Alberto Roque is an Internal Medicine specialist, professor and adjunct researcher at the Medical University of Havana. He has been working on transgender health issues for more than 10 years, actively contributing to the depathologization of transgender people’s health care.
In 2010, Roque, along with others, founded the “Hombres por la Diversidad,” an advocacy and reflection group for the right of free sexual identity. He is also an activist and founding member of Cuba’s Anti-Homophobia Movement.
Roque is a member of Cuba’s Multidisciplinary Association for Sexuality Studies, the Cuban Society of Internal Medicine, the Latin American Studies Association and The World Professional Association for Transgender Health. He is a human rights educator for the International Centre for Human Rights Education “Equitas,” Montreal, Canada.
His scholarly and advocacy work on gender and sexuality has been presented in Italy, Canada, Peru, Ecuador, Mexico, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Sweden, Great Britain, Germany, Serbia, France, the United States, Guatemala, Brazil and Denmark.
Roque is also a blogger at HOMOsapiens@CU (http://aroqueg.blogspot.com).
Last week the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA-LAC) held its sixth regional conference in Havana, Cuba. Since the last conference in 2008, would you say that there has been more acceptance of LGBT rights on behalf of Raul Castro’s government?
Definitely. But, the process of change in regards to LGBT rights started long before when homosexuality was completely decriminalized in 1997. Since 2000, many government institutions related to the National Health System (National Center for Sex Education and National Center for the prevention of STD-HIV-AIDS) began to implement initiatives to serve non-heterosexuals.
In 2008, the number of spaces forging participation and debate about the effects of homophobia grew stronger. This allowed the issue to be posed in public space and dialogue.
Resolution 126 of the Ministry of Health on Health Care for Transgender People was also adopted. In 2012, sexual orientation was included in the Communist Party of Cuba’s “Labor Objectives” policy. Most recently, sexual orientation was implemented into the government’s “Labor Code,” which now considers gender, and sexual orientation to be causes of discrimination.
What is the Ministry of Public Health’s policy on funding gender reassignment operations?
The Ministry of Public Health guarantees free and universal gender transition treatments. The Ministry of Health covers all of the costs. Contrary to what is said, the costs are low in comparison to treatments related to health ailments.
Can you speak to achievements in the medical field related to the abandonment of that idea that LGBT be considered a “condition” or something “pathological”?
Male or female homosexuality is not considered pathological, although some professionals continue to use the term “condition” and some mental health experts continue to prescribe behavioral treatments for children and adolescents with different variants of the male-female gender binary.
Trans identities (transsexuality, transgender) remain pathologized even though the Cuban Multidisciplinary Society for Study of Sexuality declared that trans identities are not mental disorders in 2010.
Are there public spaces where gay and transgender Cubans can express and socialize openly without fear of retaliation?
There are numerous social spaces for gay and trans in Havana that have become public, and no longer clandestine in the last five years. In the provinces gay and trans people socialize in the same spaces as heterosexual people—in parks or in other public spaces. Today, it is rare to prevent two people of the same gender from staying in the same hotel room.
Which role are international agencies playing in activist work for LGBT rights in Cuba? To what is extent is their work considered to be interference?
United Nations agencies have done an excellent job in Cuba in relation to gender issues—especially in HIV and violence prevention. Their work intersects with the rights and work of LGBT people. I perceive their work to be respectful of our idiosyncrasies and our ways.
Regarding the second question, limits are always established around Eurocentric imposition and interference, for example: the imposition of neoliberal agendas contrary to our principles of sovereignty and national identity. Nonetheless, the risk is always present, and there should be caution of what is known in political science as the “NGO-ization of politics.”
Do you think LGBT rights are a necessary component of the socialist transition that Cuba is currently undergoing?
An emancipated socialist nation is impossible without the inclusion of the recognition of LGBT people. The socialist transition in Cuba should evolve towards structural and cultural changes from a Republican and Democratic Socialism platform that recognizes and respects sexual and gender equality, alongside race and other causes of discrimination.
Old machista and patriarchal dogmas that permeate our social and political imagery should be banished in the national project that we are building. In light of scientific knowledge, praxis in the construction of our socialism and leftist anti-dogmatic and anti-Stalinist suggests that it is counter revolutionary to be homophobic, lesbophobic, misogynistic, transphobic racist or fascist.
The Turquino Project, the Rainbow World Fund, Modern Times Bookstore, the Bay Area Latin American Solidarity Coalition, ANSWER, and the Center for Political Education invite you to meet Alberto Roque.
Wednesday, May 28
Recepción, 5–7 pm
Modern Times Bookstore
2919 24th St. San Francisco
Presentación y plática, 7:30 p.m.
2969 Mission St.
Thursday, May 29
Presentación y plática, 7 p.m.
LGBT Community Center
1800 Market St.
—Translation Gabriela Sierra Alonso