The death of Fidel Castro offers an excellent opportunity to think about some fundamental concepts of queer revolution and solidarity. Castro is a complex figure, and I have no interest in overlooking his shortcomings or the real harms for which he should be held accountable. But let us remember that, until very recently, every US president had no trouble being outspokenly homophobic. There’s a great video that is freely available on the internet called “When AIDS Was Funny.” Do a quick search. It’s basically a mashup of White House press briefings in which Reagan’s staff is on tape laughing at gay people dying. So spare any ahistorical homonormative narratives about how progressive the US and Canada are because now there is gay marriage, when there are still queer and trans people murdered on a daily basis, and still nobody cares, even lots of gay people, because the ones who are dying are mostly poor and mostly people of color.
I believe America needs to compartmentalize their critiques of Castro’s homophobia given the success of his universal literacy and health care campaigns. He also virtually eliminated homelessness, or at least made considerable strides where we, America, have made virtually none. “But he hated queers!” you still think? What do you think helps most queer people more: the “freedom to marry” and a president/prime minster who smiles and waves while walking down the street in a gay pride parade, or access to one of the best, and free, educational and medical systems in the world (especially when you look at per capita cost), not to mention a place to live, because no one “owns” property, and therefore there is no landlord raising your rent 5, 10, 20% every year. No it should not be a choice and while Castro hardly created a perfect society, these things went a long way towards creating a state that was invested in creating conditions for the masses, especially the people of color most affected by institutional racism, to do more than just survive, but also live and thrive.
Filmmaker and queer / trans rights activist, Kami Chisholm, shared:
“I am constantly decrying LGBT people’s narrow investments in SINGLE ISSUE POLITICS. We are setting the standards damn low if all it takes to be non-homophobic is to say some nice things. I don’t give a shit about what politicians say. I care about what they do, especially for the people who aren’t their target demographic and aren’t their campaign donors. And if they are leaving masses of people who are poor to die, but support gay marriage, in my book they are not “gay friendly” and they don’t deserve any fucking praise and endorsement.
I don’t give a shit if, in San Francisco, where I lived at the time, I could go to a gay pride parade attended by more than 1 million and party openly in gay clubs, while when I visited Cuba that same year I could only find other queers by word of mouth about which bar or beach people were congregating at. I don’t care that the one queer dance party I went to while I was there was shut down/raided by the police (also, they just shut of the music etc, they didn’t beat or arrest anyone). Yeah, folks had to live underground to some extent, and that caused problems, it was hard, and I am not trying to minimize its effects. What I am trying to offer here is context, and the following observation, which probably would be a shocking idea to many gay people in the US and Canada:
I would rather live some place where I didn’t have gay pride or clubs and had to be somewhat underground if it meant that EVERYONE, and I mean ALL OF US, had health care, a place to live, and education. You heard me. I would then fight like mad to combat homophobia and transphobia, but I would be doing it from a place in which we all had the basics to live.
So no, I don’t want to hear about Castro’s homophobia, and – until everyone in the US and Canada has a place to live, access to health care, and free education – I’m really not interested in hearing any such criticisms or nationalistic bullshit about how great it is to be gay here as opposed to ‘over there.’
My point is not that Castro should be exempt from criticism, but exactly what has he done that the US hasn’t also done a million times over and far worse? No, that doesn’t make it ok, but you have heard the expression about throwing stones in glass houses, right? And such criticisms, without taking into account the very many truly unique and revolutionary things about Cuba, its history, and its practices, is nothing more than western exceptionalism, nationalism, and imperialism. And no, I’m not happy about how far “we” have come that gays here get to mouth all the same exceptionalist, nationalist, and imperialist bullshit in the name of gay rights and anti-homophobia. I hate to break it to you – well, no, I don’t… I hate that I have to – but that is not progress, nor is it something to have “pride” in.
RIP Fidel. I wish for a world in which more people have a vision like yours. May they learn from your successes, and also from your mistakes and failures.”