Once persecuted, gays find Cuba more tolerant

CaribbeanNetNews.com – by Laura Bonilla

Havana, Cuba (AFP): Wrapped in a figure-hugging sequined dress, the statuesque Chantal swayed languorously in the steamy Havana night during a transvestite show that reflected Cuba’s slowly growing tolerance of homosexuals.

Patrons sang along as the green-eyed drag queen belted out a sensuous rendition of a Latin hit in the attic of a hair salon, which at night becomes an illegal transvestite club tolerated by the communist government.

Chantal drew cheers and catcalls from dozens of Cuban gays and a few foreigners who packed the cabaret. Some shimmied up to the stage to drop a bill in the star’s garter in exchange for a sonorous kiss.

But outside the club’s closed doors, patrons are more cautious. While many homosexuals say their lives are getting easier, they still face a lot of prejudice.

“You can walk hand-in-hand with your boyfriend in Havana, but you shouldn’t,” said Leonardo, a 27-year-old schoolteacher.

Two years ago, he and his partner were each fined 60 pesos (three dollars, two euros) – about one fourth of an average monthly salary – for kissing in a Havana shopping center.