Friday, July 16, 2010

Gay Friendly?

Reflexiones de Cuba – Reflections of Cuba – I

The young American couple seemed a bit anxious when they sat down next to us in the Jose Marti Airport in Havana. We assumed they were worried about the same thing we were dreading – going back through American customs in Miami after having been to Cuba, albeit legally in our case (presenting a paper at an academic conference). They asked if we were also heading over to Cozumel on the next flight. We weren’t. We were headed home via the Caymans. And then came the rest of the story.

They were a young couple from Dallas on their honeymoon. They had just discovered from their taxi driver as they approached the airport departures drop-off that Cuba requires a $25 per person departure tax payable only in Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC, essentially = $1 US). No US money is accepted in Cuba, in part in retaliation for tightening of sanctions against Cuba under the Bush administration. The young new bride said she should have known better, having lived in Panama for a couple of years (which also pops people with a surprise tax at the airport but does take American dollars – Panama's official currency – and credit cards). So they were in a bad place – needing to borrow $50 to get out of Cuba.

My sister and I didn’t really have to think long about it. We quickly decided to give them the $50 CUC from our own remaining CUCs that we were trying to get rid of before departing Cuba. The conversion rates for CUCs to dollars is poor – one of the many way’s Castro’s regime rips off American visitors. I found myself saying that “In Cuba, the government runs the businesses and they rip you off. In America, the businesses run the government which allows them to rip you off. Either way you get ripped off.”

We also decided not to tell them who we were for purposes of repayment. It was not big thing we were doing there from a monetary standpoint. It was simply the right thing to do under the circumstances. I could feel Saint Marge, our late mother, smiling on us as we lived into the values she and our father had taught us. As my sister said, “Just pay it forward.” What kind of world might we live in if people did?

As we waited the four hours we had given ourselves to get checked in and through customs in Cuba (I wanted to avoid being bumped from the flight as I was my first time in Cuba having arrived a mere three hours early) we talked with the couple about their lives and careers. Both were athletes and coached children’s sports teams. Both spoke about the sea of mindless conservatism they experience in Texas even though both were quick to add they weren’t liberals. Perhaps they were worried about Texas customs upon return.

But what struck me was a comment the young woman made about having lived overseas for three years and returning to the US and American television again. She commented on how heavy handed the consumer advertising appeared to her. And then she observed that “Suddenly everything was gay friendly. They just suppose that we all know gay people and have gay friends.” Insisting that she had “no feelings about this one way or the other,” a statement belied by her immediate need to look away from my apparently astonished reaction, she continued that television advertisers and programming simply shouldn’t assume that everyone is gay friendly.

I thought about her statement that afternoon as I gulped down the two Bucanero beers on which I had spent the remaining CUCs we had after the departure tax. It was one of the clearest - and most thoughtless - statements of heterosexism I’d ever heard. What is the alternative to gay friendly? Gay hostile? Gay neutral? When in western history has the latter EVER been the case?

I also thought about my own impending marriage to Andy. Unlike this young heterosexual couple in darkest Texas, we cannot simply go down to our local courthouse and apply for a license. We must travel 800 miles to the closest venue which will issue such a license, perform the marriage rite away from family and friends, and then return to a state where legal recognition of that legal status is going to take a class action lawsuit to accomplish. This gay man who with his sister had made possible an exit from Cuba for the straight honeymooners will not be able to travel abroad as a married couple with his spouse. America is hardly a gay friendly culture. And if that appears to be the case in our media, it is more likely a reflection of those who work in the media than the rank and file American, as our Dallas honeymooners readily reflect.

I saw the couple on the other side of customs, ready to catch their plane just before we left. It crossed my mind to tell them that it was a gay man who made their escape possible. I weighed my options and decided against it. Causing whatever small amount of cognitive dissonance such a revelation might spur would probably not change this woman’s mind or make her any more thoughtful. And on a honeymoon already marred by thoughtlessness, I figured they were already dealing with enough stress.

Maybe I’m just trying to be human friendly.

The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., Ph.D.
Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Orlando

If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.

Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes.

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