LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - According to Odaymara Cuesta from the lesbian Cuban hip-hop band Krudas Cubensi, there’s a gay person in every family in Cuba.
But a lot needs to change in Cuba before its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) citizens are able to expose their true identity without fear of discrimination in an island nation once notoriously hostile toward them, she said.
“Cuba is a very misogynistic country and it’s hard to be a lesbian or queer person here,” Cuesta told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Havana.
“Even though the new generation is more open and tolerant, we need to be better educated about same-sex relationships and LGBT rights.”
In the early years after 1959 revolution, homosexuality was seen as counter-revolutionary and Cuba’s socialist rulers sent gay people to correctional labor camps.
But gay rights in Cuba have taken great strides in recent years. In 2010, former president Fidel Castro said he regretted the discrimination faced by gay Cubans after his revolution, saying it was a “great injustice”.
His niece Mariela Castro, daughter of current President Raul Castro, has been at the forefront of promoting gay rights, and last year led activists in a mass symbolic wedding to promote acceptance of gay and transgender Cubans.
In 2014 the National Assembly approved a labor law that banned discrimination based on sexual orientation, and free gender reassignment surgery has been available since 2008.
For Cuesta and Olivia Prendes of Krudas Cubensi, music is another way of promoting gay rights.
“Music is a very important tool in educating our people and letting them know who we are and what we do,” Prendes said. “Through music we fight for our rights.”
Prendes said that when the band released their first album in 2003 the hip-hop community in Cuba was shocked because it was the first time anyone talked about lesbians or feminism.
“The hip-hop community is mainly straight and focused on social issues,” she said. “Straight people in Cuba don’t understand that people like us exist.”
Prendes admitted that for her and Cuesta, who now divide their time between Cuba and the United States, their fame has made it easier to be gay.
“More people know us and admire us and are curious about who we are,” she said.
But in small towns and the countryside, Cubans identifying as gay are not open about their sexuality, said Prendes.
“It is not easy to be openly queer and many people are living in the closet,” she said. “The reality has deprived our people from pride and sexual liberation. Hate speech is everywhere.”
Prendes said she was hoping that more music-loving Cubans would change their attitudes towards LGBT people by listening to their music.
“We’re still fighting for our rights, we’re still fighting for equal marriage, equal rights for LGBT people,” she said.
Elsewhere in Latin America, Argentina and Uruguay have legalized same-sex marriage, as has Mexico City, but in Cuba marriage remains a distant goal.