Talk given by Melinda Butterfield, Struggle-La Lucha co-editor, at the webinar “What We Can Learn from Cuba’s ‘Code of Freedom’ for Families,” hosted by Women In Struggle/Mujeres En Lucha on Jan. 22.
Good afternoon siblings, friends, and comrades.
It’s an honor to follow the beautiful message of solidarity from Comrade Mariela Castro Espín. The organization she leads, Cuba’s National Center for Sex Education (Cenesex), just celebrated its 35th anniversary, a tremendous milestone for the Cuban people and all progressive peoples of the world.
Marking the anniversary, the Transcuba Nacional organization said that Cenesex has “developed important research and contributions in the sciences that have aided the development of Cuban society in terms of sexual rights. It has educated and trained professionals and activists who bring about social transformations around the realities of human sexuality. The particular attention paid to trans people has made Cenesex a home of respect, love and inclusion.”
What a contrast to the situation that queer people, especially trans people, face here in the United States in 2023!
Have you heard of Christynne Lili Wrene Wood? She is a retired African American city worker in Santee, a suburb of San Diego. This trans woman has become one of the latest targets of the anti-trans panic that has swept the country since last year.
On Dec. 29, Christynne was finishing up her weekly water aerobics class at the local YMCA. She showered and changed in the women’s locker room as she always does. But that day, she was targeted for a transphobic attack. A 17-year-old girl was put up before the media afterward, claiming she was “traumatized” by seeing someone with “male genitalia” in the women’s changing area.
Trans women are women, regardless of what genitalia they have. None of the women who regularly participate in water aerobics with Christynne had an issue changing with her. But the fact is, Christynne has had gender reassignment surgery, so she could not have been mistaken for having “male genitalia.”
It was a set-up for the far-right crusade to demonize trans people. The lie was repeated by Tucker Carlson and other fascist mouthpieces. A hate rally was staged outside the Santee YMCA last week. Christynne had to listen to these lies being repeated as she counter-protested with supporters across the street.
Christynne explained to a reporter: “There’s a movie out right now about how that kind of a lie and hysteria can lead to tragedy. The movie’s about Emmett Till. The lies of a person got that child beat to death and that’s just the kind of group [here] that would love to pull a stunt like that. Thank God, I’ve got protection and people with me that see to it that I don’t suffer that kind of pain. But don’t you think that there aren’t people over there right now that would love to come over and rip me [apart] piece [by] piece?”
Since the beginning of this year – in just three weeks – more than 150 pieces of anti-LGBTQ2S legislation have been introduced in states across this country, primarily aimed at criminalizing trans lives. This includes bills to cut off all gender-affirming health care for adults as well as youth and to essentially make it illegal for trans people to exist in public.
Doctors and children’s hospitals are threatened with bombings. Neo-Nazis attempt to shut down drag events, aided by local cops. Parents who support their trans kids are threatened with prosecution.
What are the supposed friends of the LGBTQ2S community in Washington doing to stop this? Not a damn thing. They tell us to vote for them, the way they told women to vote for them before standing aside and letting abortion rights be stripped away. Meanwhile, supposed liberals like Hillary Clinton and the New York Times are joining in the anti-trans rhetoric, showing that this attack goes far beyond the Trumpist right.
The Biden administration and Congress have made it crystal clear that their priority is funding wars for empire on the other side of the world and continuing the six-decades-long illegal blockade of Cuba – not protecting the rights of people here.
That’s why it’s so important for queer people and all workers to learn from Cuba’s example.
Here are some highlights of the new Families Code Cubans approved last September:
- Protection of all forms of families, including chosen families, with no discrimination;
- The parental relationship is based on responsibilities and duties;
- The rights of children and youth, elders and the disabled to independence, dignity, accessibility, and respect;
- Consequences for violence or other abuse in family situations;
- Equality of marriage and common law unions;
- Gender equality, including for trans and nonbinary Cubans;
- Equality of rights in adoption and technologically assisted methods like in vitro fertilization;
- Duty to contribute to the family and recognition of the value of domestic labor;
- Institutional and community responsibility to uphold these rights.
The guiding idea of the document is that family plurality, diversity, and human dignity are at the center of the Cuban Revolution. The definition of a family is now based on affection and emotional ties rather than blood relations. It’s a “code of freedom” to choose the form of family that works best for its members.
I attended an event at the Cuban Mission to the United Nations, where diplomats talked about the new Families Code and answered questions. Two things really jumped out at me. One was the genuine pride the Cuban comrades had for this accomplishment. The other was the number of people from nonprofits and legal services representing trans and queer communities here, who were desperate to learn how Cuba was able to accomplish this at a time when our rights are being mercilessly rolled back.
The diplomats explained the years-long process of consultations held throughout all of society, from neighborhoods and workplaces to mass organizations; how there were 25 drafts incorporating thousands of amendments suggested at these discussions. They talked about the decisive role of young people in arguing for updating the country’s family code to be more inclusive and how they won their elders over to support the referendum.
And they talked about how this was not something that happened out of the blue – it was built up throughout the whole history of the Cuban Revolution, for more than 60 years – the struggle against patriarchy and the vestiges of capitalism and colonialism in everyday life.
This last point is very important. It was a diplomatic event, so the Cubans couldn’t put too fine a point on it, but the essential thing is this: The Cuban people made a socialist revolution. And LGBTQ2S people in the U.S. need a socialist revolution here to secure our rights.
The U.S. ruling class has decided to go all in on scapegoating trans people. But they won’t stop with us. The broader LGBTQ2S community is next on the chopping block.
The capitalist system is based on the principle of divide and rule. A historic struggle like the Stonewall Rebellion can shake society and win important reforms. But as long as capitalism exists, those gains are always in danger of being taken away. To truly secure our rights to equality, to decent jobs, to housing, education, and health care for all – including gender-affirming care – we need what Cuba has: a socialist revolution.
It’s time for the LGBTQ2S movement, and all people’s movements, to reject the losing strategy of relying on the Democratic Party and capitalist electoral politics. We need a return to the militant struggles of Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, of ACT UP and Queer Nation, and of Leslie Feinberg. And while we do that, we need to keep our eyes on the prize: replacing divide-and-conquer capitalism with a society based on solidarity that puts people’s needs first.
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