The wedding created such a stir in the neighborhood that some people climbed on their roofs to get a better view.
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JUNE 21, 2001. A few hours before floats, rainbow flags, and a sea of humanity filled Sao Paulo's central Avenida Paulista last Sunday for Latin America's biggest ever Pride Parade, Agence France Presse reported that, in Cuba, two gay male couples also made history by publicly holding the first gay wedding there.
Four local boys, Michel and Ángel, and Juanito and Alejandro, ranging in ages from 17 to 22, exchanged symbolic vows before their families and friends at a neighborhood recreation center in one of the poorest sections of San Miguel del Padrón, a working-class suburb southeast of Havana.
Dressed in white, with Ángel and Juanito as brides, the four declared themselves "very happy" and said they planned to honeymoon together at one of the modest camping sites the government runs for Cubans.
"Yes, what we're doing is daring, but... I'm not afraid," Michel told France Presse. "People have thrashed us, but we don't care," said Ángel. Michel's mother, Luisa, said that "many people had criticized" Michel. "He's my son, they've decided to live together. What can I do? I'm not going to kill him," she said. Rolando, a fortyish friend of one of the couples, hit the nail on the head: This "is historic, it's never before seen" in Cuba, he told the reporter.
The wedding created such a stir in the neighborhood that some people climbed on their roofs to get a better view. It was a first in Cuba, where there is no organized gay community and no public Pride celebrations.
Between the mid-1970's and the late 1980's, silenced, marginalized queers were kept in check by targetted, as opposed to wholesale, repression. In 1988, shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Union deprived Cuba of subsidies and its biggest market, references to homosexuality in the Cuban Penal Code were softened.
According to the new laws, homosexuality would only be punishable if "publicly manifested" (three months to one year in jail), and a fine would be imposed if the hapless queer was found guilty of "persistently bothering others with homosexual amorous advances." Cuban queers exhaled, after almost 30 years holding their collective breath.
Cracks in the Closet
That year, too, the government ended the 1986 policy of forcibly putting in quarantine all HIV-positive people. There was even an attempt at queer organizing, the Cuban Association of Gays and Lesbians, founded in late 1994 by eighteen people.
This pleasant interlude ended in 1997 when members were arrested at their workplaces and the Association was suppressed, according to ILGA (the International Lesbian and Gay Association). The government also cracked down on a vibrant, emerging gay party scene, closing down about a dozen unlicensed "private discos" which had begun as gay house parties at the beginning of the decade.
While Cubans caught in these raids were arrested (as many as 500 in August 1997 according to one unconfirmed report, with some beaten up by cops), foreign visitors, like Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar, were let go. There were also police sweeps of parks and other places were gays and lesbians congregated. Authorities said the crackdown and the police sweeps, both of which continue intermittently today, were needed to combat crime and prostitution, which had mushroomed with the tourist trade.
Paradoxically, while much of gay life has retreated again into the homes, a curiosity about gay issues seems to be slowly emerging among the intellectual and academic elites. So far, it appears to be mostly theoretical, rather than political, and thoroughly disconnected from the realities of the average Cuban queer on the streets.
They were, he wrote, "pimps, prostitutes and other extragavant characters, among which stands out a figure sadly rampant throughout the world, but almost unknown in Cuba: the transvestite." Then he warned that "many anti-socials, delinquents and slackers (...) will come out from that bizarre gathering."
And the coup de grace: "These characters may have all the right in the world to their practices and harmful vices, but not the right to maintain a focus of contamination in the very heart of the capital, and to project an image that is totally alien to the spirit of work and struggle, and the way our people have a good time and relax."
On February 18, AFP reported that gays had stopped frequenting the site after the Rodríguez piece was published. But the double wedding in San Miguel del Padrón may be a sign that the cat and mouse game between queers and Cuban authorities for control of public space is entering a new phase. After all, raiding a queer wedding may be a tad too silly, and the neighbors hanging from their roofs may not appreciate the party-pooping.
To drop an educational note to the homophobic editor-in-chief of Tribuna de la Habana, Ángel Rodríguez.
For Welcome to Havana: The Cuban Gay Underground, a first-hand account in Gay Wired, 1997.
For a look at Cuban youth, Our Manics in Havana, when Wales' fab three became the first major western rock act ever to play in Cuba.
The Cuba Files
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