the island’s political landscape has shifted.

    Pre-revolution Cuba had several gay-friendly bars but very strict laws
    criminalizing homosexuality and targeting gay men for harassment.
    Homosexuality was linked to prostitution, especially in relation to
    tourism, gambling and crime.

    But the 1959 revolution eradicated the profitability that made
    homosexuality more palatable in Cuban society, and the minimal tolerance
    that had existed prior to the revolution quickly faded. Homophobia
    became institutionalized. Suspected LGBT individuals were abused,
    imprisoned and sent to labor camps— often without a charge or trial.

    Cuban President Fidel Castro, while describing his admiration for rural
    life, once famously said “in the country, there are no homosexuals,”
    concluding that LGBT people were just agents of imperialism.

    “We 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,” he said. “A
    deviation of that nature clashes with the concept we have of what a
    militant Communist must be.”

    Though same-sex relationships were technically decriminalized in 1979,
    it wasn’t until 1993 that Fidel Castro publicly stated his opposition to
    policies against LGBT people. He said that he had come to understand
    homosexuality as natural and apologized for the many years of
    maltreatment under his government.

    Following the long-time president’s comments, the last two decades have
    seen a gradual liberalization and slow changes around LGBT issues and
    rights, albeit not without some major setbacks.

    As an example, the Cuban Association of Gays and Lesbians—the island’s
    only LGBT civil rights association—was formed in 1994, but shut down
    just three years later, in 1997, ending in the arrest of all 18 founding
    members.

    Though gay marriage is still not legal and alternatives like legally
    recognized same-sex unions have not yet passed the National Assembly of
    People’s Power, qualifying Cubans have had access to state-covered sex
    reassignment surgeries and hormone treatments since 2008.

    In 2013 the island celebrated its first International Day Against
    Homophobia with a week of drag shows, marches and social and cultural
    events throughout Havana.

    Today, the National Center for Sex Education leads various educational
    campaigns on LGBT issues. Programs to battle homophobia include HIV
    education, school classes for students beginning at the age of five and
    a televised soap opera featuring gay, lesbian and HIV positive people.

    Cuban-American photographer Lisette Poole has been documenting the
    country in transition, in particular the recent months since the United
    States began taking steps to normalize relations with Cuba.

    Take a look at this portrait of a community that is now asserting itself
    after decades in the shadows.

    Source: Cuba’s emerging LGBT nightlife comes into focus | MSNBC –
    http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/cubas-emerging-lgbt-nightlife-comes-focus

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