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In Socialist Cuba, Freedoms We Can Only Dream Of

Oct 14, 2022

It has been three months since the U.S. Supreme Court published its decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, overturning a woman’s constitutional right to abortion. That right had been recognized for almost fifty years, but its dissolution was followed immediately by numerous legal and political attacks on the rights of women, same-sex marriage, and protections for transgender youth. Critics have observed that although these attacks come from right-wing Republicans, the Democratic Party’s response has been to use them for fundraising and as a carrot and stick: vote for us in the upcoming midterm elections, or you may lose even more rights.

There is a stark contrast between public discussions about sexuality, family, and human rights here and on the island of Cuba. Here, the question is whether the government can subject half of the population to invasions of medical privacy, restrict their right to travel, spy on their sex lives, and criminalize everything from having an abortion to having a miscarriage. It is accompanied by assaults on the rights of transgender youth in schools and in athletics. Lurking in the background is whether the government will allow states to ban same-sex marriage and criminalize homosexuality.

While Connecticut has been spared the worst of these reactionary attacks, we are not immune. In 2021, the misnamed Alliance Defending Freedom lost its lawsuit against the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC), seeking to overturn the Conference’s policies supporting transgender student-athletes. However, the group’s appeal is currently pending before the Second Circuit in New York. Trump-endorsed Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, Leora Levy, recently used Twitter to air her transphobic grievance against teachers who ask students what pronouns they wish to use and what they want to be called. And a parents’ group in Stamford lobbied their Board of Education to ban a book for young people about being transgender.

The American government and corporate-owned media describe Cuba as a rigid and authoritarian society, but a new Family Code proposed by that government, adopted by popular vote, and incorporated into the Cuban Constitution protects human rights.

Critics of Cuba – and of socialism generally – point out that in the early days of the Cuban Revolution in the 1960s, the government was oppressive towards gay men. Cuban leaders, including Fidel Castro, admitted to making mistakes in that period, including tolerating machismo, a powerful force in pre-revolutionary Cuban society that led to policies that oppressed gay men and maintained sexist attitudes toward women. Sometimes forgotten in the discussion of that period is that similar oppression occurred in the US, including police raids on gay bars, sending lesbians and gay men to psychiatric hospitals, and purging them from the US military or from US civil service.

In the 1980s, during the AIDS/HIV crisis, Cuba was criticized for policies seen as isolating people diagnosed with HIV. These policies were hotly debated among LGBTQ activists here and in Cuba. On the one hand, stigma toward Cubans with HIV was a serious problem; some argued that the use of separate facilities providing care to people with HIV was motivated by homophobia. On the other hand, Cuban HIV patients were guaranteed quality health care and housing, while in the US, decent treatment of people with HIV was mostly limited to wealthy white men.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, a US Supreme Court Justice from 1902 to 1932, is credited with saying, “The great thing in this world is not so much where you stand, as in what direction you are moving.” By that standard, while some consider Cuba to be “backwards” compared to the US on machismo, gender roles in the family and in society, and the rights of LGBTQ people, it is worth asking which society was – and is – moving in the right direction.

On July 1, 2022, spurred by the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, ten anti-LGBTQ bills focused on sports and education restrictions went into effect across six states — Alabama, Florida, Indiana, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Utah. In Texas, civil rights groups went to court to stop the state child protection agency from investigating parents who allow their children to identify as transgender or non-binary, claiming that doing so is “child abuse.”

By contrast, in September 2022, 6.2 million Cubans voted on and endorsed by a two-thirds popular vote a Family Code that defines marriage as “the consensual union of two people” (legally recognizing same-sex marriage) and removes obstacles preventing same-sex couples from adopting children. It also provides greater protection for children and adolescents and strict equality of rights between men and women (abortion in Cuba has been legal since 1965). Following the vote, the new Family Code has been incorporated into the Cuban Constitution.

If socialist Cuba is authoritarian, why did its government sponsor a Constitutional reform guaranteeing the rights of women, LGBTQ people, and minors? If the United States is the epicenter of the “free world,” why did the Supreme Court take the right to control their own bodies from half of the population? And if Cuba is facing forward and the US is facing backward, where will each nation be ten years from now? Maybe a good place to start, if we want to change directions, is to do away with American exceptionalism, study the family reforms being made in Cuba, and adopt them here.