Cuba’s LGBTQ community were expecting to participate in the country’s 12th annual march against homophobia – their Pride celebrations. The march had been scheduled to be held on Saturday 11 May, but – at the last minute – authorities advised that the event had been cancelled.

Angered by the last minute cancellation, LGBTQ activists used social media to organise an unofficial march. More than 100 people took part. This led to clashes with police, with a number of activists being detained. The BBC reports that marching in Cuba without permission can be met with a strong police response, so it’s unclear as to whether the police response would have been the same if the marchers hadn’t represented the LGBTQ community.

What’s the history of LGBTQ equality in Cuba?

Prior to the 1950s, Cuba was a socially conservative society. Things took a turn for the worse for the LGBTQ community following the Cuban revolution, with anyone who was perceived as ‘different’ viewed as a potential threat to national security. From the early 1960’s LGBTQ people were systematically targeted and imprisoned in labour camps. This persecution continued into the 1970s.

Progress made

Same-sex relationships were decriminalised in 1979, but it wasn’t until the late 1980s that social attitudes began to change and there was less discrimination against the LGBTQ community.

Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is now illegal in Cuba, following legislation that was passed in 2018. These anti-discrimination protections were subsequently enshrined in the constitution of Cuba.

The same-sex marriage challenge

One of the contentious issues for Cuba’s LGBTQ community is marriage equality.

A major public campaign by LGBTQ groups began in late-2017 to amend the constitution of Cuba to allow same-sex marriage. In July 2018, the country’s National Assembly approved a new draft constitution which recognised same-sex marriage. The draft was subject to being approved by a public referendum.

However, in December 2018, it was announced that the National Assembly had removed the language regarding same-sex marriage from the proposed draft.

This has left LGBTQ activists feeling frustrated and unsupported.

Mariela Castro

One of the key voices in Cuba’s dialogue regarding LGBTQ equality is Mariela Castro. Castro – the daughter of Raúl Castro and niece of Fidel Castro – is the director of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education.

Castro has been seen as one of the leading voices advocating for equality for the LGBTQ community, but recently her role seems increasingly unclear.

It’s believed that it was Mariela Castro who cancelled the Pride march scheduled for 11 May, citing – “new tensions in the international and regional context“.

In response to the unauthorised march held by LGBTQ activists, Mariela Castro released a video criticising the activists and suggested that US imperialism had been behind the unauthorised march.

Luis Rondon Paz, writing in the Havana Times, criticises Mariela Castro for being complicit with the Cuban government, for promoting an image of Cuba as an LGBTQ tourism destination, for exploiting Cuba’s LGBTQ community.

What next for Cuba’s LGBTQ community?

It’s really not clear where Cuba’s LGBTQ community goes from here. While progress has been made in terms of anti-discrimination protections, the question of marriage equality remains unresolved. It’s likely that we’ll see more unauthorised marches, but social media activism may be a more powerful tool to bring people together and galvanise public opinion.