En nuestra piel Cuir:
Cuba y Puerto Rico
This exhibition showcases a selection of photographs from an exhibition hosted by the United Nations Cultural Fund, Centro Nacional Cubano para la Educacion Sexual (CENESEX) and the Embassy of Spain in Cuba, and taken by famed photographer Byron Motley
The history of the global LGBT+ community has been one of highs and lows. Even today in many countries, including the US, LGBT+ people experience homophobia and/or transphobia, hate crimes, and homicides for being an LGBT+ individual. In recent years in Puerto Rico, hate crimes against LGBT+ individuals have been at an all time high with more than 18 homicides reported. In Cuba and Puerto Rico, many out of the closet LGBT+ are seen as unproductive, unreliable, and even “devilish,” members of society for exhibiting behaviors outside of Latino cultural and religious norms. Currently in Cuba and Puerto Rico, civil code and constitution amendments to exclude LGBT+ people have been at the forefront of conservatist and religious groups’ agenda.
Before and during the Cuban revolution led by Fidel Castro in 1959, homosexuals and transgender individuals were persecuted as deviants. Engaging in homosexual behavior was illegal and punishable through the penal Cuban code. Many homosexuals were incarcerated and even killed during the first years of the revolution (1959–1961), due to their perceived lack of support for the revolution. At the time, all citizens were required to be productively contributing to the revolution. LGBT+ individuals suffered under Castro’s regime for many decades surviving UMAP’s (The Military Units to Aid Production were reeducation prisoner camps run by Castro from 1964-1969), Sanatoriums (for those suspected or living with HIV/AIDS), and community watch groups. For the last twenty years, the LGBT+ community has been able to live their lives; the CENESEX (Cuban National Center for Sexual Education) provides legal and public health support; since 1987, transgender individuals can have sex-reaffirming surgeries at no cost; in 1997 laws were instituted to protect LGBT+ persons ; and a National Campaign against homo-transphobia was instituted and occurs each May since 2008. Today, LGBT+ have rights and are protected under the law even though there is still just one governing political party in Cuba. We will need to see how things change when the new family code (that includes same-sex marriage and adoption rights) is voted upon, but for now Cubans can live in their LGBT+ skin.
In Puerto Rico, the oldest colony in the world ruled and governed by the United States, the LGBT+ community has made many strides but is still fighting for equality and respect under the law and within society. Latino cultural norms and religious groups govern a diverse society trying to live with their intersectionalities openly as LGBT+ individuals. Although same-sex marriage has been legal since 2015, Puerto Rican LGBT+ face hate crimes and ongoing discrimination daily. Two Pride celebrations occur each year in San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico, and in the GLBT+ friendly beach town of Cabo Rojo (in the southwest region). In 2021, the first monument celebrating diversity was inaugurated in the town of Cabo Rojo’s Boqueron area. In 2020, the first openly afro-boricua lesbian was elected as a senator (Senator Ana Irma Rivera Lassen); and the first ‘out’ mayor of a municipality was elected in Isabela, PR, Honorable Ricky Mendez. The LGBT+ Bill of Rights was written and had its public hearings in 2021 but now awaits discussion and a vote in the Puerto Rican Senate.
Many people consider the two countries, “two wings of the same bird”, (a phrase made popular in a poem written by Julia de Burgos) but they are very different. This exhibition showcases a selection of photographs from an exhibition sponsored by the United Nations and CENESEX, also the exhibition title, and are taken by famed photographer Byron Motley over the span of more than ten years of the National Campaign against homophobia. In the Puerto Rico room, you will see the artistry of Seil Roman as he takes ownership of “straight” cultural images and turns them into diverse queer positive images portraying the hatred towards the LGBT+ community.
The artists from both countries showcase the diversity of the LGBT+ community; Pride shouldn’t be a privilege, Equity and Equality shouldn’t be for some, Respect All, Love is Love no matter where you live and who you are!
Depicted in this picture is a group of three transgender men. The man in the middle, Juani Santos, is the first transgender man operated on in Cuba.
Ya Estamos Aqui
Since 2008, the Cuban Campaign against LGBT-phobia – Jornada Cubana en Contra de la Homofobia y Transfobia - has been held not only in Havana, but also in many provinces, including Santiago de Cuba, Santa Clara, Cienfuegos, Bayamo, and Ciego de Ávila, to name a few. The month-long schedule of activities includes lectures, galas (with shows held in the largest and most prestigious stages in the Country), conga (a march around the street with music, antique cars, and floats), festivals, rapid HIV testing clinics, sports competitions, art exhibits, and educational gatherings.
Bailo con Convertibles
Balet en Negro y Blanco I
Balet en Negro y Blanco II
Malu Cano, the coordinator of the TransCuba network; this network celebrates more than 20 years of existence bringing together the diverse trans community in Cuba. It provides legal and health support as well as opportunities for professional and personal growth.
Conga en Santa Clara
Conga en La Habana
Red Trans Cuba
Eres el Futuro
Visitando a Vilma
Carinos al nado
Mariela Castro-Espin, PhD is considered by many in Cuba as the mother of the LGBT+ movement. She is the daughter of Raul Castro and Vilma Espin. Castro-Espin is the Director of the CENESEX, The Cuban National Center for Sexual Education and took the position in 2007 after her mother’s passing. Vilma Espin was the leader and founder of CENESEX from its inception in the 90’s and was the first to address the public health concerns of the LGBT+ community as an ally.
This image captures Mariela Castro-Espin visiting her mother's final resting place for the first time since Vilma Espin's death. The site is located outside of Santiago de Cuba, Mauselo II Frente Oriental Frank Pais, in Mayari Arriba in Cuba,
Me voy con mi Bandera
Silverio en su Mejunge
Bajo ahora, dejame terminar
Ache Pa' Ti
•Byron Motley is a sought-after singer, songwriter, filmmaker, lecturer, and photographer. His photography has been featured in Vanity Fair, The Advocate, New York Daily News, Los Angeles Times, and has shown in galleries, libraries and museums in the United States, Puerto Rico, Europe, and Cuba. Byron’s award-winning photographic book, Embracing Cuba (University Press of Florida, 2015), contains nearly 200 color images (with essays) exploring the richness of the island of Cuba. This exhibit is part of the collection in Cuba sponsored by the United Nations Cultural Fund, Centro Nacional Cubano para la Educacion Sexual (CENESEX) and the Embassy of Spain in Cuba.
•With diverse interests and talents, Byron has also performed on Broadway and with legendary performers such as Barbra Streisand, Barry Manilow, Dionne Warwick, Natalie Cole, Celine Dion, and John Legend. He is currently working on a documentary about the historic Negro Baseball Leagues.
Seil Román (Arecibo, Puerto Rico, 1984) Mr. Roman works as the Director of Mental Health Services of Waves Ahead/SAGE Puerto Rico, a not-for-profit organization in Puerto Rico that focuses on the LGBT Older Adult. He balances his passion for art with his work instituting creative art therapy in his sessions. He graduated with a bachelor’s of art from the Escuela de Artes Plásticas in San Juan with a concentration in Painting in 2009. In 2008 he earned a scholarship from the ARCO Foundation to study Spanish art and is known for his installation in Old San Juan, 2014, titled, “Esto no es una plaza (This is not a public space).” Román’s art plays with pronouns, Spanish-female based words, and cultural and religious icons as he takes “ownership of them” as part of the LGBT-diverse community.