Tradition, values play big role in public opinion.
After years of forced attendance at Catholic Church services, 17-year-old South Miami High School student Giselle Dominguez found solace with her mother’s gradual acceptance of her sexuality.
“She used to tell me, ‘Stop dressing like a boy. When I was your age I would wear dresses.’ I’ve been a skater, I’ve been a punk. I’ve known that this is who I am since I was 7 years old,” Giselle Dominguez said.
Yet, when she came out to her mother about her sexuality after disagreements such as cutting off her long locks of hair right before taking her traditional quince pictures, she was relieved to be met with affection rather than objection.
As a member of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, she has experienced first-hand the struggles that homosexual youth face as Cuban-Americans.
And she was shocked to learn that most Cuban citizens openly and publicly respect the gay community on the island.
Junior Ramos, an 18-year-old straight Cuban who just immigrated to Southern Florida seven months ago, said that the island’s culture is more accepting of homosexuals than some parts of the United States.
“Anybody who wants to do it [be homosexual] can do it,” Ramos said nonchalantly in an interview translated from Spanish.
Cuba is considering a bill that, if passed, would change family law to permit gay marriages anywhere in the country, an indication that the LGBT community coexists peacefully and broadly, unlike America, where acceptance varies regionally. One might be welcomed with open arms in Maine, yet shunned in Mississippi.
Though the older generations of Cubans, in Cuba and in the United States, continue to oppose homosexuality because of traditional patriarchy (male superiority and role as head of the family), the possibility of its ratification exemplifies the surprising and increasing acceptance of homosexuality in modern-day Cuba.
This reform may be due in part to Mariela Castro, 46, the daughter of the current Cuban President, Raul Castro, and niece of legendary former President Fidel Castro. She stands at the forefront of her country’s efforts to recognize LGBT rights.
“This is a wonderful festival of equality,” Mariela Castro said in the opening of her speech as a keynote speaker at the recent Pride London parade, an annual event that promotes LGBT rights.
Many find it hard to believe that Cuba would legalize gay marriage, but Mariela Castro has a record of accomplishing her goals. In 2005, she campaigned heavily for the legalization of sex reassignment surgery.
That law was passed subsequently in 2008 and Cubans have been granted free sex reassignment procedures as part of their universal health care system ever since.
Victor Espinosa, a 17-year-old Westland Hialeah High School senior, was also astonished to hear of the situation in Cuba. He is a member of his school’s gay-straight alliance. If gay marriage were to be legalized in Cuba, Espinosa said he would be inspired to fight harder for the cause here in America.
“I can’t imagine gays in Cuba having more rights than here in America,” Espinosa said. “Nobody should ever be judged for their sexuality. We need personal freedom.”
Miami-Dade College student Angel Dominguez, 19, is one of 750,000 members of the Human Rights Campaign, a global organization funded solely by charity and donations working toward establishing safety and equality at home, work and in the community.
Angel Dominguez, who donates monthly to the HRC and is anxious to recruit new members, faced a lot of resistance when he told his parents he was gay more than a year ago.
“My parents are divorced,” Angel Dominguez said. “I wrote it in a letter to my dad and then stayed at my mom’s house.
He called me and just asked, ‘Is this true?’ ”
He then recounted the bitter memory of his father later accosting him about his sexuality and questioning him based on what Angel Dominguez called absurd stereotypes that were so outrageous he couldn’t help but laugh.
He conceded that even though his father continues to make borderline offensive comments at times, he is a great father and very loving.
He said his mother reacted more positively.
“She just said, ‘Oh, Angel, just don’t be a drag queen,’ ” he said with a chuckle.
He said that the disparity between their reactions stems from the Cuban principle of the “macho” male figure.
Even so, he feels lucky to be growing up as a Cuban-American rather than a young gay teenager in a country, other than Cuba, where the penalties for being gay are harsher, maybe even lethal.
Regardless of the reason, Cuba is moving toward a more LGBT-friendly society, an irony not lost on Giselle Dominguez.
“America is supposed to represent freedom,” she muttered.