Stigma and misinformation about sexual diversity

Good information and high self-esteem are indispensable for the LGBT community to deal with social rejection and discrimination on the island.

A research work that was recently conducted in the central province of Cienfuegos, 250 kilometers east of Havana, has so corroborated.

In his master's on sexual diversity in Cienfuegos, psychologist Alain Darcout indicated that both heterosexual and non-heterosexual people have misconceptions about sexual diversity and gender identities.

Carried out in several municipalities of the province between September 2010 and March 2011, the research work included a survey to over 50 people (20 heterosexual teenagers, youngsters and adults of both sexes, and 30 lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transvestites).

The former seemed to have information about and show respect for sexual diversity.

"Some members of this group, however, defined bisexuality as an intermediate position or as a sexual perversion," Darcout stressed.

"Some others are still being affected by old taboos, myths and prejudices that have resulted from a sexist education and from social pressure, seeking to associate only heterosexuality with the right sexual orientation," he added.

"All this is still being clearly seen at schools and workplaces," he recalled.

On the other hand, Tania Tocoronte, a sociologist who is the founder of Phoenix, an association of lesbians and bisexual women, told SEMlac that she has endured discrimination herself.

"My boss never considered the possibility of a promotion for me simply because of my sexual orientation," she emphasized.

The World Day against Homophobia has been observed in Cienfuegos since 2008, and the celebration has been supported by a growing number of agencies and institutions.

Phoenix was officially established in 2008, the so-called Reflection Group of Gays and Bisexual Men was founded in 2010, and a Transgender Project was undertaken last March.

"The media have made a positive contribution along these lines, but there is still a long way to go," Darcout noted.

A cloak of anonymity

"Most LGBT people decide not to come out of the closet due to lack of information or low self-esteem," Darcout said.

One evening last month, five young men (all dressed up) happened to be drinking alcohol at a bar close to the Jagua Hotel trying to attract the attention of some tourists who were passing by.

They accepted to be interviewed by SEMlac on the condition that they were not identified.

"I do not live here. My parents think I am spending a few days at a friend's. They will kill me if they find out that I am gay and look for foreign tourists," a 16-year-old confessed.

"Why tell people about something they will not understand and will certainly criticize?", wondered a bisexual.

"I go to school and have a girlfriend in my village. I come here just to make some money. Nobody has to know, he added.

Darcout had found that most local homosexual and heterosexual young men get involved in transactional sex in cities and towns other than those where they live.

"This provides a way for them to better deal with social discrimination and stigma, but makes it really difficult to implement educational actions for them and give support," he said.

A survey on HIV/AIDS Infection Prevention Indicators, which was conducted by the National Office of Statistics' Population and Development Study Center in 2009, revealed that only 3.2 percent of male respondents in Cienfuegos admitted having had sex with other men. The national average at the time had stood at 7.6.

Darcout also found that local men often practice unsafe sex and get exposed to sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS.

The number of HIV-infected people in Cienfuegos moved from eight in 2005 up to 58 last year. Most of them (82.5 percent) are men having sex with men (MSM), according to a report by the Provincial Hygiene and Epidemiology Center.

Marta R. Castillo, a journalist who has been trained as a health promoter in Cumanayagua municipality, strongly favors the idea of applying the cultural approach to sexual diversity.

"It provides an effective way to cope with vulnerability, discrimination, exclusion, marginalization and rejection," she concluded.

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