Homosexuality is not illegal in Cuba, but in general, Cuba has a poor record on gay and lesbian rights, and while the situation has improved somewhat, there are still high levels of homophobia and broad societal rejection of gays and lesbians. For decades following the Revolution, gays and lesbians were closeted and persecuted. (Read Reinaldo Arenas' horrifying account in Before Night Falls.) The harsh measures they faced included forced labor and prison. The blockbuster movie Fresa y Chocolate (Strawberry and Chocolate) certainly brought the issue to the forefront, yet little has changed in the prevailing views of this macho society. However, Fidel Castro has now taken responsibility for the way homosexuals were treated in the 1960s and 1970s. There is only one openly accepted gay and lesbian establishment in Cuba (in Santa Clara), and few of the established gay and lesbian tour operators run trips to the island. However, Out Adventures (www.out-adventures.com), based in Canada and working with Intrepid travel, offers a "Comfort Cuba" tour.
Santa Clara is perhaps the most openly gay city in Cuba and there is an annual gay and transvestite carnival in the middle of May. In Havana, a transvestite entertains weekly at Cafe TV. Raúl Castro's daughter, Mariela Castro, heads the National Center for Sex Education and champions homosexual, bisexual, and transgender rights. In May 2008, the state-television network transmitted Brokeback Mountain on TV, the first time a gay film had been broadcast in Cuba. Cuba also held an anti-homophobia day for the fourth time in May 2010, promoted by Mariela Castro. The legalization of same-sex marriage has also been talked about, but so far no progress has been made. In addition, sex change operations were legalized in 2008, and in 2010, Cuba's first transsexual appeared in a documentary on the island publicly detailing her transition for the first time.
While travelers are generally not hassled in Cuba and given some leeway in terms of social mores, same-sex signs of physical affection are rare and frowned upon across the country. Gay and lesbian couples and singles should take the prevailing social climate into account when traveling in Cuba.
The documentary film, Gay Cuba, by Sonja de Vries (Frameline Films; www.frameline.org), is an honest look at the treatment of gays and lesbians in modern Cuba.
The International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA) (tel. 954/630-1637; www.iglta.org) is the trade association for the gay and lesbian travel industry, and offers an online directory of gay- and lesbian-friendly travel businesses.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.