Pride in Cuba
Mike Jackson is national secretary of Lesbian and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM). He is a key figure portrayed in the 1984 film ‘Pride’, which depicts the true story of a group of lesbian and gay activists who raised money to support mining communities during the 1984 miners’ strike. In May 2018, CSC arranged for him to participate in Cuba’s activities to mark the International Day Against Homophobia.
My sister Lynn and I are good mates and we’ve spent quite a few holidays together as adults. In 2017 I proposed that we have a ‘BIG’ holiday together and she took me up on my suggestion of Cuba, where neither of us had been. Doing the holiday research it occurred to me that the movie ‘Pride’ probably went down well in Cuba, being a socialist country, and that maybe we could combine our visit with participation in the country’s annual activities around IDAHO (the International Day Against Homophobia).
The Cuba Solidarity Campaign helped me to make contact with Cuba’s National Centre for Sexual Education (CENESEX) which co-ordinates the country’s work on LGBT+ rights and inclusion, and the initial feedback I received was that its director, Mariela Castro, would be ‘delighted’ for me to take part in the activities they had planned to raise awareness of homophobia and transphobia in May. It was suggested that I could march with them on their Conga (Cuba’s equivalent of our Pride march) and perhaps give a talk about the movie.
So Lynn and I decided on three weeks in May, based in Havana but with excursions to Viñales Valley and the coastal town of Trinidad. Meanwhile I did a crash course in Spanish!
In London, comrades from Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners agreed that we would have a lightweight reproduction of our original 1984 banner made that I could take on the march in Havana and donate to CENESEX as well as a few of our now iconic Pits and Perverts t-shirts to give away to marchers.
The first week we stayed in a ‘casa particular’ in Old Havana near to the port. I was abruptly woken the first morning by cockerels crowing and when I went to look I found lots of neighbours kept the birds on their first floor balconies. That was a reminder of how Cuba struggles against the vicious US blockade. Every day in this neighbourhood people would set up a little stall on their doorstep selling, say, home-made food or clothes pegs or dried beans.
We were invited to join trade union supporters of Cuba at the ICAP’s (Cuban Friendship Institute) Friendship House in Vedado. Here we met with comrades from British union Unite, and trade unionists and solidarity activists from Canada, the US, France and Ireland. Great company, great food, a great live band and even a bit of salsa dancing! They were going to the May Day march in Revolution Square the next morning which attracted more than 800,000 people.
The first LGBT event we attended was a spectacular gala held at the Karl Marx Theatre – it’s Havana’s largest theatre. There were around 4,000 guests and we were treated to spectacular dancing and singing and a female comedian who brought the house down.
I had the great honour of being invited on stage along with a film director and trans activist to be given awards by Mariela Castro on behalf of CENESEX. Later I was interviewed by a journalist from the Cuban national newspaper Trabajadores (Workers).
The next afternoon was the Conga against Homophobia (Pride march). We arrived with our LGSM banner and our hosts quickly spotted us (many of them were wearing our ‘Pits and Perverts’ t-shirts) and they squeezed us into the third position from the front. Leading the march was a huge Cuban flag, followed by an equally huge rainbow flag, then Cuban comrades holding the LGSM banner alongside Lynn and me.
A shiny, pink, convertible, 1950’s American car followed immediately behind us. As the conga started Mariela Castro jumped into it, saw me, and beckoned me to sit next to her on the back of the rear seat. I’ve never seen so many cameras. She is adored by the Cuban LGBT+ community and I could see it all around. I had to pinch myself that this was actually happening.
I’d decided to wear my Orgreave t-shirt with that infamous photo of a mounted copper about to batten Lesley Boulton. Mariela asked what it was about and I told her it was about the abuse of human rights in the United Kingdom. I enjoyed that!
The march set off and I was surrounded by wonderful revolutionary banners including ‘Soy Fidel!’ (I am Fidel). As we approached the park where the stage and festivities were about to take place, our car slipped away from the marchers into the grounds of a municipal building. Lots of police and soldiers poured out of the building and Mariela turned to me pointing at my t-shirt, and smiling said: “Don’t worry, they are here to protect all of the marchers, these are revolutionary soldiers and police!” I thought back to my first Gay Pride march in London in 1973 when we were flanked by double rows of police who certainly weren’t there to protect us!
I was invited to say a few words to a television crew about why I was there.
Thankfully I was reunited with Lynn who had valiantly marched all the way with the banner! We stayed to listen to the music and have a few beers then made our way home tired but buzzing with all that had happened.
The final event I attended was to give a presentation at CENESEX. I shared a platform with three other activists. The first speaker was a courageous Colombian mother of a thirteen year old boy called Sergio Urrego who had taken his own life as a result of relentless homophobic bullying. She has set up a foundation in his memory to campaign against homophobic bullying in schools. Next were two inspirational trans activists, one an actress, from Chile called Dani Vega, the other a documentary maker from Guatemala called Gaby Gygy Castillo. That CENESEX would invite international speakers is very much Cuba’s approach: internationalism, support and inclusion.
I’m hooked on Cuba now and will certainly return. I live in central London amidst great wealth yet I see homeless people everywhere. I’ve seen 40 years of UK governments hostile to working class communities and hell bent on destroying welfare systems that we fought so long to create. I saw no-one sleeping rough in Cuba despite the fact it is a much poorer country than Britain. I saw a proud, friendly and relaxed Cuban people, very racially mixed and no signs of racism. I have nothing but admiration for them. Viva Cuba! Viva la revolución!