HAVANA – As tourism flourishes in Cuba the island is emerging as a destination for the LGBT community and a travel agency specializing in packages for those customers is already in operation.
Pioneering the business are the owners of Mi Cayito Cuba, a Web-based intermediary between “gay-friendly Cuban private initiative and clients around the world,” company director Alain Castillo, a Cuban who lives in Madrid, told EFE.
“The island has great potential as a space for coexistence,” said the 35-year-old entrepreneur who wants to contribute to “the visibility and improvement of the LGBT collective” in the country.
“We are open to everyone, we believe in a free and tolerant environment where respect is valued,” he said.
Located east of Havana, Mi Cayito is probably the only gay beach in the Cuba and for that reason Castillo thought it was an appropriate name for his company, founded a year ago.
“It is vacation time,” the promotion posted on social media say. “It is Cuba time. The new gay paradise.”
Most popular destinations so far for Mi Cayito Cuba’s clients are Havana, the verdant heaven of Viñales in the western province of Pinar del Rio, and Varadero beach, Castillo said.
Mi Cayito Cuba’s Web site is available only in Spanish, but Castillo said it has been visited by clients in Germany, the United States, Russia, Spain and Latin America who have the choice of tours like “Havana Gay” or a service of personalized guides.
More than 2 million foreign tourists have come to Cuba so far this year.
“Changes in Cuba have become an incentive and have increased demand,” Castillo said, adding that his company expects a flood of U.S. visitors as a result of the thawing of relations between Washington and Havana and the restoration of diplomatic relations after a break of more than 50 years.
Cuba has not always been so welcoming to LGBT people. In the decades following the 1959 revolution led by Fidel Castro, the Cuban government derided, persecuted and jailed gays and lesbians.
In a 2010 interview with the Mexican newspaper La Jornada, Castro acknowledged that he bore ultimate responsibility for the persecution and expressed regret about the policy.
Homosexuality was decriminalized in Cuba in the 1990s and the island’s free public health service began offering sex-reassignment operations in 2008.
Educational campaigns on LGBT issues are currently implemented by the National Center for Sex Education, headed by Mariela Castro, President Raúl Castro’s daughter.
In his autobiography My Life, Fidel Castro criticized the machismo culture of Cuba and urged for the acceptance of homosexuality. He made several speeches to the public regarding discrimination against homosexuals.
In a 2010 interview with Mexican newspaper La Jornada, Castro called the persecution of homosexuals while he was in power “a great injustice, great injustice!” Taking responsibility for the persecution, he said, “If anyone is responsible, it’s me…. We had so many and such terrible problems, problems of life or death. In those moments, I was not able to deal with that matter [of homosexuals]. I found myself immersed, principally, in the Crisis of October, in the war, in policy questions.” Castro personally said that the negative treatment of gays in Cuba arose out of the country’s pre-revolutionary attitudes toward homosexuality.
Private, non-commercial sexual relations between same-sex consenting adults 16 and over have been legal in Cuba since 1979.
Employment discrimination on account of sexual orientation is prohibited by law. The equal opportunity law does not cover gender identity, and LGBT discrimination in other sectors of society – such as education, housing and public accommodations – is not addressed in the non-discrimination laws.
Since 2008, the National Center of Sex Education has sponsored some LGBT festivals and pride events.
In 2013, a week of drag shows, colourful marches, and social and cultural events in Havana culminated with celebrations of the International Day Against Homophobia.
In 2015, the project “Nosotros también amamos” which demands the legalisation of same sex couples, was funded by the human rights organisations “Corriente Martiana”, “Fundación Cubana por los Derechos de la comunidad de Lesbianas, Gay, Bisexuales, Trans e Intersex (LGBTI)” and the gay project “SHUI TUIX”.