On Tuesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that in the wake of Indiana’s passage of its Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”), he has banned all non-essential, taxpayer-funded travel to the Hoosier State.
While it is unclear exactly how much of this type of travel to this specific destination was being undertaken by New York officials prior to his announcement of the ban, one thing is certain: Cuomo is set to visit Cuba, which has a famously poor record on gay rights, in the near future. It is hard to believe that this travel qualifies as “essential.” And presumably, said trip will be financed by New York residents’ tax dollars.
Cuba’s record on LGBT rights has improved over the years. However, it was so dismal to start with that this can hardly be surprising. Shortly after seizing power, the Castro regime sent tens of thousands of gay men to labor camps. It later forced HIV-positive people and those with AIDS into facilities in which they were separated against their will from the public-at-large.
In Cuba, same-sex couples enjoy none of the rights of marriage, let alone the ability to marry. Moreover, joint adoption is not an option for gay couples on the island.
Even after these worst abuses fell by the wayside, LGBT individuals as well as LGBT advocates in Cuba have faced ongoing harassment from government authorities in the form of detention, arrest, and physical assault. Cuba also initially opposed, then abstained from voting on, a 2010 UN proposal to treat “sexual orientation” as an especially objectionable motive for murder—a position it is hard to believe Cuomo would endorse.
Say what you will about Indiana’s legislators and governor, but it does not appear that they sanction cops targeting LGBT Hoosiers or their allies in downtown Indianapolis for beatings. It appears that the Cuban regime does, or at least has failed to put a stop to behavior on the part of public authorities that members of Cuba’s LGBT population feel have left them “very isolated.”
A 2013 report by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association indicates that in Cuba, not only can people refuse to bake cakes for gay couples if they so desire, there is also no “constitutional prohibition of discrimination based on sexual orientation.” Only very recently did Cuba ban discrimination in employment against gays and lesbians.
Furthermore, in Cuba, same-sex couples enjoy none of the rights of marriage, let alone the ability to marry. Moreover, joint adoption is not an option for gay couples on the island. Gay couples in Cuba also lack the option of civil unions, domestic partnerships and similar arrangements.
Would Indiana Republicans who pushed the RFRA through prefer their state have the same policies? Perhaps, though it is doubtful that they would support turning a blind eye to, say, targeted detentions or physical assaults on gays and lesbians or gay rights campaigners by police.
If Cuomo is serious about sending a message about New Yorkers’ tolerance of intolerance, he should say “no” to their public financing as well.
Should Mr. Cuomo and others seeking to limit any economic benefit to Indiana in the wake of RFRA making it onto the books also commit to nixing “non-essential” taxpayer-funded travel to Cuba, as well as countries like Russia, Jamaica, Afghanistan, the United Arab Emirates, Nigeria, Uganda, Singapore or Malaysia until they dramatically improve their records on gay rights? Absolutely. Truth be told, even where a trip to one of these places might be deemed “essential” for establishing or furthering trade relations, visiting aid workers, or deepening cultural ties, if Mr. Cuomo is serious about sending a message about New Yorkers’ tolerance of intolerance, he should say “no” to their public financing as well.
It is easy, given the controversy surrounding Indiana’s RFRA and the likely non-existent economic impact both for New York and for Indiana of Mr. Cuomo’s move, for him to restrict “non-essential” taxpayer-paid travel to the state.
But if it’s worth taking a stand against Indiana, surely it should be worth taking a stand against Cuba and these other locales, where both history and current events show a hostility towards LGBT individuals and LGBT rights from government authorities that makes America’s most vigorous opponents of same-sex marriage and anti-discrimination legislation look positively pro-gay.
If Mr. Cuomo is serious, he should do the hard thing, starting with the cancellation of his upcoming Cuba trip, until the totalitarian regime there further improves its gay rights record.
Liz Mair is the founder and President of Mair Strategies LLC, an online communications consulting firm. She has handled online communications strategy for the RNC, ex-Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, former Gov. Rick Perry, Gov. Scott Walker, Sen. Rand Paul and a variety of Fortune 500, FTSE 100 and major trade association and non-profit clients.