LGBT rights in Cuba are perplexing from an ideological standpoint. Communist theory itself is unclear on the issue of homosexuality. Logically, one would assume that, given communism’s emphatic support of abortion, disdain for the family unit and rejection of religiously based morality, its position on homosexuality would be that of acceptance or indifference. However, communist views on same sex relations are divided into two opposing camps.
The small obscure non-ruling communist parties of the 1st world have positions that range from acceptance to full support of the LGBT community. On the other hand the large ruling communist parties of the 3rd world have positions on the LGBT community that range from apathy to persecution. What is the reason for this discrepancy within the Communist Party?
The answer is simple: location, location, location. The West, since the industrial revolution, has been infinitely more welcoming culturally to homosexuality and other alternative lifestyles than the 3rd world where communists have come to power in countries like Afghanistan, Cuba, Vietnam, and Angola.
The ruling communist parties in countries like Afghanistan, Cuba, Vietnam, and Angola have been faced with the task of governing highly patriarchal, conservative and homophobic populations. They began to revise orthodox communist theory to fit with the cultures on a variety of issues including homosexuality. Homosexuality had always been seen as a tertiary issue by the Old Left and not as an all-encompassing issue by their New Left fellow travelers in the West and therefore these rapid ideological accommodations were made rather painlessly and without much fanfare.
This is precisely what occurred in Cuba. The relatively free love between gays in post-revolutionary Havana quickly turned into long stretches of torture and forced labor in military units. The Cuban Communist Party, in order to keep its moral prestige and legitimacy intact under Cuba’s culture of machismo (as well as to placate the Soviets who had made their own similar anti-homosexual revisionism under Stalin), went after homosexuals more than any of Cuba’s previous reactionary dictators like Batista.
This was done even though many notable top Cubans officials at the time were heavily suspected of being homosexuals such as Alfredo Guevara, Celia Sanchez, Armando Hart, Melba Hernandez and Jose Martinez Paez. In fact it is an open secret in Cuban society today (as it was in the 26th of July movement in the Sierra Maestra) that the current president of Cuba, Raul Castro, is a homosexual. He assuredly must be not the only one within Cuba’s elite.
Therefore the Cuban Communist Party made an ideological concession in exchange for control creating institutionalized homophobia in the 1960s and 1970s. Its militant atheism already had alienated it from a deeply religious Cuban populace. Toeing the Marxist line and turning a blind eye to homosexuals or even actively supporting them would have turned them into social pariahs.
The Party would have been unable to recruit members at a time when it needed them the most in order to create the bureaucratic apparatchiks and Cuban nomenklatura needed to efficiently complete the dual jobs of both running and transforming Cuban society. Homosexuals became another group added to the counter-revolutionary black list with the full blessing of a Cuban people who despised and hated them.
The political reality of LGBT rights today in Cuba is that the heavy handed persecution of gays prevalent in the 1960s and 1970s has dissipated due to pragmatism rather than dogma. Today’s Cuban Communist Party through its unofficial street system of sociolosimo (bribes, patronage, and control over jobs and food stocks) has entrenched itself so deeply into Cuban society that it no longer fears a cultural backlash from an exhausted and apathetic Cuban populace.
Homosexuality has become an opportunistic political football for the Cuban regime that is repeatedly shedding all its ideological trappings and seeks only power and survival. Therefore LGBT rights is an issue that will keep mutating in the foreseeable future according to the whims of Cuba’s elite (three steps forward, two steps back or vice-versa) regardless of Marxist dogma.