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March 15, 2011
By Osmel Almaguer

Havana Times interviewed 20-year-old Angel Raicel Merencio Llanes, from
Ciego de Avila province. This freshman English student at the
University of Havana is a former member of the Tony Menendez Dance
Company, and he's homosexual.

HT: We know that historically people who have preferred their same sex
have been discriminated against. Do you believe that presently there is
a trend to eliminate this type of social segregation?

Angel Raicel Merencio Llanes: I'm well aware that things in the past
were very different for gays. In the last several years there has been
formidable work in Cuba aimed at eliminating discrimination against
homosexuals. Now we can say that there's a little more to
express ourselves in public. Though it hasn't been possible to
eliminate the taboo, it's good there are people standing up for us to be
treated as the human beings we are.

In your opinion are the gains that have been made sufficient for a
person of a different sexual orientation to be harmoniously integrated
into the rest of society?

AR: Clearly not. There's still much that has to be done. People still
see you in the street and look at you with an uncomfortable curiosity.
Things get even more complicated for those of us like me who have a
gender identity that makes us want to be seen as women. It's not easy
to want to put on lipstick and wear high heels to go outside when you
know that all attention will be focused on you.

But even with all that, you still prefer to assume that challenge? Why?

AR: Of course. I don't believe that living a lifetime behind a mask is
a way to be happy. Being homosexual has created many conflicts for me,
but I can affirm with all certainty that if there's something that
really makes me feel proud it's that I'm being true to the world and to
myself. You can't get along well with others if you're not at peace
with yourself.

What do you think then of those people who choose to sacrifice
themselves by maintaining their identities hidden all their lives?

AR: I think they're afraid. It's necessary to be very brave and shout
out to the world that you're different. I thank life for having given
me that strength. I think the decisions people make should be respected
and we should try to understand the way each person chooses to live. On
the other hand, those who lead a double life, one day — as almost always
happens — the truth will come crashing down on them and many people will
end up getting hurt.

Has your situation ever been an obstacle to relating to friends or comrades?

AR: Up to now I think I can consider myself lucky. To tell the truth,
since I put my fear to the side and decided to carry myself as I am,
it's much easier to make friends. It seems ironic but before I never
had a single male friend – now I do. Everything depends on how you're
able to demonstrate to others the true feelings that define you as a
human being, that's in fact what counts.

Among the taboos you referred to at the beginning, there are
stereotypes, so to speak, that portray gays as talkative, gossipy, etc.
How much of this do you believe is true in those characterizations?

AR: Everything in life is relative. Perhaps there is some truth in
those portrayals, I don't want to absolutize. But women spend most of
their time chattering when they're not around men, and almost all gays
like to be around women. Women and gays are very good friends.

Do you consider machismo and sexists as the enemies of homosexuals? And
if so, why?

AR: Not necessarily. From my own experience I can say that many men who
try to come off as macho in public are simply trying to look the very
opposite of how they really they feel inside. There are many bisexual

For some time the revolutionary government, in the person of Mariela
Castro Espin (the director of Cuba's National Center for Sexual
Education), has taken strong positions against homophobia. Many public
and mass activities as well as various pieces of legislation are
evidence of this. How do you assess her work?

AR: If the Nobel Peace Prize were granted in Cuba, I would give it to
Mariela. She has been the driving force in a battle that might have
seemed impossible. In the name of all people for whom she has raised
her voice, she has earned all my respect and admiration. It's also good
that our government has been willing to listen and be part of that
necessary transformation. Homosexuals are part of this island, and as
such we deserve to be dealt with, without caring about our sexual

If you had the opportunity to sit down with Mariela to ask her or to
suggest something, what would you say?

AR: First I would thank her. I would also ask her to help me realize my
dream of changing my sex, and I would also suggest to her that she never
stop struggling for us, we need her.

And if, instead of finding yourself next to Mariela, you were granted
limitless power, let's say like that of God, how would you use it?

AR: I would transform the world into a happier place for everyone, not
only for gays, but for all people who need to be heard. I would try to
make everyone understand that we are all the same race. We are all
human beings and we deserve respect and understanding.


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