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    The LGBT community in Cuba is going through a transition

    “The LGBT community in Cuba is going through a transition”
    Daniel Abma, director of ‘Transit Havana’ says the regime is now
    integrating gays into society
    IÑAKI MAKAZAGA
    Bilbao 20 MAR 2017 – 15:50 CET

    “El colectivo LGTB de Cuba vive un momento de apertura y transición”
    A meeting with a Belgian surgeon gave the Dutch documentary filmmaker
    and human rights activist Daniel Abma the story he was looking for:
    every year, Cuba invites this surgeon along with a Dutch colleague to
    carry out sex reassignment surgery on five of the island’s residents.
    Between November 2013 and January 2015, Abma documented the lives of
    three transsexuals hoping to be among the lucky five. Then, as relations
    between the US and Cuba warmed, he was given a newsworthy peg on which
    to hang his film.

    “The regime has gone from persecuting homosexuality to using all its
    propaganda machinery to promote integration,” says Abma who has just
    watched his documentary, Transit Havana, premiere at the LGTBI Zinegoak
    2017 Film Festival in Bilbao. “ But Cuban homosexuals still have to deal
    with religious intolerance, poverty, discrimination and often prostitution.”

    Many Cuban transsexuals have no alternative than to turn to prostitution

    Cuban-trained doctors do not possess the necessary know-how to perform
    sex reassignment procedures, which is why the Cuban government seeks out
    experts in Europe. Through him, Abma was able to get permission to
    document the new transgender residents’ program, headed by President
    Raúl Castro’s daughter, Mariela.

    “Mariela Castro supported us in every way. There was no control over
    what we filmed and it became clear that she is a sort of mother figure
    for the community,” says the director, who visited the island four times
    over the course of two years.

    Mariela Castro is a member of Cuba’s National Assembly and Director of
    the National Center for Sex Education (Cenesex), whose push for
    integration is giving the community a great deal of positive exposure
    while, at the same time, making socialism a priority – the program
    financing the sex reassignment surgery has adopted as its slogan:
    homophobia no, socialism yes.

    But it wasn’t all plain sailing for Abma’s project. While he was offered
    unprecedented access to certain aspects of life in Cuba, some of his
    footage was thought to give the wrong image of the island. “Without
    Mariela’s support, it would have been impossible to move so easily
    around the island but when the authorities saw the results, they wanted
    several changes that we didn’t make,” says the director, who regrets
    that Mariela Castro did not show up for the premiere.

    The Cuban authorities wanted some cuts to the documentary, which were
    refused

    Along with Abma, the documentary’s three protagonists, Odette, Malú and
    Juani – three generations of different sexes facing different challenges
    – were at the premiere in Bilbao. “At 64, Juani has a good life,” says
    Abma. “She was one of the first transsexual women and her new identity
    as a man has not caused her problems.”

    This is not the case for Odette, who at the age of 38, has had to deal
    with rejection from her family due to their religious beliefs, while
    Malú, 28, was forced at times to turn to prostitution to make a living.
    “Each of the three highlights the challenges that still face
    transsexuals: religious prejudice, the lack of job opportunities and
    social stigma,” says Abma.

    The director adds that Cubans are aware discrimination is wrong and
    that, in the spirit of the revolution, they accept in theory that all
    people are equal. But in practice traditional attitudes, combined with
    Catholic convictions, mean that prejudice is widespread.

    “The Church is a big problem for Odette,” says Abma. “Her mother insists
    that she can’t be transsexual because it goes against Creation. Malú’s
    fight for transsexual rights has become her life and made her the leader
    of the TransCuba Association. The older generation has reservations
    about the country opening up, and finds it hard to understand
    transsexuals. The young people are pushing for change and see the
    community as normal.”

    The making of Transit Havana also prompted Abma to consider issues such
    as how countries can implement radical change and how the most
    traditional governments can turn their propaganda tools to good use. “In
    Cuba, tradition exists side-by-side quite comfortably with movements
    keen to open up,” says Abma. “And it’s Mariela Castro who is promoting
    integration within the National Assembly. It’s a shift that fills the
    LGBTI community in many Eastern European countries with hope.
    Communities can take strength from my documentary and governments can
    reinforce their campaigns.”

    In Georgia, a transsexual was murdered on the street just days after
    Transit Havana was released. But as he embarks on his next project,
    these kinds of brutal responses only make the director more determined
    to use cinema as a platform to bring about change and equality.

    English version by Heather Galloway.

    Source: Gender issues in Cuba: “The LGBT community in Cuba is going
    through a transition” | In English | EL PAÍS –
    elpais.com/elpais/2017/03/20/inenglish/1490015070_027498.html

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