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For years, if not for decades, Cuba has been at the centre of controversial disputes among the LGBT and the progressive community for its treatment and attitude towards homosexuality. Around the world, and especially in North America, the right of homosexuals has been an issue that has caused much discussion, both in support of and against these important rights.

Vancouver Communities in Solidarity with Cuba (VCSC) celebrated the International Day Against Homophobia with a forum and film night to discuss Cuba’s struggle against homophobia at the Gordon Neighbourhood House on May 22nd 2009. This forum and cultural night was the first in Vancouver to discuss the struggle for LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender) rights in Cuba and brought out over 65 people from the LGBT community and its allies to participate.

The event kicked off with a series of short films produced by the National Centre for Sex Education (CENESEX) in Cuba about their growing campaign, “Diversity is Natural”, to fight against homophobia in Cuba. In these films participants were given first hand insight into the campaigns of CENESEX. From sex education received by children, to campaigns against the spread of HIV/AIDS, to interviews with Mariela Castro Espin, the director of CENESEX, who is also a lesbian and the daughter of 2 leaders of the Cuban Revolution, Raul Castro and the late Vilma Espin.

These short films were followed by a report back from two organizers with VCSC who recently returned from Cuba and participated in a fantastic musical performance in Havana for the International Day Against Homophobia. Tamara Hansen and Aaron Mercredi also described other dynamic events that took place that day, including an expo at the Cuban Pavilion, a pride parade/conga around the Pavilion, and two cultural and drag shows that went into the early morning hours.

Participants of the forum in Vancouver discussed and asked questions about many things including how Cuba treated homosexuality in the past; why Cuba now officially celebrates the International Day Against Homophobia; the importance of CENESEX in the struggle to end Homophobia; and perhaps most importantly, the fact that the LGBT community in Cuba has the support of the Cuban government to advance their rights and end homophobia in Cuban society.

To close the night there was a showing of “Strawberry and Chocolate”, a Cuban feature length film, that was financed and produced by institutions of the Cuban state, about the relationship between Diego a gay artist and David a member of the Cuba’s Union of Young Communists (UJC). This movie was shown across Cuba, and won many awards, including a nomination for an academy award in 1995. Strawberry & Chocolate opened an important dialogue across Cuba about the importance of the Cuban revolution not excluding anyone. This important conclusion is what drives the campaign against homophobia and for LGBT rights in Cuba today.

The event wrapped up after the film and many people gathered around outside the neighbourhood house to discuss the film. With an increasing number of homophobic attacks in Vancouver this year, Vancouver Communities in Solidarity with Cuba committed itself to continue investigating Cuba’s example of struggle against homophobia and bringing it to audiences in Vancouver. As well as contributing to build the discussion of how we can defeat homophobia here in our city and across Canada.

Report Back From Cuba

VCSC Monthly Cuba Cultural & Film Nights!

This special evening featured reports form participants in Cuba's International Day Against Homophobia and a special screening of the Cuban Film - Strawberries and Chocolate.

Click on photos to enlarge