THERE ARE CONSPICUOUS OBSCURITIES IN HISTORY, facts both undisputed and marginal in public memory. Examples include the disunionist wing of American abolitionism and Operation Keelhaul (the forced repatriation between 1944 and 1947 of no less than two million people to Stalin’s inferno).
A conspicuous obscurity in modern Cuban history is the oppression of homosexuals under Fidel Castro, and unprecedented oppression at that. Samuel Farber notes, “[T]he present Cuban government… has done more to promote homophobia than any regime in the country’s history.”
FrontPage’s Ronald Radosh witnessed Cuba’s systemic homophobia during a visit in 1973 (recounted in Commies). While touring Havana General Psychiatric Hospital’s arts center, he met an ostensible instructor. When Radosh asked how he handled the patients, the lucid man replied with nervous laughter, “I’m a patient myself. I’m a homosexual, and that is why I’m confined here.” (The hospital’s head doctor confirmed this, asserting that homosexuality warranted commitment.)
Radosh’s encounter is emblematic, and there is no dearth of information regarding Communist Cuba’s crimes against homosexuals. The persecution and corralling of these Cubans into concentration camps for compulsory labor have been extensively recorded. (Primary accounts include Jose Luis Llovio-Menendez’s Insider: My Hidden Life as a Revolutionary in Cuba, Reinaldo Arenas’s Before Night Falls, and Nestor Almendros and Orlando Jiminez Leal’s Improper Conduct.)
Homosexuality remains proscribed in Castro’s plantation; Article 303 of the Cuban Penal Code threatens “publicly manifested” homosexuality with a year’s imprisonment. Homosexual Cubans can thus be imprisoned for something as innocuous as holding hands. (Note to pro-Castro leftists: isn’t the Left supposed to champion homosexual liberation?)
Castro’s draconian anti-homosexual policies cohere with his enslavement of the Cuban population. These perpetrations share a totalitarian underpinning that expropriates self-ownership and bars basic human choice (where one can live, whom one can love, etc.). A regime that reduces human beings to chattel is hardly loath to forbid particular affection.
America, however, theoretically cherishes individual autonomy as indispensable to a just society. As Thomas Jefferson observes in Notes on the State of Virginia, “The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others.” Our Jeffersonian tradition does not countenance an OmnipotentState that considers every facet of human action subject to political control.
The prevalence in America of Castroist policies against homosexuals is therefore a perturbing peculiarity. Today, several states maintain laws criminalizing sodomy, some of them exclusively against homosexuals. A homosexual couple that consummates their relationship in Kansas, for instance, may be imprisoned for up to six months. South Carolina’s inclusive anti-sodomy law threatens five years’ imprisonment.
These laws (if they can even be called laws) are antithetical to Jefferson’s prescription of limited government, empowering the State to invade the most private of realms and dispossess freedom, livelihood, and social bonds. The infrequency of anti-sodomy laws’ enforcement does not mitigate their conversion of consensual intimacy into criminality, which any proponent of freedom should view as repugnant to justice.
If government can criminalize sodomy, this entails the authority to criminalize anything. One need not be homosexual to appreciate the ominous implications. As a heterosexual American, the precedent anti-sodomy laws establish for political carte blanche alarms me.
Totalitarian usurpation of individual rights is abominable anywhere, but especially in a country that claims to be a bastion of liberty. It is long overdue that states criminalizing sodomy cease emulating Fidel Castro and start embodying their Jeffersonian inheritance.