An Interview with Cuban lesbian activist Isel Calzadilla Acosta
Isel Calzadilla Acosta is a beautiful woman from Santiago, a passionate woman. She wiped away tears and saved lives as a nurse. Since the beginning of this century, she has presided over the women's group Las Isabelas. She decided to come out of the closet, fight for her rights. She decided to bet on her country, on its justice, on a more inclusive and more contemporary society.
Her experiences have been shared in Cuba and the world, in forums, theaters, communities, in life. A happy person is a guarantee of a happy country. Isel shows us that when a woman kisses another woman, the world does not end. On this day in May, she is our guest for our conversation against all forms of homophobia.
I have always believed that happiness has no recipes, but when it comes lesbians, women who have another woman as a partner, some are scared, they are offended. How then to be yourself while breaking so many barriers?
Assuming yourself as a woman who loves another woman is a great challenge: you must fill yourself with a lot of courage. First, understand how you are and who you are, and then face all prejudices from your own home, school, work ... Breaking ground is transgressing our macho, patriarchal and homophobic culture; but there is no other way for those of us who feel love for another person of the same sex, for those of us who believe in love between two people.
How did the idea of forming the group Las Isabelas come about? What are your main goals?
Las Isabelas emerged on December 18, 2000 out of the necessity to learn about our sexual orientation and our rights. I took it upon myself to ask if there was a group of lesbian women to connect with, and after investigating and going to community meeting places and not getting any affirmative answer, I decided to form the group to support each other. Thus, in 2002 I wrote to the Cuban National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX), to Dr. Mariela Castro, to ask for advice and training, and they gave me support from the beginning.
Our objectives are to fight against discrimination and intolerance against lesbians, to fight for our sexual rights, and to give visibility to lesbian women. By making our group visible in different settings in our province, Cuba, and the world, we are contributing to the development of a diverse sex education.
What anecdotes can you tell us about the numerous occasions that you or the group have approached the community, or have crossed borders, sharing your experiences?
There are many anecdotes from over the years, but I will refer to one from an LGBT panel that we developed with educators from day-care centres in our province. Students and teachers showed great interest in learning about this topic. After showing them who we are and sharing our experiences, they came over to thank us for addressing the subject, and explained to us how they were able to understand many things that until that moment they considered taboo.
Taking my experiences as an activist outside of Cuba, to meetings in Mexico, Peru, the United States, and Spain, to showcase the LGBT community in Cuba, its achievements and challenges, has been of great importance.
Cuban society approved a new constitution that guarantees the protection of Cubans against various forms of discrimination, including those resulting from sexual orientation and gender identity (Article 42). However, we know that it is not enough. How long until a relationship between two women or two men is not met with negative comments, is not a matter of public censorship, is recognized as an inalienable right of each person? Fears, ignorance, stubbornness, fundamentalisms?
We must continue educating the population by all means possible, to enjoy the rights guaranteed in our constitution, since harmful prejudices and taboos persist. It is very important to continue developing educational work with people and institutions.
There are fundamentalist, religious, conservative beliefs that insist on preventing the recognition of the rights of our community in Cuba to form the family we want, to get married, to obtain the right to reproductive assistance. Everything that is out of what they call “traditional family,” they do not recognize. I believe that everyone has the right to their believes, but without attacking the rights of the another.
Do you hold your partner’s hand in public? Are you a happy person?
I show my affection and love by holding my partner's hand; but at times we are censored for this. Heterosexuals, on the other hand, can do it freely.
We are happy loving another woman, and by being reciprocal, our life flows in a better way. As Dr. Mariela Castro said, “It is not about taking rights away from those who already have them, it is giving them to those who do not have them.”
There is a debt to our community that has been discriminated against due to homophobia, transphobia and lesbophobia. It is time to give us back everything we are entitled to as human beings.
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