My Son is Gay, So What?
A group of mothers of LGBTI+ people have also decided to come out of the closet. Tired of the discrimination suffered by their children they have come together in Placetas, in the heart of Cuba.
In 2014 Rosa Ramírez and Teresa Lourdes González, a housewife and pediatrician, respectively, decided to establish the only group in Cuba of Mothers Against Homophobia and Transphobia (MCHT) in Placetas. They were inspired by the Argentinian organization Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, as well as the coincidence of two celebrations being held in May: International Day to Fight against Homophobia and Mother’s Day.
Activist Rafael Suri, Teresa Lourdes’ son, tells us that, “While chatting one day my mother told me that we shouldn’t settle for adding LGBTI+ people to our campaigns. That we should find a different group for support, and what better support than the family?” They believed that mothers who had their awareness raised about discrimination could share their positive experiences with their sons and daughters and contribute to the fight for the LGBTI+ community’s rights. Fifty-something Rosa Ramírez has three children and less than five years ago she was the victim of an abusive husband. She and Malú have always lived in Placetas, a city with less than 40,000 residents, in Villa Clara Province. Rosa speaks simply, no fancy synonyms or set speeches. Malú sits below an enormous sacred heart of Jesus hanging on the house’s chipped wall. Rosa introduces her as “my daughter.” Malú has very long nails, which are painted different colors, pink, white and brown. She is wearing white earrings that hang halfway down her neck and she crosses her legs elegantly. This person does not match the one who appears on her official identification, Yosvany. Malú was born in 1991, and lived with that name, until she took on her female identity as a teenager.
Rosa remembers that she sensed that her youngest of three was “different” very early on. She always discovered Yosvany rummaging around her eyeliners and dresses or with clumsily made up lips and eyes. Yosvany used towels to make his hair look longer. At five Yosvany only knew that he was not comfortable in his body. Rosa had her suspicions, but she didn’t limit Yosvany. She let her be. “She’s my life. I feel proud and I don’t want her to change. She is Malú.”
A year ago Rosa shared her experiences as the mother of a transperson at Placetas’ municipal government during the 10th Cuban Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. She sat in front of Mariela Castro Espín, the daughter of the First Secretary of the Cuban Communist Party and Director of the Cuban Center for Sex Education (CENESEX). That day Castro Espín praised the mothers of Placetas’ initiative and recognized that “dialogue between people can improve many contradictory situations.” The municipal government provided a space for the MCHT group’s activities. This gesture is more of a demonstration of Mariela Castro’s status than solidarity with the LGBTI+ community. In 2018 the Municipal Museum of Placetas questioned whether it was “appropriate” to exhibit a photographic exhibition about gay life in rural communities.
The Placetas mothers met by chance four years ago, in an almost hopeless situation. Teresa, the pediatrician, met Rosa when she was crying inconsolably at the Placetas Hospital. The Hospital’s administration would not hire Malú (a trans woman, who used skirts not pants) despite her nursing qualifications. They transferred her to Santa Clara. Rosa suspected that her daughter would be unhappy further from home. Malú did not want to leave her mother in the hands of an abusive husband. So Malú ended up abandoning nursing. There are many mothers who do not accept or support their LGBTI+ children and even throw them out of the house. At first the MCHT group was just a test. The mothers were not sure it would last long but it brought such difficult stories to light that the project established itself. The Cuban Women’s Federation (FMC) lent an office, which has become their command post. “It says ‘Mothers,’ but you can be any family member. Discrimination in families is the hardest to bear,” Rosa explains. There are meetings where an extra person may attend but there are never a dozen participants. According to unofficial research (Cuba has no official figures on the subject) there are more than 300 LGBTI+ people in the city of Placetas. The mothers plan to meet. Some attend, others do not. The group continues to persevere. They do not get tired. The group says that their next goal is to include fathers. Behind closed doors this seems like an impossible mission. “There are mothers who know we exist and they don’t want to come. There are others that say they’ll come and don’t show up. Although there’s plenty of publicity, few of us go out and show our faces in public,” says Rosa. Rafael, Teresa’s thirty-something son, with a master’s in community development, is more optimistic. He says that the numbers have fluctuated but all of the mothers who attend are strengthened by their shared experiences. Changes have been achieved within several families. At the very least these meetings have made people reflect on their attitudes towards LGBTI+ people. Rafael’s father stopped talking to him when he was 12 years old. The last time they saw each other was in a hospital. More than a decade had passed but still they did not speak to each other. Rafael saw his father die without changing. However, he did witness a change in his grandfather’s mentality, an uneducated man, who used to make fun of gay and trans people. When Rafael was 12 his family found out he was gay by accident when they found a photo he’d been sent by an admirer, unleashing chaos in his home. When his grandfather found out he became violent and immediately imposed limits. In 2008 the Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia activities were prepared at Rafael’s house. People just came to the entrance and called or whistled. His grandfather realized that the limits he had imposed hindered his grandson’s work. So he backed down and started to collaborate discretely. He ended up producing the posters that they used at gay pride marches. When Teresa, the pediatrician, remembers her father she cries and concludes, “If he could understand, anyone can.”
The Women and Family Guidance Center in Placetas has started to work with these mothers. Now they pass cases on to the MCHT group so that they give a course, intervene or open a dialogue. Rosa and Teresa are the only Cubans who are part of the Latin American Network of Mothers Against Homophobia and Transphobia, a movement that emerged two years ago in Peru. The mothers also have a weekly slot on the city’s radio station, where they discuss some areas of interest. However, they still don’t have all the support they need. Rosa and Teresa are not psychologists who positioned themselves as activists for the rights of a minority. Their triumph in society has been to shout out, “My son is gay, so what?” On a dusty street in Placetas, near the end of the city —where the sidewalks end— Rosa has her hands bunched up in a fist for emphasis, “Beyond my marriage, there’s my daughter. Beyond humanity, there’s my daughter.”