Bil Browning

Castro triggered the American LGBT rights movement?

Filed By Bil Browning | September 21, 2010 4:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Gay Icons and History, Politics
Tags: Castro, Cuba, Fidel Castro, gay rights, LGBT rights, Matachine Society

In a fascinating e-mail to Andrew Sullivan, longtime activist Frank Kameny gives credit to Fidel Castro for triggering the American gay rights movement.fidel-castro.jpg

While, Castro had no notion, of course, of what he was doing in this context at that time, in my view and in my interpretation of the dynamics of the 1960s Gay Movement, he triggered Stonewall and all that has followed.

News of Castro's incarceration of gays in detention camps in Cuba came out early in 1965 -- probably in March or very early April. At that time "the 60s" hadn't yet erupted in their full force, but the precursors were very well advanced. Picketing was considered the mode of expression of dissent, par excellence.

Jack Nichols approached me to suggest that we ("we"= The Matachine Society of Washngton, of which I was President) picket the White House to protest Cuba's action. I felt that it was rather pointless to picket the American President to protest what a Cuban dictator was doing. So I suggested that we broaden and Americanize the effort. One or more of our signs said (in gross paraphrase, here, from memory) "Cuba persecutes Gays; is America much better?", and others specifically addressed governmental and private anti-gay discrimination here, and other gay-related problems of the day.

The veteran activist was spurred to write Sullivan after Castro recently apologized for sending Cuban gays to labor camps in the 60s.

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During the early years of the Revolution the Fidelistas defeated the US/Batista regime fighting as the 26th of July Movement.

The mid sixties in Cuba were a period when the Stalinists of the Moscow oriented PSP (Partido Socialista Popular) began to dominate the Cuban revolutionary government. The PSP, in which Fidel's little brother Raul was a rising star, condemned the 26th of July Movement as "putschists". (In Stalinspeak a "putschist" is someone who ignores Moscow and actually fights for socialism.) After JFKs aptly named Bay of Pigs invasion the Cubans began to gravitate towards the USSR for economic aid to circumvent the US embargo and to prevent another American invasion and adopted the Soviet's approach on most questions.

Part of the USSRs Stalinist ideology was a bigoted, implacable hatred of GLBT folks because of our role as social gadfly's - we're always causing trouble and Fidel admitted buying into that. His adoption of Stalinist bigotry deprived the Cuban Revolution on the support of GLBT folks, who otherwise would have been part of the backbone of the Revolution.


The US is a cesspool of homohating, racism, misogyny, immigrant bashing and anti-worker bigotries and has been since pre-Revolutionary times. Stonewall and all the other expressions of the struggle for equality were and continue to be primarily generated by our pent-up rage against native born US bigots in the Democrat and Republican parties and in the cults.

The greatest contribution of Gettings, Kameny and others of that generation was their strategy of persistent activism, which included picketing and other demonstrations.

Well said Bill

Hmmm. For starters, it certainly didn't trigger the T bit. That wasn't claimed by the original article (which said "gay rights movement"). T street activism certainly was NOT started by gay men demonstrating against Castro. Please do stop colonising our experience!

But, going with a trimmed down, L&G question; this begs the question why Cuba imprisoning G&L people would trigger US protests when lifelong incarceration in mental wards with regular electro-convulsive-torture (ECT), widely done across the USA (and other countries) didn't. The Cuban version was even less harmful.

And many places in the USA were locking people up for wearing items of clothing supposedly meant for the other sex.

Those were very strange times that have not been fully documented. I guess because people felt shamed and wanted to forget.

But some aspects still linger. In the Soviet Block, in Czechoslovakia, a psychologist called Kurt Freund invented a device to measure penile erections in order to identify homosexual men for government purposes. Perhaps for "cure" by ECT, although he claimed, later, it was simply to check the validity of those who were claiming exemption from military service. He then gained immigration to Canada where, at CAMH in Toronto, he set up the first clinic to test sex offenders for sexual orientation, using his device, especially to identify pedophiles.

Recently it was exposed that the device (a suction cup on the penis) has been used on children for decades. An operator was convicted for child sex abuse. The practise was at last banned in the province of British Columbia. But Ontario, where The Kurt Freund Clinic does all such testing for the province, made out it didn't know if such testing was done there. Such establishment psychologists as Ray Blanchard, James Cantor, and Michael Bailey regularly use it in experiments through which they pronounce upon our identities and sexuality, regularly smearing communities with association with pedophilia in the process (which is then picked up by the Vatican). They say they prove no men are bisexual, all women are bisexual, transsexual women have male sexual response, and similarly mischievous misinformation. And then they campaign for us to be listed as mentally ill.

Some of those strange, and disgraceful aspects of past times still need excising.

So when Fidel Castro said, recently, that he is looking in to why his government persecuted LGBT people, because it was never something he, himself, agreed with, that seemed to me a very welcome, and appropriate move. I'm looking forward to hearing what more he says on the subject, which I hope will be reported.