Lesbian Women in Cuba Suffer Discrimination, Affecting Health

  • Stereotypes and offenses can be found in different medical consultations, but in some there is more abuse.
  • "Being professional does not imply that you have knowledge about these issues, or even that you have a culture of respect."
  • Cuba should not forget about those who remain outside the scope of the established benefits.

Stereotypes and homophobic prejudices affect the access and quality of health care of lesbian women in Cuba. “There are lesbian women who are afraid to go to the doctor and spend years without caring about their health,” says Isbrailda Ruiz Bell. “Doctors tell you terrible things when they see that you are not a classic prototype of a woman with a painted face and high heels, and that’s hard. As a result, a person completely stops going to the doctor.”

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in Cuba may face legal challenges not experienced by non-LGBT residents. Private, adult, non-commercial and consensual same-sex relationships were legalized in 1979, with same-sex marriage legalized in 2018.

Ruiz is an activist and member of the Las Isabelas, a lesbian and bisexual women group in the province of Santiago de Cuba, 762 km from the country’s capital. According to their experience, stereotypes and offenses can be found in different medical consultations, but in some there is more abuse. In Cuba, health care is universal and free, and programs are being developed for the early detection of breast cancer and cervical cancer, which, according to the Health Yearbook for 2018, are among the diseases with the highest mortality among Cubans.

According to official data, 25% of patients with breast cancer, the most deadly disease of women in Cuba, get to medical institutions in the late stages of the disease. How many lesbians are among these women? It is impossible to find out. Statistics and public studies do not include them in medical surveys, although in recent years there has been evidence that this group of people visits late and suffers from poor service. Activists consider the lack of information and the fear of denial of services to be the main reasons that force lesbian women to refuse medical services and thus put them at risk of their illnesses.

Among the main problems is a lack of understanding of the possible risk of sexually transmitted infections, inadequate self-care, and lack of proper prevention of cervical cancer and breast cancer, as well as depression and anxiety caused by discrimination. An important factor is the fear of visiting state treatment centers because the medical staff does not have the necessary knowledge to treat a non-heterosexual person.

The Cuban government operates a national health system and assumes fiscal and administrative responsibility for the health care of all its citizens. Like the rest of the Cuban economy, Cuban medical care suffered following the end of Soviet subsidies in 1991 and the stepping up of the United States embargo against Cuba at this time also had an effect.

“Being professional does not imply that you have knowledge about these issues, or even that you have a culture of respect,” Ruiz says. “Having instruction does not mean that you are a good human being.” The price of such prejudice and abuse can be very high for some of these women.

The highest percentage of the state budget is allocated for universal medical health care in Cuba, but experts say that Cuba should not forget about those who remain outside the scope of the established benefits. “Attempts to ignore lesbian women in practical health care, the presence of prejudice and lack of proper education have led to neglect of their sexual health,” the report, Sexual Health of Lesbian Women says. The report is intended for medical workers of the municipality of Lajas, published by the journal Sexology and Society in 2019.

However, despite the fact that the majority of interviewed medical workers showed a bias against lesbians, the entire research was in favor of obtaining information. Territorial studies help compose a training program for local professionals, which is based on knowledgeable lesbian opinions, needs, and sexual practices, and takes into account prejudice, stereotypes, and discrimination based on sexual orientation.

At the same time, Cuban experts and activists emphasize the importance of raising awareness and training, taking into account respect for human rights as a starting point for well-being and, therefore, health.

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Doris Mkwaya

I am a journalist, with more than 12 years of experience as a reporter, author, editor, and journalism lecturer." I've worked as a reporter, editor and journalism lecturer, and am very enthusiastic about bringing what I've learned to this site. 

 


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