13 September 2010

Cuba's New Direction

Last week the world's Jewish community observed Rosh Hashana, the beginning of a new year, and with it, a call to repentance. Imagine the world's surprise when one of the biggest stories of redemption these last few weeks, is Fidel Castro’s dramatic apology for his administration’s notorious persecution of the LGBTQ community in his country. As the saying goes, “politics makes strange bedfellows.”

My firsthand experience of this new direction in Cuba came in May when my partner and our four-year old daughter helped kick off the country’s national campaign against homophobia. We were invited to speak on a panel in Havana about our experiences as gay dads. We were enthusiastically and very warmly welcomed and at the end of the presentation we stepped out into the streets where a couple thousand LGBTQ people and their friends marched proudly up the avenue to a celebratory rally. The atmosphere was electric – the excitement and thrill of hope as a people, long oppressed, came out boldly into the light of day, united and determined. In the United States, we have a lot of victories still to claim, but the progress made by the community has been great. In fact, at the NYC Pride events one can almost feel casual and blasé about a gathering in the streets.

In Cuba, the taste of freedom is fresh and the sting of real hardship still very present. The government has started to come around, but in the daily life of family, friends and co-workers long-held prejudices are melting more slowly. Unfortunately, the church, in all its denominational diversity, is the most visible foe of freedom. There are clergy who are actively and lovingly pastoring to the LGBTQ community, and who support the government’s new openness. Though, in a small handful of conversations with folks, they admitted to me that clergy who are supportive of full inclusion, remain silent for fear of be ostracized by the religious community.

One young man unafraid to speak up is Jarley García Nasco, who was rejected by his church because he is openly gay. They extended their inhospitality to include his family as well. But, Jarley is undeterred. Through the support of a Canadian church and with help from the First Presbyterian Church of Brooklyn, he has begun his second year of seminary. Jarley’s witness has already had a significant impact. He was elected president of the student body and has himself been surprised by the deep embrace of some of his heterosexual peers.

Liberation for Cuba’s LGBQT people is an interesting mix of newly found state-support, lingering personal apprehensions, and forceful religious condemnation. The community has been championed by Mariela Castro Espín, President of the Cuban Multidisciplinary Center for the Study of Sexuality (founded by her mother), and daughter of Cuban President Raul Castro. This heterosexual married mom of two is incredibly warm, passionate, and committed to LGBTQ freedom.

On Thursday, I stood on the edge of the East River and together with my family threw bread into the water in a Jewish tradition symbolizing the casting out of our sins. Cuba seems to be casting out its sins this week, too. The question we all must ask ourselves now is: how do we move decisively forward to make right those we have harmed?

Paul Mowry
Certified Candidate, Union Theological Seminary Alum

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