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The Cuban soap opera The Hidden Side of the Moon aired a story line this past spring about a married man who falls for another man and then contracts HIV. The show has been the most-watched soap in the history of Cuban television. Now, as the show draws to an end, Cuban gays and lesbians say the show is symbolic of the communist island's government and people becoming more accepting toward them, reports the Miami Herald.
''In 1980, during Mariel, we were thrown out of the country with the crazy people and criminals--the useless,'' said 42-year-old restaurant manager Alex, who declined to give his last name. "People threw rocks at us. I was forced to have girlfriends and do things that were beyond me."
In the 1960s and '70s Cuban gays and lesbians were considered criminals within the communist ideology and were forced into Military Units to Help Production facilities, where they endured hours of strenuous labor and were expected to refrain from homosexual practices.
"Suddenly in the last two years, there has been a concerted effort by the Cuban government to push a movement that had been going slowly for the past 20 years," said Emilio Bejel, author of Gay Cuban Nation. "They are trying to make up for the damage of the past.... I think they realize it was really horrible what they did."
Even though a lesbian couple was featured on a soap opera two years ago, The Hidden Side of the Moon represents the first time Cuban television has dealt with gay issues in a mainstream manner. The program has also generated a negative response, with one member of the LGBT community saying it's playing to an unwanted stereotype.
''The simple fact that they put a gay issue on TV shows a lot,'' said restaurant worker Oilime, who also declined to give his last name. "But it promoted the idea that if you sleep with a gay man, you will get a fatal illness. That helps us?"
In other related news, last year saw gay and lesbian film festivals take place all over Cuba, with the island holding its very first sexual diversity cultural festival in western Pinar del Rio. Additionally, the government has recently been sending delegates to Latin American International Lesbian and Gay Association conferences. (The Advocate)