When you read this column, I should be in Havana, Cuba, writing about the changes in how Cuba deals with its LGBT community. I do so based on a similar report I did for LGBT media exactly 20 years ago, in 1997. And maybe the way I’m getting to Cuba this week may be a harbinger of what to expect.
Twenty years ago when deciding to do a feature on Cuban LGBT life, what I heard about Cuba was not exactly liberating. I heard there were HIV/AIDS camps, LGBT gatherings of any sort were raided, it was common for LGBT people to be discriminated against and hate crimes were tolerated. Some stories in Western media used words to describe Cuba for LGBT people as “horrendous.”
So when we decided to test the waters, so to speak, neither the Cuban nor U.S. governments would give me official permission to do that story. I literally had to sneak into Cuba under false premises, and indeed I did discover a world that at least for LGBT people resembled the U.S. in 1950. On two occasions, I had to escape police raids of LGBT gatherings.
But things have changed. Before his death, Fidel Castro publicly apologized for his actions, and today there is an organization for LGBT rights directed by his niece, Mariela Castro, the daughter of the current president of Cuba.
The change most clearly on display is how I am getting to Cuba: with a Cuban visa, as an LGBT journalist, who — I am told — will receive full Cuban press credentials when I arrive. And I’ll also be witness to Castro’s organization giving an award to U.S. LGBT pioneer the Rev. Troy Perry of Metropolitan Community Church.
This is a story that I believe will have a happy ending.