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LGBTQ delegation witnesses how “Love is the law” in Cuba

By Serena Sojic-Borne

Participants hold signs at Cuba's annual "Conga Against Homophobia and Transphob

Havana, Cuba – It’s hard to imagine when you live under state governments banning gender-affirming healthcare, but 100 miles off of Florida’s shore is an island striking unrelenting blows against bigotry.

From May 7 to 14, I joined a US delegation of LGBTQ activists who traveled to Cuba. The group took part in the country’s annual “working days against homophobia and transphobia.” This year’s working days were special because they followed the passage of Cuba’s groundbreaking Families Code.

On May 3, a few days ahead of the full delegation’s arrival, a part of the group attended the International Trans Identities Colloquium. The event’s host was Mariela Castro Espín, director of Cuba’s National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX) and daughter of Cuban revolutionary leaders Vilma Espín and Raul Castro. The main panelists were scholars discussing practical educational and health policies for ordinary trans people.

“Even today, U.S. imperialists spread lies”

On May 5, part of the delegation joined a CENESEX contingent to march for International Workers Day. Because of severe weather, the country couldn’t hold the celebration on the traditional May 1. So, Friday morning, with the rest of Havana, the group woke up at 3 a.m. to get ready. Once arrived at the city seawall, CENESEX members unfurled a pride flag the size of a bus.

 “Long live the revolution!” participants chanted.

Then, after the sun rose over the water, the country’s political leaders spoke.

“Even today, U.S. imperialists spread lies about our country. They say that Cubans, young Cubans, are losing interest in May Day, in socialism. What will they say when images come out showing the hundreds of thousands, or even millions of people out in the streets today?” asked Ulises Guilarte de Nacimiento, general secretary of the Cuban Workers’ Federation.

“All kinds of non-nuclear families”

On May 6, the colloquium participants attended the spectacular Gala against Homophobia and Transphobia at the National Theater. Actors played out skits of families learning acceptance, drag queens strutted across the stage, rock singers hyped the crowd, ballerinas and capoeira dancers depicted love and conflict, and members of a brass band stood up from audience seats. They got us all on our feet and clapping. The band kept playing outside as we made our way out, taking me back home to a New Orleans second line. All available to the Cuban people for less than 40 cents per ticket. The same chorus rang throughout the performances: “Love is the law!”

This slogan celebrates the passage of new Families Code last year. After other delegation members arrived on May 7, we spent several days speaking with CENESEX legal advisors to learn what this law was all about. The plural word “families” is intentional, to represent the diversity of family life in Cuba. The code recognizes legal marriage between any two persons, and it acknowledges that all kinds of non-nuclear families can exist.

Grandparents taking care of grandchildren could be a legally protected family. Two non-married lesbian couples living together with adopted children, or even a parent using a non-blood relative’s help could be another. Anyone can prove family membership in court with enough evidence of caretaking.

An important consequence of this is that housewives in civil unions can receive economic protections. Another is that people living with HIV and disabled people can establish chosen families. CENESEX’s social networks help to connect them with this kind of care. The code also establishes protections for surrogacy without pay, and protects reproductive assistance for people living with HIV.

The progress principle

When it comes to children’s rights, the Families Code introduced the legal standard of “progressive autonomy.” This means that children get an age-appropriate say in family cases, such as custody or domestic violence. The code establishes “family defense” offices with teams of lawyers, psychologists, and social workers. Children can bring claims to these offices without a parent or guardian. The offices evaluate the child’s maturity and take their claim to court.

Transgender children could use this to raise issues in their families. While many U.S. states are rolling back trans kids’ rights, Cuba is laying a legal foundation for trans kids to dispute family intolerance.

The new code has its roots in the 2019 Constitution, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The Cuban people widely debated, amended and approved both the Constitution and the Code by popular referendum.

“In Cuba, our Constitution includes the progress principle,” Mariela Castro told us. This means that any rights given cannot be taken away.

The Families Code is the Cuban working class’ response to changing material conditions. Both marriage and birth rates are lower, so vulnerable people need more ways to find love and support. The “revolution within the revolution” is weakening patriarchal attitudes, and women have more economic freedom. LGBTQ people are proudly coming out. Cuban socialism is adapting to ensure people’s equality and dignity.

Women in Struggle – Mujeres en Lucha, a national organization of gender-oppressed people fighting oppression, led the delegation. I joined to represent the Freedom Road Socialist Organization and Real Name Campaign NOLA.

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