TV & Radio
Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 May 2006, 14:39 GMT 15:39 UK
Controversial gay soap opera grips Cuba
By Fernando Ravsberg
BBC Mundo, Havana
A TV soap opera is generating controversy on the streets of Cuba and attracting a record number of viewers. The reason? It is about what until now has been a taboo for Cuban TV: homosexuality.
It seems to be the sole topic of conversation in the workplace and the neighbourhoods, even though many men insist angrily that they do not watch "that telenovela in which a married man 'discovers himself' through a sexual relationship with a male friend".
It is the first time that television in Cuba has dared to broach the subject. It never even screened Strawberries and Chocolate, a classic Cuban film about the marginalisation of gay people.
The soap - The Dark Side of the Moon - shows the problems a bisexual man faces in today's Cuba, including his friends' revulsion and rejection by his parents.
Yaser, the bisexual character, says: "Everything I sacrificed myself for, I have lost."
His friend and partner tells him he understands.
"It is good for the people to be informed, so that youngsters are not tricked or trapped into that kind of thing, that homosexual thing"
"I also lost the affection of my parents and siblings," he says.
It is dialogue like this that is creating a stir across the island. The two men are not shown having any physical contact "so as to avoid offending viewers".
However, some do feel offended, including members of a group of retired men who I spoke to in a Havana park.
"I don't watch it. My wife does, but I don't like it because of the rude things they say," one says.
Another says: "I cannot get used to it, because what we were taught when we were young was morally different."
A different view on the soap opera comes from Raimara Casas, who thinks it serves as a warning.
"It is good for the people to be informed, so that youngsters are not tricked or trapped into that kind of thing, that homosexual thing," she says.
There are also people like Maria Nora, who think The Dark Side of the Moon is important because "it shows an openness on this issue that is not even found in foreign soap operas".
Actor Rafael Lahera, who plays Yaser, says that to broach "such a delicate subject in such a macho society" is an important step for Cuban TV.
But playing the leading role has not been without problems.
"People think I'm gay," he says. And, he adds, he has been turned down for acting jobs because employers do not want a role to be played by a homosexual.
Such discrimination is not unusual in Cuba, where in the 1960s and 70s homosexuals were sent to labour farms.
Today, gays and lesbians are socially isolated, the police harass transvestites and the government is refusing to authorise sex changes for transsexuals.
Maybe this soap opera will contribute towards changing that.