Local LGBT educator and author Robyn Ochs traveled to Cuba in May as part of that country’s Jornada Contra la Homofobia event, part of the worldwide International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO).
Ochs and spouse Peg Preble, a well-known Jamaica Plain electrician, were part of a 20-strong delegation that received rare travel visas to Cuba. The 12-day educational trip was sponsored in the U.S. by Simmons College and Vassar College, and in Cuba by CENESEX (Cuban National Center for Sex Education), the University of Havana and the National Library.
“The entire trip left my head spinning and I am still trying to make meaning of it,” Ochs told the Gazette last month. “There has obviously been a great deal of movement toward LGBT acceptance [in Cuba] in a relatively short period of time and for this change to take root, some people need to step up and be role models. It is difficult to be one of the first, and yet we met numerous people who have chosen to live open lives.”
Cuba’s attitudes to LGBT people have been shifting radically in the last two decades. In the early years of Fidel Castro’s dictatorship in the 1960s, gays and lesbians were openly targeted for brutal incarceration or worse, as enemies of the state. Two months ago, Ochs participated in several LGBT-centered parades, lectures and other cultural events.
“I was amazed by the courage of the LGBT people I met, especially the trans activists, of whom there are many,” she said.
“There is a burgeoning LGBT movement in Cuba, with the strong support of CENESEX, which is headed by Mariela Castro Espín,” daughter of current president and Fidel’s brother, Raul Castro, Ochs said.
“We had the pleasure of meeting a wide variety of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activists in Havana, Santa Clara, Bayamo and Santiago,” Ochs said. Santa Clara was celebrating their sixth-ever Jornada Contra la Homofobia, she said, and it was Bayamo’s first.
Ochs also said that it’s much harder for LGBT people to organize in Cuba, making their achievements all the more noteworthy.
“Cuba does not have a lot of material resources—the embargo has taken a terrible toll—and so most folks there don’t have Internet access or computers or smartphones or photocopiers,” she said in an email. “This makes their work all the more challenging and I admire their creativity and determination.”
“It was a moving experience to spend time with LGBT people in Cuba and to witness this moment in history,” she said.
Ochs said that she plans to publish an interview with a bi-identified woman who lives in Santiago, Cuba in the fall 2014 issue of the Bi Women Quarterly.
The delegation consisted of a wide variety of people, including graduate students in social work, undergraduates, a sociology professor, LGBT rights activists, a chef, an American Baptist minister, a film maker, two real estate agents and a few others.
Ochs’s interview is expected to be published at biwomenboston.org.