Military service in Cuba is mandatory for all young people over the age of 17. However, if any of them declares himself to be "openly gay," he may be relieved of his responsibility to "defend the homeland." Among gay men there are three basic groups: those who are not called, those who evade service, and those who complete it.
According to the duty officer at the Plaza of the Revolution Municipality's Military Committee: "The law is not published, but it exists. The person in question must submit, in writing, a signed letter stating that ‘I am gay.’ But he must be sure that he knows what he’s doing, because this goes on his record, for life."
"As if homosexuality were a career that one could regret choosing later in life," jokes Nonard, who posts photos of himself on Facebook dressed as a woman.
He says that he was never even called: "I was always was a ‘girl,’ and when the summons came, my father told them so, and they didn´t insist."
"They didn´t call me either," recalls one of the transsexuals in the Parque Central. "With these tits, do you think that anyone thinks I'm still a man?"
But they are not the only ones. Many respondents believe that because "the whole neighborhood knows it," when they show up to carry out verifications the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR), "points them out, literally."
A large number of gays confess that when the time came for the "call," they had already come up with an evasion strategy.
"Whether they believed it or not, I didn´t even ask myself," says Rolo, who recently decided to "come out of the closet" and would not have known how to deal with so many "males together" without someone realizing his sexual preference.
He adds: "In my time there was none of that, if you entered you were the laughingstock, or the tool, or something unpleasant. I chose to claim that I had hypertension and that, at age 18, I had more health problems than my grandmother."
Alberto had to complete just one year of military service because he had been accepted to college, but his mannerisms and computer skills meant that he ended up writing a thesis for a high-ranking officer of the military unit he was assigned to.
David presented psychiatric papers and in the middle of the interview one of the soldiers on the entrance commission called him aside and asked him if he was gay. "I never understood, but it seemed like he was promising me heaven. But I denied everything. "
Ernesto, like others, saw military service as a unique opportunity: "I said nothing because I wanted to take advantage of Order 18" he says, referring to the law that provides young people the opportunity to serve and then enter college, "but the truth is that I don´t regret anything. It was the time of my life that I enjoyed the most."
Some of the respondents did not even recognize that they were being discriminated against, even when they were assigned to kitchen or office work. And no one dares to give the names of the officers who coerced, discriminated against or excluded them.
The medical examinations conducted by the military commission may be invasive, but there are three questions in the psychological evaluation revealing the homophobic nature of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR).
"Are you homosexual? Have you had relations with other men? Do you have fantasies about or have you masturbated while thinking about other men?" Ruben reports that he was asked this during his interview to enter the military service. "Of course I lied, because I was still in the closet, but I remember very well how, after a time in the unit I was assigned to, I had sex in a warehouse, on some sacks of rice, with one of the unit leaders. Nobody forced me, but, try as I might to conceal it, it was like they had a fag director there. "
He shared how one of his friends, tired of all the dissimulating, and the hypocrisy of his guards, burst into a meeting and announced his homosexuality. From that point he only had to go occasionally to sign a document certifying that he was "in good health."
Most respondents considered it a blessing to be excluded from the "defense of the homeland" because "there's a lot of work there."
"I mean, if nobody is going to attack us, and there are already more than enough military people ..." said one of the boys who spends his nights in the Parque de la Fraternidad.
In Cuba, where the struggle for gay rights is institutionalized by a figure like Mariela Castro Espín, the president's daughter, the legalization of gay marriage has proven impossible thus far. Also pending is the legalization of gays not only in the military service program, but in the Armed Forces. In the 60s compulsory military service served as a pretext for the official opening of concentration camps (UMAP) for young homosexuals and other "undesirables." According to the official statements released then, so that all these young people with "problems" could do their duty to the homeland, they had to be separated from the rest and treated in a particular way.
Since then no solution has been found that renders homosexuality and compulsory military service compatible while avoiding homophobic practices. The CENESEX, headed up by Mariela Castro, but also the FAR, have much work to be done in this area. As in the case of gay marriage, however, we have no idea when this is going to happen.