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Gay man who live-streamed Cuba anti-government protest faces 8-year prison sentence

Yoan de la Cruz broadcast July 11 demonstration on Facebook

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Yoan de la Cruz (Photo courtesy of Twitter)

SAN ANTONIO DE LOS BAÑOS, Cuba — A gay man who live-streamed an anti-government protest faces an 8-year prison sentence.

Yoan de la Cruz on July 11 used Facebook Live to livestream a protest in San Antonio de los Baños, a municipality in Artemisa province that is just west of Havana.

The San Antonio de los Baños protest was the first of dozens of anti-government demonstrations against mounting food shortages, the government’s response to the pandemic, a worsening economic crisis and human rights abuses that took place across Cuba on July 11.

De La Cruz is one of hundreds of protest participants who were arrested. Others include Maykel González Vivero, editor of Tremenda Nota, the Los Angeles Blade’s media partner in Cuba.

14ymedio, an independent website founded by Yoani Sánchez, a prominent critic of the Cuban government, on Monday reported the country’s attorney general is seeking an 8-year prison sentence for De La Cruz. 14ymedio also notes Cuban authorities continue to hold De La Cruz “somewhat incommunicado” in a prison in Mayabeque province, which is east of Havana.

It is unclear when his trial will take place.

“The Cuban government is again intimidating Cubans to keep them from peacefully expressing themselves,” tweeted Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Brian Nichols on Thursday. “After initially sentencing many July 11 protestors to months of detention and fines, they now seek additional jail time for some of the 500+ detainees to 6-12 years.”

The tweet does not specifically mention De La Cruz.

Luis Ángel Adán Roble, a gay man who was once a member of Cuba’s National Assembly, is now a vocal critic of his country’s government and publicly supports De La Cruz. Adán on Thursday described the proposed sentence as “excessive and unjust.”

“The only thing about Yoan that I know is the charge of which they have accused him is contempt, and they are asking for eight years,” he told the Blade. “I don’t understand what live-streaming something has to do with contempt.”

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Caribbean

Cuba becomes latest country with marriage equality

Referendum took place amid continued government persecution

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A car drives along Havana's oceanfront in 2017. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

HAVANA — Cubans on Sunday approved a new family code that extends marriage and adoption rights to same-sex couples.

Gramna, the official newspaper of the Cuban Communist Party, on Monday reported 66.9 percent of Cubans who participated in the referendum voted in favor of the new family code.

“Sept. 25, 2022, is already a historic day,” said Gramna. “The island has once again demonstrated that the revolution will never stop in its quest for more justice, independent of its adversaries. The road has never been easy, but it is very worthy.”

Mariela Castro, the daughter of former President Raúl Castro who spearheads LGBTQ+ and intersex issues in Cuba as director of the country’s National Center for Sexual Education, is among those who support the new family code. Mariela Castro on Sunday posted to her Facebook page a picture of her voting for it in Havana, the Cuban capital.

“I voted yes for Cuban families, for a socialist Cuba, for the world’s most revolutionary and humanist family code, for a socialist state built upon rights and social justice that recognizes and protects all families,” said Mariela Castro after she voted.

The Cuban government in the years after the 1959 revolution that brought Mariela Castro’s uncle, Fidel Castro, to power, sent gay men and others to work camps. Cubans with AIDS were forcibly quarantined in state-run sanitaria until 1993.

Cuba joins Costa Rica, Colombia, Ecuador, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Mexico City and several Mexican states that have extended marriage rights to same-sex couples. Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Aruba, Curaçao, Bonaire, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, St. Barthélemy, St. Martin, Sint Maarten, Sint Eustatius and Saba also have marriage equality.

Cuban government critics face harassment, arrest

Sunday’s referendum took place nearly four years after Cuban voters overwhelmingly approved their country’s new constitution. The government’s decision to remove a marriage equality amendment that religious groups had publicly criticized sparked outrage among independent LGBTQ+ and intersex activists.

LGBTQ+ and intersex Cubans and others who publicly criticize the Cuban government also continue to face harassment, discrimination and arrest.

Maykel González Vivero, editor of Tremenda Nota, the Washington Blade’s media partner in Cuba, is among the hundreds of people who were arrested during anti-government protests that took place across the country on July 11, 2021. The U.S. in 2019 granted asylum to Yariel Valdés González, a Blade contributor who suffered persecution in Cuba because he is a journalist.

Yoan de la Cruz, a gay man who used Facebook Live to livestream the first July 11 protest that took place in San Antonio de los Baños in Artemisa province. De La Cruz subsequently received a 6-year prison sentence, but he was released on house arrest in May.

Brenda Díaz, a Transgender woman with HIV who participated in a July 11 protest in Güira de Melena in Artemisa province, has been sentenced to 14 years in prison. The State Department has said it is “very concerned” about Díaz’s health and well-being and urged the Cuban government to release her.

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Caribbean

St. Kitts and Nevis colonial-era sodomy law struck down

Judge ruled colonial-era statute unconstitutional

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A judge on Aug. 29, 2022, struck down the colonial-era sodomy law in St. Kitts and Nevis. (Bigstock photo)

BASSETERRE, St. Kitts and Nevis — A judge on Monday ruled a law that criminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations in St. Kitts and Nevis are unconstitutional.

Justice Trevor M. Ward of the High Court of Justice in St. Kitts and Nevis struck down Sections 56 and 57 of the country’s Offenses Against the Person Act.

“Section 56 of the Offenses Against the Person Act, Cap. 4.21 contravenes Sections 3 and 12 of the Constitution of the Federation of Saint Christopher and Nevis, namely, the right to protection of personal privacy and the right to freedom of expression, and, as such, is null and void and of no force and effect to the extent that it criminalizes any acts of constituting consensual sexual conduct in private between adults,” said Ward in his decision.

Ward further said Section 57 of the law violates “the right to protection of personal privacy and the right to freedom of expression” in the country’s constitution.

Jamal Jeffers, a gay man, and the St. Kitts and Nevis Alliance for Equality, a local LGBTQ+ and intersex rights group, challenged the law.

“This decision strongly establishes that a person’s sexuality should never be the basis for any discrimination,” said St. Kitts and Nevis Alliance for Equality Executive Director Tynetta McKoy in a press release the Eastern Caribbean Alliance for Diversity and Equality, a regional LGBTQ and intersex rights group, released on Monday. “We welcome the recognition of this fact, one for which we have long advocated.” 

A judge in July struck down Antigua and Barbuda’s colonial-era sodomy law.

The Belizean Court of Appeal in 2019 upheld a ruling that struck down the country’s sodomy law. A judge on the Trinidad and Tobago High Court in 2018 struck down its statute that criminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations. 

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights last year in a landmark decision said Jamaica must repeal its sodomy law. Similar cases have been filed in Barbados and St. Lucia. 

Then-British Prime Minister Theresa May in 2018 said she “deeply” regrets colonial-era criminalization laws the U.K. introduced. Nick Herbert, a member of the British House of Lords who advises outgoing Prime Minister Boris Johnson on LGBTQ+ and intersex issues, last December told the Washington Blade during an interview in D.C. that his country has a “historic responsibility for these laws and their legacy.”

“[Of] the seven Caribbean and 34 Commonwealth countries that criminalized same sex intimacy, this is the second to strike down these discriminatory laws in 2022,” said Eastern Caribbean Alliance for Diversity and Equality Executive Director Kenita Placide on Monday in their organization’s press release. “Our strategy has been multilayered; working with activists on the ground, our colleagues, friends, allies and family. This win is part of the transformative journey to full recognition of LGBTQ persons across the OECS (Organization of Eastern Caribbean States.) It is a definitive yes to change, yes to privacy, yes to freedom of expression, and we are happy to be part of this historic moment.”

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Caribbean

Black lesbian writer travels to one of the most homophobic nations

I’m a lesbian, & I deliberately went to one of the most homophobic countries in the World- I cannot wait to go back

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Black LGBTQ+ activist Nevin Powell with the author (Photo Credit: Jasmyne Cannick)

KINGSTON – Like millions of Americans, Jamaica is my top destination in the Caribbean. But unlike millions of Americans, I don’t just come to Jamaica to vacation and soak up the sun. As a Black lesbian, for the past year, I have traveled throughout Jamaica, bearing witness to a modern-day underground railroad while speaking to LGBTQ people about what it’s like living in a country that seemingly encourages their murder.

Beyond Jamaica’s carefully designed and monitored tourism corridor lies a much different Jamaica that is seldom talked about in America. A country filled with people who advocate for and then ignore the murders of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. I believe that Americans and our government choose to overlook Jamaica’s state-enabled violence against LGBTQ people because, unlike in Russia and Iran, the only people being harmed are Black, and to acknowledge what’s happening could mean having to vacation in one of the other less popular 12 countries that make up the Caribbean.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

The view flying into Montego Bay

I am always asked if, as a Black lesbian, I am scared to go to Jamaica. Yes, but not for the reasons most would think.

Away from the beach, outside of the tourist zone, catcalling by men is seemingly expected and accepted as a way of life by women in Jamaica.

No one knows that I am a lesbian unless I disclose that information, and I usually don’t. In Jamaica, like in the US, people first notice that I am Black and female, and if I open up my mouth and speak — American. It doesn’t escape me either that I am somewhat more protected being a queer cisgender Black woman. As long as I keep my sexual orientation to myself, no one is the wiser.

What scares me the most are the stories I have been told by women who I have interviewed in Jamaica about being raped and a victim of gender-based violence. A violence that is oftentimes accompanied by gaslighting from the perpetrator, police, and even the victim’s own family and community.

So the American in you is probably asking yourself, if it’s that bad, why does she risk her life traveling back and forth to Jamaica?

Murder She Wrote

Dwayne Jones via Jamaica Forum for Lesbian All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG)

The 2013 murder of Dwayne Jones, a 16-year-old Jamaican boy killed by a violent mob in Montego Bay after he attended a dance party dressed in women’s clothing, changed everything for a friend of mine living in the US but from Jamaica. As a Black gay man, Dwayne Jones’ murder inspired Nevin Powell to leave Los Angeles and move to Florida to be closer to Jamaica.

I watched Nevin start off by feeding homeless queer youth living in the gutters of Kingston, referred to as The Gully Queens, out of his own pocket. He then rented a house in Jamaica to help hide and shelter queer Jamaicans who had been the victims of physical violence and faced persecution based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex characteristics. The safe house has helped over a dozen LGBTQ individuals find safety through emergency relocation and other forms of assistance. Nevin did all of this with the help of a small but dedicated team of folks in the US and Jamaica and mostly out of his own pocket.

I can tell you that Nevin is never more passionate than when he is talking about what is happening to LGBTQ people in Jamaica. He inspired me to go and see for myself. While there, I met with the safe house residents as well as other queer Jamaicans. Hearing their stories and seeing the physical scars of what they survived really put my struggles in America into perspective.

Rape, torture, rape, hangings, stabbings, rape, stonings, shootings — did I mention rape?

My friend Nevin with some of the residents at a previous safe house location.

After my first visit, the journalist in me came back to the US resolved to share the work that Nevin was doing and help find more support. I decided to produce a special podcast entitled “Ring the Alarm” featuring the stories and voices of the men and women I met in Jamaica. On each subsequent trip to Jamaica, I was introduced to more and more people. Eventually, I had men and women in Jamaica reaching out to me to tell me their stories. Many of those I interviewed have been able to escape Jamaica to seek asylum elsewhere, but most have not. Those waiting on emergency relocation or on their country to change their laws and views on LGBTQ people are subjected to being taunted, threatened, fired from their jobs, thrown out of their homes, beaten, stoned, raped, and even killed.

So Much Trouble in the World

Fact. If Jamaica treated the US the way we treat Jamaicans who want to visit here, we’d never be able to vacation in Jamaica. I have watched this modern-day underground railroad up close and personal for the past year. It isn’t easy to relocate queer Jamaicans to countries accepting of Black people, let alone Black LGBTQ people. And while America has rolled out the red carpet to welcome people from other countries, Jamaica hasn’t been one of them. With its own Wikipedia page dedicated to discussing LGBT rights in Jamaica, one could argue that queer Jamaicans seeking asylum in the US could easily prove both credible and reasonable fear for their lives.

Let’s be clear. WNBA player Brittney Griner was not detained in Russia for being a Black lesbian. She was detained for being an American and is being used as a pawn. Griner, unlike queer Jamaicans, at least has the attention of the American government and media, and there are people actively fighting to bring her back home to America. Sadly, celebrity vacation photos in Jamaica are more likely to trend on social media than the murders of LGBTQ people there.

You may be wondering why I am so focused on Jamaica. Of course, there are human rights abuses against queer people taking place in other countries around the world, but not where over 4 million Americans come to vacay each year. That’s only happening in Jamaica. It’s hypocritical of people from the ‘land of the free and the home of the brave’ to turn a blind eye to what’s happening to LGBTQ people in Jamaica and have the audacity to call out other countries for similar atrocities.

As one of the founders of the National Black Justice Coalition, America’s first Black LGBTQ civil rights organization, and more recently, someone who helped escort Democratic donor Ed Buck into a prison cell for his role in the deaths of two Black gay men, I have put in work locally and nationally on behalf of Black queer folks.

Last October, I committed myself to spend one year working with LGBTQ people in Jamaica and using my platform to help call attention in the US to what is happening to queer folks there. From my podcast to my support of the safe house, I’m proud to say that I made good on that promise. It was very important to me that, as an American, I didn’t come to Jamaica with the sense of entitlement that Americans are known to bring with them wherever they go. I came, I listened, and followed the lead of queer Jamaicans.

Me hanging with some of the residents of the safe house

When I post on social media about my trips to Jamaica, I get a lot of comments decrying my visits. My favorite comments are the ones from people telling me all about Jamaica’s LGBTQ rights abuses — because clearly, I don’t know about them. And even though I don’t usually respond to comments, the ones where someone is telling me about how they’re never visiting Jamaica are my favorite. I expect that attitude from white LGBTQ men and women. But when it’s my own people, members of the Black LGBTQ community, I push back on them and challenge them to come to Jamaica and step outside of the tourist zone and meet with their Jamaican counterparts instead of writing the country off as a whole.

Welcome to Jamrock

Source: Catholics & Culture

It is very easy to look at the situation and blame Jamaicans for the discrimination faced by LGBTQ people.

Fact. Jamaica holds the record for the most churches per square mile than any other place in the world.

Jamaica is a former British colony and, like most of Black Africa, was heavily influenced by established white conservative Christian churches, particularly the Pentecostalists and Seventh Day Adventists. Where their anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and policies have failed in America, these same churches have succeeded in under-developed Black countries. The county still punishes the ‘abominable crime of buggery’ and acts of ‘gross indecency’ between males with up to ten years in prison with hard labor.

Similarly, Rastafarism, a religion as homophobic as fundamentalist Christianity that is followed by a large number of Jamaicans, including many reggae artists, believes in a strict interpretation of the Old Testament — when it comes to anything queer.

None of this pardons Jamaica today for its egregious human rights abuses and state-enabled murders of LGBTQ people. What it does, is put things into perspective and provide context. A context that many white-led queer civil rights groups failed to comprehend when blanketly villainizing Black countries’ treatment of LGBTQ people. Which, by the way, usually causes more harm to the queer people living in those countries than actually helps them.

I look at it as the Jamaican version of Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome, and the continuation of the mental slavery of Christianity brought to Jamaica by the British colonizers and continued by white American Christian evangelicals.

Weaponizing religion is not a new concept. So knowing and understanding this, the answer for me was not to boycott or villainize Jamaica but the opposite. I chose to visit Jamaica as much as I could, and in doing so, this past year has been one of the most fulfilling years of my life. The friendships I’ve made, the stories I’ve shared, the people who have been helped, and the support I’ve been able to give to my friend Nevin have made it worth it.

Get Up, Stand Up

Holland Bamboo, St. Elizabeth

My trips to Jamaica are by no means all play. It’s never easy for me to listen to stories of rape, abuse, discrimination, and physical violence. I have developed my own self-care routine to help me cope with the triggering effects these interviews have on me.

That said, I look forward to continuing my work in Jamaica and supporting Nevin. Thanks to my podcast, I’ve even heard from queer people in several African countries interested in having me come and amplify their struggles. So for now, it’s work, save, travel, repeat. My passport will have to be pried from my cold dead hands to get this Black lesbian to stop visiting homophobic Black countries.

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Jasmyne Cannick (Photo courtesy of Jasmyne Cannick)

Jasmyne Cannick is an award-winning journalist based in Los Angeles. Her Ring the Alarm podcast is available on Apple, Spotify, and Amazon Music.

For more information on the podcast and the LGBTQ safe house in Jamaica, please visit iamjasmyne.com/ringthealarm. Follow her travels on Instagram @hellojasmyne and Twitter @jasmyne.

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