18 January 2010 – MSM and HIV
Statement On Despathologization Of Transsexualism – Cuban Multidisciplinary Society for Sexuality Studies
5th Cuban Congress of Sexual Education, Orientation and Therapy. The Sexual Diversity section of the Cuban Multidisciplinary Society for the Study of Sexuality (SOCUMES) proposed the adoption of the following Declaration in its General Assembly of Members on 18 January 2010 in Havana, based on a proposal made by the National Commission for Comprehensive Care of Transsexual People, of the National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX).
Read Report HERE
January 19, 2010 – The Huffington Post
Cuba Performing State-Sponsored Sex Change Surgery
Havana — Cuba has begun performing state-sponsored sex-change operations after the government lifted a longtime ban on the procedure in 2007, President Raul Castro‘s daughter said Tuesday. A sexologist and gay-rights advocate, Mariela Castro runs the Center for Sex Education, which prepares transsexuals for sex-change operations and identifies Cubans it deems ready for the procedure.
Speaking to reporters during the fifth Cuban Conference on Sexual Education, Orientation and Therapy, Castro said surgeries began in 2008 but would not specify exactly how many have been performed or how much they cost. She said only that Cuban doctors working with Belgian counterparts have gotten to "less than half" of the 30 islanders approved to undergo the procedure.
Cuba identified 122 people who wanted to have sex changes in 1979 and performed the first successful operation nine years later, but subsequent sex-change procedures were prohibited, Castro added. The operations are covered by Cuba’s universal health care system, even though some have protested the decision to allow them – either because of general opposition to the procedure or due to its high costs for a developing country with economic problems.
"We schedule a certain number per year based on economic circumstances," Castro said, adding that, because of budget constraints, sex changes are not offered to foreigners who travel to Cuba for medical care. Castro also said Tuesday that she plans to prepare a letter to the leadership of Cuba’s Communist Party urging authorities to draft a measure directing that homosexuals not be barred from joining the party.
Such a decree would be similar to one approved in the 1990s expressly allowing Cubans of all religious affiliations to join.
Story continues below Gays are not technically banned from the Communist Party, but Castro said such a measure would help better cement their role in politics.
Castro also said her center will continue to push the single-party government to rewrite civil codes and recognize same-sex unions, though not full gay marriage. However, she said the group has stopped pushing for same-sex couples to be allowed to adopt children, saying Cuba’s legal code provides no means for such a move.
March 10, 2010 – PinkNews
Cuba pays for gender reassignment surgery
by Jessica Geen
Cuba has begun paying for trans men and women to have gender reassignment surgery. Mariela Castro, the daughter of President Raul Castro and niece of former leader Fidel, confirmed to reporters yesterday that the country began paying for the procedures in 2008. Gender reassignment surgery was effectively banned in Cuba in 1988, when the first such procedure caused an outcry. It was only legalised in 2007.
Eight trans people are thought to have had state-funded surgery in the last two years, while another 22 are waiting for their procedures. Ms Castro is the head of Cuba’s National Centre for Sexual Education and is the country’s best known gay rights advocate. It was her who lobbied the state to lift the ban, although she said the change was never made public to avoid controversy. She told Associated Press: "These processes of negotiation are sometimes done very quietly, so as not to stir up ghosts." However, she would not confirm how much the procedures cost.
Sexual diversity was seen by Fidel Castro as a corrupt consequence of capitalism and trans people were treated with the same suspicion and prejudice as gays. Homosexual sex was partially decriminalised in Cuba in 1979 and an equal age of consent was introduced in 1992. While social attitudes towards gay people are generally negative, the capital city Havana has a thriving gay scene. Under Castro, who ruled from 1959 until 2007, many gay men suffered in Cuban labour camps as the regime ‘re-educated’ homosexuals.
Gays were incarcerated in Military Units to Aid Production between 1965 and 1968. Castro believed that hard work would rid the men of their “counter-revolutionary tendencies".
May 17, 2010 – CBS 4
Cubans Hold First March Against Homophobia – Haga Clic Aquí Para Leer Este Titular En Español
Havana (AP) – Hundreds of gay and lesbian activists, some dressed in drag and others sporting multicolored flags representing sexual diversity, marched and danced through the streets of Havana on Saturday along with the daughter of Cuban President Raul Castro as part of a celebration aimed at eliminating homophobia around the world. Some of the marchers played drums and others walked on stilts as they made their way down a wide avenue in the capital’s hip Vedado neighborhood, where they have held a series of debates and workshops ahead of the May 17 celebration of the International Day Against Homophobia, which participants say marks the day in 1990 when the World Health Organization stopped listing homosexuality as a mental illness.
"We have made progress, but we need to make more progress," said Mariela Castro, a campaigner for gay rights on the island and the leader of Cuba’s National Sexual Education Center. She is also the daughter of Cuban President Raul Castro. Cuba has come a long way in accepting homosexuality. In the 1960s, shortly after the revolution, homosexuals were fired from state jobs and many were imprisoned or sent to work camps. Others fled into exile.
But that began to change in the 1980s, in large part to the work of Mariela Castro’s center. Recently, the government has even agreed to include sex change operations for transsexuals under its free national health system, another project championed by the center. The workshops and debates held Saturday dealt with issues such as adoption by gay and lesbian couples and whether to legalize gay marriages, a step Mariela Castro has been pushing for years, so far without success. The week of celebrations culminates Monday.
May 20, 2010 – AFP
Cuban drag queens take to the stage
by Rigoberto Diaz (AFP)
Santa Clara, Cuba — For 23-year-old Charlimar it was a dream come true, gyrating like Latin pop star Shakira on an outdoor stage before 2,000 cheering people, in the first government-sanctioned drag show in the communist country. Organized by the daughter of President Raul Castro, Mariela, the unprecedented show in the central city that revolutionary hero Ernesto "Che" Guevara conquered in 1958, drew stares and stopped traffic on Monday under the watchful gaze of local police.
"I’ve been a drag queen for three-and-a-half years, but it’s hard to believe I’ve been blessed at such a young age when others waited much longer to see their dream come true," said fashion designer Dayan Marin, known better as the spandex-wearing Charlimar. Iroshi Santos, a 22-year-old who goes by stage name Omega, predicted "this show will make history and people will start understanding us."
The closing attraction of International Day Against Homophobia, the drag show, was a far cry from 1960s and 1970s Cuba, where homosexuals were herded into reeducation camps. "It’s significant that today we should celebrate peacefully… all of us together spilling our good energy," said Mariela Castro, director of National Sexual Education Center (Cenesex), which sponsored the event.
The president’s daughter is a fervent supporter of gay marriage and gay adoption. In January, she asked the ruling Communist Party to end gay discrimination within its ranks. In all, 17 drag queens performed on the outdoor stage outside the "El Mejunje" (The Mix) cultural center, long known as the underground mecca of Cuba’s transvestites.
Gay pride flags and signs lined the street: "Don’t let prejudice rule you," "Don’t limit your freedom nor limit anybody else’s freedom," some of them read. A huge banner draping the front of a building proclaimed, "Homosexuality is not dangerous; homophobia is." "It’s wonderful that we can share the street with everybody… without rejection or discrimination," said 24-year-old hairdresser Lazaro Diaz, stage name Zulema Anderson, who is "eagerly looking forward" to having a sex-change operation.
The risky procedure has been legal and free of charge in Cuba since 2008, as long as the patient gets the green light from doctors and psychologists. Ramon Silverio, who founded El Mejunje 26 years ago, was thrilled about the spectacle outside his clubhouse. "There are people of all ages, all beliefs and orientations. The whole world is here, and that’s really important," he told AFP.
But not everyone was pleased. "Making this a public spectacle is shameful. This is Che’s city," said a woman who declined to give her name. But Carlos, a 47-year-old nurse enjoying the show with his boyfriend of 10 years, Jose, saw nothing wrong. "I’m gay, but I adore Che and I’m convinced a man like him would have accepted us," he said. After seeing his dream come true, Charlimar is now working on another aspiration: revealing his true sexual preference to his mom. "It’s my biggest wish, but I know it’ll take time before she understands me."
September 1, 2010 – PinkNews
Castro takes responsibility for Cuba persecuting gays
by Jessica Geen
Fidel Castro has said that he was responsible for Cuba persecuting gay men in the 1960s and 70s. The former president told Mexican newspaper La Jornada that there had been moments of "great injustice" against the gay community. "If someone is responsible, it’s me," he said. He added that he did not have any personal prejudice against gays and lesbians but was trying to work out how responsible he was for the persecution.
Castro was leader of Cuba from 1959 to 2009 and believed that sexual diversity was a corrupt consequence of capitalism. During his rule, many gay men suffered in Cuban labour camps as the regime ‘re-educated’ homosexuals to rid them of their "counter-revolutionary tendencies". Castro added that he had not paid enough attention to the issue of homophobia, saying: "At the time we were being sabotaged systematically, there were armed attacks against us, we had too many problems."
Homosexual sex was partially decriminalised in Cuba in 1979 and an equal age of consent was introduced in 1992. In the last few years, Mariela Castro, the niece of the former president and the daughter of his successor, Raul Castro, has become a campaigner for LGBT rights. Ms Castro, the head of Cuba’s National Centre for Sex Education, has been a strong supporter of legal moves to grant equal rights to all citizens, including steps towards same-sex unions and access to gender reassignment surgery.
October 12, 2010 – IPS
Ten Years Fighting HIV/AIDS and Reaching Out to Gays
by Dalia Acosta
Havana,(IPS) – Raúl Regueiro remembers every detail about the creation, 10 years ago in Cuba, of the project for the prevention of HIV/AIDS among men who have sex with men, and the way the initiative crossed the boundaries of purely health-related concerns to address the question of social inclusion.
"Although homosexuality had been mentioned before, up to that point no work had been done with men," Regueiro told IPS. A co-founder of the project, Regueiro’s idea is now applied in 14 provinces on the island and involves around 1,700 volunteer health outreach workers who act as direct links with Cuban communities. "It was the first time the people most affected by HIV/AIDS participated in a programme that was focused on educating people and on other aspects as well," recalls Regueiro, who is now assistant to the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) programme to combat HIV in this Caribbean island nation.
"By using peer education as a tool, men who have sex with men (MSM) themselves urged each other to practice safe sex," said Regueiro, who was at the meeting that founded the MSM-Cuba programme in August 2000, at the National Centre for Prevention of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) and HIV/AIDS.
The AIDS epidemic, which in its initial stages mainly affected gay men, rubbed salt in a particular wound in Cuban society. After the period of state-sponsored homophobia in Cuba in the 1960s and 1970s, the appearance of the first cases of HIV/AIDS in 1986 became another excuse for the rejection of gays, who were already vulnerable members of society. This was exacerbated by compulsory quarantine of those who contracted the infection, a practice that continued into the early 1990s.
In Cuba, eight out of 10 HIV-positive people are men, according to official sources that have recorded about 13,000 cases in this country of 11.2 million people. Out of the total male HIV-positive group, over 80 percent have sex with other men, equivalent to 7.6 percent of all Cuban males in the 12-49 age range, according to a 2009 study by the National Statistics Office (ONE). And about 60 percent of the HIV-positive males said they were bisexual. The study also found an increasing trend within the group toward living with stable partners.
A previous ONE study in 2006 found that the MSM-Cuba HIV/AIDS prevention programme had saved about 3,000 men from becoming infected with HIV. Scientific research into MSM behaviour and the training given to health outreach volunteers through the programme also led to greater recognition and visibility for this segment of the population. Educational strategies for MSM about HIV/AIDS were discussed at the "highest level of the government," Regueiro said.
The expert, who was national coordinator of the project until early last year, described how specific prevention actions targeting gay and bisexual men were adopted by provincial and municipal governments, organised as the Working Group to Prevent and Fight HIV/AIDS (GOPELS). The actions have had the greatest impact among gays, as they tend to be more open than bisexual men about their sexual orientation.
This may be the reason for the considerable increase in condom use by MSM, either with their stable partners or in occasional encounters, which was documented in the 2006 and 2009 ONE studies. However, consistent condom use is still below the 75 percent level necessary for controlling the epidemic, according to a 2003 Canadian research study.
Yoire Ferrer, who helped launched the programme in Santiago de Cuba in the southeast of the country, said the initiative has been "extremely useful" for the national health service and is unique in terms of its "coverage level and the links established with sexual minorities." "We have capacity-building and management programmes at all levels, and we promote recognition of sexual diversity and encourage respect for and acceptance of gay, bisexual and heterosexual men," Ferrer told IPS in an e-mail from Santiago de Cuba.
Health interventions among populations suffering from discrimination encompass "the whole range of sexuality-related elements, and help improve quality of life by addressing issues like self-esteem and empowerment, focusing on the individual as a social and sexual being," Omar Parada, a co-founder of the project, told IPS. Parada, a mechanical engineer by profession who coordinates the MSM-Cuba programme in the eastern province of Granma, regretted that "many MSM are staying the closet." In his view, community work and social inclusion efforts should be expanded.
"We should not limit ourselves solely to issues related to STIs, HIV, self-esteem and empowerment," said Parada, who added that what is needed is "a multi-directional agenda that embraces advocacy, discrimination and human rights." In the past 10 years, the programme has done a great deal of research on sexual minorities, especially MSM, in spite of the fact that within academia "there is still a lot of discrimination, rejection and fear about these issues," Andrey Hernández, the present national coordinator of MSM-Cuba, told IPS.
According to Hernández, the programme has a constantly updated map of MSM meeting places that men frequent in search of spontaneous or paid sexual encounters with other men. Although some work has been done to understand this segment of society, sociological approaches are still very timid. Over time, MSM-Cuba "has become a voice, a representative, an open door to generate relationships, including friendships, while fomenting personal growth," Regueiro said. "The HIV/AIDS epidemic has shown how important community participation is for any effective response," he said.
December 29, 2010 – The Body
Cuba: Drag Queens and Volunteers Promote Safe Sex
From U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
The "Canto a la Vida" (Song to Life) gala at the Fausto Theater in Havana was one of several local events marking World AIDS Day recently. The event, which featured the drag queen Margot Parapar, was organized by Cuba’s National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX) and other cultural and health organizations.
CENESEX and the National Center for Prevention of Sexually Transmitted Infections and HIV/AIDS (CNPSIDA) conduct prevention and awareness programs through voluntary health promoters like Parapar. Parapar’s stage shows include messages on sexual health infused with large doses of humor. On stage, in front of a rainbow flag as a backdrop, she confidently tells the audience, "I know everything: I am a protected oracle." Cuba has approximately 13,000 people living with HIV, for a prevalence of 0.1 percent, the lowest in the Caribbean region. However, men who have sex with men (MSM) are disproportionately affected by the disease, making up 72 percent of all diagnosed cases, said Rosaida Ochoa of CNPSIDA.
CNPSIDA has trained 1,700 MSM health volunteers, and CENESEX’s program for MSM and transgender persons (MSM-Trans) has more than 400. These volunteers are a "key factor" for conducting prevention outreach among peers as well as to wider population groups, said Malú Cano Valladares, founder and coordinator of MSM-Trans. "They take their health messages to their usual meeting places, as well as to schools, communities, and hospitals," said Valladares.
According to MSM-Trans member Luis Rondón, "developing closer relationships of trust" and expanding "the social influence exerted by the volunteers" have improved Cuba’s efforts to combat HIV/AIDS.
Diciembre 29, 2010 – Paquito el de Cuba
Primera discoteca gay estatal en pesos cubanos en La Habana o la Fiesta de los Tuix
(English translation follows)
El mensaje electrónico me lo envió un estudiante de periodismo que hace prácticas profesionales en mi redacción. Parecía demasiado perfecto para ser real: una discoteca gay en un restaurante estatal de La Habana Vieja, por solo 25 pesos cubanos, con oferta gastronómica en la misma moneda, climatización, efectos de luces y otros “de última generación”. No soy muy fiestero, pero a tono con el espíritu de celebración que prima por estos días finales del año y consecuentes con una vieja tradición romántica entre mi pareja y yo, ese mismo fin de semana nos propusimos ir a comprobar una noticia tan espectacular. Volante que circula en fiestas particulares de ambiente gay en la capital para promover La fiesta de los Tuix
¡Y era cierto! Sobre las diez de la noche del sábado antepasado, bajamos por la calle Muralla, por un costado del Hotel Saratoga, frente al Parque de la Fraternidad, tres o cuatro cuadras hasta hallar la esquina de Compostela. Es una zona de La Habana Vieja muy cerca de importantes arterias, como Monserrate y Obispo, pero tampoco muy llamativa. Un lugar discreto, podríamos decir. Tanto que al llegar al sitio nos costó trabajo descubrir la entrada, pero allí estaba, sin muchas luces ni estridencia: restaurante El Sótano. Pagamos la entrada y bajamos al amplio salón, donde había música y solo unos pocos clientes todavía. Esa era la primera noche de La fiesta de los Tuix.
“Cuando mi pareja y yo salíamos a pasear, y sospechábamos que alguien era gay, nos decíamos en un código secreto nuestro: ese es Tuix, por eso tuvimos la idea de ponerle ese nombre que nos pareció pintoresco”, me esclareció Navid Fernández Cabrera, quien lidera el proyecto de esta nueva opción de “ambiente”, también con el propósito explícito de luchar “contra la homofobia”.
Insistente y emprendedor, este entusiasta productor musical contemporáneo conmigo me contó sobre su experiencia previa en el montaje de espectáculos y su búsqueda afanosa desde hace un tiempo atrás por toda La Habana, de un local apropiado donde establecer legalmente una discoteca para personas LGTB, con precios módicos y en pesos cubanos, que sirviera de alternativa a las fiestas en casas particulares y a las opciones en pesos convertibles de algunas instalaciones nocturnas habaneras que ya brindan ese servicio.
Un buen día Navid pasó por Compostela y Muralla, muy cerca del lugar donde vive, y descubrió aquel modesto restaurante de la empresa municipal de Comercio y Gastronomía, posiblemente algo descomercializado por su propia ubicación. Cuando vio las condiciones “estratégicas” del salón, sintió que su búsqueda había terminado.
La administración de El Sótano acogió el proyecto con gran interés y disposición, según refiere Navid. Bajo el nivel de la calle —como bien indica su nombre—, sin grandes filtraciones acústicas, con unas dimensiones apropiadas (alrededor de 13 metros de largo por 9 de ancho, con gruesas columnas y esquinas particularmente “atractivas”), el restaurante podría admitir como discoteca entre 350 y 400 personas, de acuerdo con los cálculos del promotor cultural.
“La idea es genial, los precios de entrada y de las bebidas son más baratos que los de otras discotecas, aunque no vemos todo lo que prometía la publicidad. Pero está muy bien, ahora hace falta que la gente venga”, me comentó Sydney Sánchez, un joven trabajador que compartía allí con su pareja y un grupo de muchachos, quienes —como yo— supo de La fiesta de los Tuix por el citado correo electrónico.
Era la noche inicial, por supuesto. Navid me confirmó que todavía no estaban completos el juego de luces y los efectos propios de ese tipo de instalación, los cuales terminarían de instalar en los días subsiguientes. Sobre la marcha deberán mejorar además otras cuestiones técnicas como la climatización, la ambientación, la propia oferta de la gastronomía, en fin… estaban en la arrancada todavía.
No obstante, había una oferta variada de coctelería, cerveza enlatada, rones embotellados; buena música disco, cubana y baladas —a petición del público— y solamente unas pocas decenas de gay, lesbianas, transexuales y hasta alguna pareja heterosexual, lo cual hizo muy agradable y tranquila la velada inaugural (sobre todo para mí que no gusto de las moloteras).
Supe, además, que el proyecto prevé inaugurar allí para enero una peña de la popular cantante pop Yenisey del Castillo, incorporar humoristas, y eventualmente podría incluir también algún espectáculo de transformismo. Pero su propósito principal será bailar, mover el esqueleto, los sábados desde las diez de la noche hasta las seis de la mañana “para que la gente no tenga que preocuparse con el transporte por la madrugada”, y los domingos hasta la medianoche, precisó Navid.
En un extremo del salón, trabajadoras del restaurante hacían ciertos preparativos para el día siguiente, y quise saber cómo tomaban el hecho de una discoteca gay en su unidad gastronómica, si tendrían alguna reserva al ver parejas del mismo sexo bailar, compartir, vivir. “No, nada de eso, los cantineros están encantados, porque dicen que los homosexuales dicen “por favor” para pedir los tragos —me dijo una de las cocineras— Son lo mejor del mundo, gente de clase”
First state gay nightclub in Havana Cuba – ‘ Tuixén’
(English Translation from Google)
The email I sent a journalism student doing work experience in my writing. It seemed too perfect to be real: a gay nightclub in a state restaurant in Old Havana, for only 25 pesos, with gastronomic offer in the same currency, air conditioning, lighting effects and other "last generation." I’m not partying, but in keeping with the celebratory spirit that prevails in these final days of the year and consistent with an old romantic tradition between my partner and I, that same weekend we decided to go check a story as spectacular.
And it was true! About ten o’clock Saturday night ancestor, descended on Wall Street, down the side of the Hotel Saratoga, compared Fraternity Park, three or four blocks to find the corner of Compostela. It is an area of Old Havana close to major arteries such as Montserrat and Bishop, but not too flashy. An inconspicuous location, you might say. While reaching the site we had trouble finding the entrance, but there it was, not many lights or stridency: restaurant The Basement.
We paid the entrance and down the wide hall, where there was music and only a few customers still. That was the first night of the feast of Tuixén.
"When my partner and I went for a walk, and suspected that someone was gay, we said in our secret code: that is Tuixén, so we had the idea to put that name that seemed quaint," he clarified Navid Fernández Cabrera, who leads the project for this new option of "environment", also with the explicit purpose of combating "homophobia."
Persistent and enterprising, this enthusiastic contemporary music producer with me told me about his experience in setting up shows and their desperate search some time ago throughout Havana, in a suitable place where to legally establish a club for LGBT people, with prices reasonable and in Cuban pesos, which serve as an alternative to private house parties and options in convertible pesos Havana night some facilities that already provide this service. One day passed Navid Wall Compostela, close to where you live, and found that modest restaurant in the municipal and Food Trade, possibly something descomercializado for its own location. When he saw the terms "strategic" the room, she felt her search was over.
The administration of The Basement welcomed the project with great interest and willingness, as reported by Navid. Under the street level, as its name indicates, "no major leaks Acoustic appropriate dimensions (about 13 meters long and 9 wide, with thick columns and corners particularly" attractive "), the restaurant might support a disco between 350 and 400 people, according to estimates by the promoter of culture.
"The idea is great, prices for entry and drinks are cheaper than other clubs, but not everything we promised in advertising. But it is very good, now we need people to come, "he said Sydney Sanchez, a young worker who shared there with his partner and a group of boys, who, like me, knew of the feast of the above Tuixén mail. It was the first night, of course. Navid confirmed to me that were not yet complete the play of light and the ordinary effects of such facility, which would end up installing on subsequent days. Progress should also improve other technical issues such as climate, the atmosphere, the actual range of cuisine, well … they were in the snatch yet.
However, there was a varied selection of cocktails, beer, canned, bottled rum, good disco, ballads, Cuban popular demand, and only a few tens of gay, lesbian, transgender and even some heterosexual couples, which made it very nice and quiet the opening night (especially for me who do not like the moloteras).
I knew also that the project scheduled to open there in January a rock of the popular pop singer Yenisey del Castillo, include comedians, and may eventually include a show of changing it. But its main purpose will be dancing, boogie, Saturday from ten in the evening until six o’clock "so that people do not have to worry about transportation during the night, and Sunday until midnight, said Navid. At one end of the hall, restaurant workers made certain preparations for the next day, and wanted to know how they took the fact of a gay nightclub in the dining unit, if they had any reservations to see same-sex couples dance, share, live. "No, nothing like that, the bartenders are happy because they say that homosexuals say" please "to ask for drinks," he said one of the cooks, are the best of world class people.
January 21, 2011 – In These Times
Cuba Goes Both Ways on Gay Rights – United Nations vote opens room for dissent
by Achy Obejas
In its 52 years, the Cuban Revolution has had a less than stellar queer history, complete with on-the-record anti-gay statements by Fidel Castro, sanctioned anti-gay persecutions and purges, and labor camps in the 1960s created for LGBT people. Officially, all that has changed. Fidel Castro apologized for the persecution of gays on his watch, there are no explicitly anti-gay laws on the books, and LGBT rights have found an unlikely champion in Mariela Castro, President Raul Castro’s daughter, a sexologist who runs the National Sex Education Center (CENESEX, as its known by its Spanish acronym).
But, unofficially, there’s still plenty of police harassment of LGBT people (documented by both pro- and anti-government bloggers, mostly for foreign readers), and no recognition of LGBT citizens and their families, which effectively frustrates, if not denies, access to housing, certain medical services, adoption and travel.
Cuba’s split personality on LGBT issues came onto the international stage at the United Nations in November, when it was the only Latin American country that voted to have “sexual orientation” removed from a list of discriminatory motivations for extrajudicial executions. The amendment would have changed the LGBT-specific language to the vague phrase, “for discriminatory reasons, whatever they may be.” Citizens around the globe raised such an outcry that, a month later, the international body reversed itself and passed an inclusive resolution.
In a second round of voting, to re-insert the original inclusive language, Cuba abstained. Breaking with Cuban officialdom, pro-government Cuban bloggers joined dissident bloggers—in defiance of a complete blackout on the matter in official Cuban media—in criticizing the Cuban U.N. delegation for the anti-gay vote. Usually, the U.N. resolution on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions is a routine, biannual (and, as it is nonbinding, purely symbolic) referendum. In 2008, Cuba supported it without the slightest controversy even though it included the language it voted to repeal this time around. The resolution against unjustified killing of vulnerable people in several categories—ethnic, racial, religious and sexual orientation—ultimately passed with 122 yes votes (including Cuba), 62 abstentions (including the United States) and only one vote against (Saudi Arabia).
So what happened with Cuba’s confusing series of votes, especially in light of its eventual support of the resolution? Last month, in an unusual press release, Mariela Castro parted company with the party line on Cuba’s first U.N. amendment vote: “Even though in [the approved version of] the amendment, our nation expresses support for condemning [these executions]…in practice we have voted alongside those countries whose laws view homosexuality as a crime, five of which apply the death sentence.” (Of the 79 countries that voted in favor of the language change, 76 criminalize homosexuality.) She reminded Cuba’s U.N. diplomats that the island is a signatory to the 2008 General Assembly declaration of rights based on sexual orientation and gender identity (her complete statement in Spanish can be read here).
The president’s daughter was not alone. Bloggers immediately joined her disapproval, but none went so far as Francisco Rodriguez Cruz, an editor at Trabajadores, Cuba’s labor newspaper. Cruz wrote a letter to Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla, the foreign affairs minister, and published it on his blog. He wrote: As a Cuban citizen, communist militant and member of the LGBT community on the island, I wish to express my total and passionate disagreement with the Cuban delegation’s vote. I wish to point out how incomprehensible this diplomatic exercise seems in light of the policies our nation has in place to deal with these issues.
Shortly after, the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a short note re-affirming its pro-LGBT commitment and explaining its position: “Cuba voted in favor of the amendment…because it considered it sufficiently general and inclusive.” Amazingly, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs then invited Cruz and a couple of activists associated with CENESEX to a meeting with the minister himself. “The minister attributed the first vote to ‘an unforeseen and temporary circumstance’,” Cruz said. “I interpreted this, including the quick meeting at the ministry, as a diplomatic way of letting us know that it was a mistake on the part of the Cuban U.N. delegation. I can’t think of any other explanation.”
May 14, 2011 – The Washington Post
Colorful march in Havana celebrates sexual diversity, opposes anti-gay discrimination
by Associated Press,
Havana — Cubans have held a short but colorful parade celebrating sexual diversity to mark the International Day Against Homophobia. Dozens of people waving rainbow flags and banging drums marched through the capital Saturday. One participant held a portrait of ex-leader Fidel Castro. Castro’s niece Mariela Castro campaigns for gay rights and heads the government-backed National Sexual Education Center. She says the march is meant to raise awareness about discrimination.
Cuba is far more tolerant of homosexuality than in the early years after the 1959 revolution, when many gays lost jobs, were imprisoned or sent to work camps or fled to exile. The government has even began paying for Cubans’ sex-change operations in recent years.
28 June 2011 – LGBT Asylum News
Are Cuba’s communists getting ready to support LGBT rights?
by Paul Canning
Mariela Castro Espín, the daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro and a leader for LGBT rights on that island, told the 20th World Congress for Sexual Health, held in the Scottish city of Glasgow 18 June, that Cuba’s Communist Party may soon be ready to recognise gay and lesbian rights, even though her father has cautioned her that the time may not yet be ripe. “I’ll be frank with you. My father, with all his experience in outlining strategies, and getting them implemented, has told me one first has to create the right conditions – and Cuban society lacks them in many areas," she said.
"When the Revolution declared itself socialist after the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, people took up arms to defend it, hardly knowing what socialism was exactly. It seems a contradiction, but what I’m trying to say is that, in this macho culture, we’ve made a lot of progress regarding women’s rights. So I’d tell my father: why don’t we do the same thing with these issues? But he’d say: look, some things have such deeps roots in our culture, that you’ll face a lot of resistance unless you sort out some other things first. That’s why it’s necessary to wait until the party conference in January  and make progress informing the population with the help of the media. That way we’ll get things ready in order to get a good result."
June 17 Cuba supported the historic resolution for LGBT rights at the United Nations Human Rights Council. At the UN, Cuban activists had previously scored an abstention as a victory. The official blog of the Centro Nacional de Educación Sexual (National Center for Sexual Education, CENESEX), the organisation which Mariela Castro Espín heads, said: "Cuba’s affirmative vote shows the political will of our Party and State to eliminate all forms of discrimination that unfortunately still persist in Cuban society."
However independent LGBT groups have also been lobbying the government, including to support the June 17 UN resolution, such as this march held in the Eastern city of Santiago. Alejandro Armengol, a Miami-based commentator and veteran observer of Cuban politics, says that the change in attitudes at the UN demonstrates: "how forceful the gay movement in Cuba has become." "There are times when Cuba uses gays, or certain gays, especially writers and artists, to show how things have gotten better," says Armengol. "That’s how they throw the focus off matters of censorship and repression, for sure. But that can’t erase that there’s real progress in this area, sometimes even more than the government bargained for."
Cuba’s history on LGBT rights includes anti-gay statements by Fidel Castro, sanctioned anti-gay persecutions and purges, and labor camps in the 1960s created specifically for LGBT people (which Fidel has since apologised for). This period was dramatically documented by the 1980s documentary "Improper Conduct", and by the renowned author Reinaldo Arenas in his 1992 autobiography, Before Night Falls, as well as his fiction, most notably The Color of Summer and Farewell to the Sea. The criminal laws against homosexuality were gradually liberalised, starting in 1979. Continuing police harassment in Cuba, including arrests, has been reported on gay Cuban blogs, particularly that of the Reinaldo Arenas Memorial Foundation.
Herb Sosa, president of Unity Coalition, a Latino LGBT organization based in Miami that has provided materials and resources to LGBT groups, has accused the Cuban government of engaging in extrajudicial executions. Ms Castro has made the fight against homophobia in Cuba a personal struggle, giving countless talks and interviews. "Prejudices are still deeply rooted in our culture and in our history as a nation. Finding new ways to change the reality of such views is very hard," she said. "What I try to do is to dismantle prejudices and offer alternative perspectives on the sexual reality of human beings. Making progress in these areas, especially in those of gender and equal women’s rights, has helped us make progress in respecting sexual diversity and gender identity."
June 28, 2011 – Miami Herald
Cuba gays stage ‘independent’ Gay Pride march – Despite gains in recent years, an alternative gay rights group held a small protest in Havana on Tuesday to “demand” respect for the rights of gays.
by Juan O. Tamayo
A small group of “independent” Cuban gays and lesbians strolled down a Havana boulevard Tuesday to celebrate Gay Pride Day — and mark their distance from pro-government LGBT groups controlled by Raúl Castro’s daughter Mariela. Waving rainbow colored flags, dozens of LGBT activists and supporters joined what was described as Cuba’s first gay street demonstration not sponsored by the government in recent memory. The event drew a strong police presence but went off without incident. Leannes Imbert, whose Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Observatory organized the event, had said that she was inviting everyone, even Mariela Castro, to the stroll — not a protest or a march because those might have required police permits. But the event was clearly designed to highlight differences with the “official” LGBT groups backed by the first daughter, who has argued that Gay Pride parades are “protests” not needed in Cuba because the country’s laws protect gay rights.
The stroll also highlighted the growing activism of varied independent groups — gays, blacks and farmers, among others — seeking a stronger voice in the nation’s affairs as the communist government tries to overhaul a stumbling economy. “People are a bit more daring each day. We’re hearing critical expressions that were unthinkable before,” blogger Yoani Sánchez wrote in a Tweet as she joined the 90-minute demonstration. In turn, the independent groups are receiving growing attention abroad. Imbert attended former President Jimmy Carter’s meeting with civil society leaders in Havana in March, and the U.S. State Department is planning to spend $300,000 this year to help the LGBT community in Cuba.
Imbert told reporters after the event that Mariela Castro and her National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX) in Havana had organized several events Tuesday to divert attention from the stroll. Security officials also had warned gay rights activists in recent days to stay away from the Observatory’s event. Several El Nuevo Herald calls to Imbert’s cell phone Tuesday appeared to have been blocked. In an interview published earlier on the website Cuba Encuentro, she declared that her group organized the stroll primarily to cast a spotlight on the LGBT community in Cuba, “which has been in the shadow for so long.”
She acknowledged some improvements in gay rights in recent years but argued that not all the credit should go to Mariela Castro, who has been the face and the voice of the pro-government LGBT community on the island for more than a decade. “This is the time when we have to come out into the light and show everyone the LGBT community in Cuba, which is not only CENESEX,’’ Imbert was quoted as saying.
The Observatory will “demand” respect for the rights of gay Cubans, she added, “which up to now have been denied. There are many violations still — although the form has changed somewhat if we compare it to past years.” Herb Sosa, head of the Unity Coalition, a Hispanic gay rights group based in South Florida, remained skeptical of the Observatory, arguing that if the Cuban government allowed the stroll it must be part of a government propaganda effort. “Almost every day I get reports of LGBT community people being beaten, arrested, dragged off to jail because there’s no freedom of expression at all in Cuba,” Sosa told El Nuevo Herald. Imbert told Cuba Encuentro that police have broken up efforts to mark Gay Pride Day in past years and pointed out the stroll was held on Paseo del Prado — a pedestrian boulevard in central Havana where police cannot accuse participants of disrupting traffic.
New York author Armando Lopez recalled in a column in May, shortly after Mariela Castro had led a CENESEX-organized conga line down Havana streets for her version of a Gay Pride march, that Fidel Castro had harshly attacked gays in a 1963 speech.“Homophobia became state policy” that year, Lopez wrote, quoting Castro as saying that gays “use public spaces to organize their feminoid shows … Socialist society cannot permit such degenerate actions.” Castro added, “I always noticed that the countryside never gave rise to that subproduct.” Two years later, he sent thousands of gays, priests and others he did not want to draft into the military to the notorious hard labor camps known as UMAP. Cuban gays, Lopez added, “are victims of an absurd revolution. Just like you and me, my dear reader.”
July 19, 2011 – Xtra
Gay Cubans taste growing freedom – Many credit Castro’s daughter, Mariela
by Julia Steinecke
Havana, Cuba — We stroll through the dark streets of Centro Habana, my local friend walking two blocks in front of me to avoid arousing police suspicion that he could be a hustler. Our destination is a bar called Habaneciendo, where the marquee advertises “Estrellita Jaime Jimenez.” Gay Cuban men of all ages fill the small space until the show begins with Chantal, a cross between Dolly Parton and Wonder Woman. Chantal persuades the audience to sing along while tucking plenty of money down the front of her dress. Six years ago, on my last visit to Cuba, this scene would have been unthinkable. Back then, most parties were illegal and were held in semi-secret locations under the constant threat of police raids.
Even more surprising is our visit to Café Cantante, behind the National Theatre on the highly symbolic Plaza of the Revolution. Tonight is the one-year anniversary of a disco night called El Divino, attended by hundreds of men and a handful of women. Events like this can take place more openly now, partly because of the changes wrought by the daughter of President Raúl Castro. Mariela Castro Espín is the director of CENESEX, the government’s National Centre for Sex Education. Mariela (who locals refer to by her first name) has introduced some important changes, such as the 2008 announcement that Cuba would perform free gender reassignment surgery for transsexuals who qualify. A few dozen individuals have qualified, and I’m told about 15 operations have taken place so far.
Mariela has also spearheaded annual celebrations of the International Day Against Homophobia with a parade in Havana and an outdoor drag show in Santa Clara. After a late night at Café Cantante, I drag myself onto a bus to the middle of the island for a gay disco, in Santa Clara, the next night. The venue, El Mejunje, was founded by Ramón Silverio, an impoverished local kid who, word has it, loved it when the travelling circus came to town. Silverio dreamed of a place where artists, rock musicians, drag performers and intellectuals of all kinds could gather and find acceptance. “Ramón Silverio is a very important cultural figure in Cuba,” a local tourism worker tells me in Spanish. Despite the increasing comfort levels, the worker does not want to be named.
Still, he says the culture in Santa Clara is “is easygoing, tranquilo.” Gays and lesbians can walk the streets with no fear of violence, he says. Trans women can dress as they wish — people won’t assault them or call them names, though they may say, “Que bonita!” (“How beautiful!”) He’s pleased with the progress of gay rights in Cuba. It’s easier for gay couples to live together now, he says; they just have to find someone with a spare room to rent. At El Mejunje there are crowds of gay and trans people waiting outside a semi-restored ruin of a building with trees growing out the windows. Inside, a disco beat begins to pound. The throng files in and starts dancing, while a couple of lesbians kiss passionately in the middle of the courtyard.
The events at El Mejunje, like those I attended in Havana, appear to operate with government blessing. However, there are still online reports of events like the Mr Gay Havana Contest encountering fierce government opposition. According to the Friends of Cuban Libraries, the Reinaldo Arenas LGBT Memorial Foundation was screening a documentary film at a private gay library in November 2010 when the police broke in and arrested participants. Still, my gay Cuban friends, who were much more critical of the government six years ago, speak of Mariela Castro in glowing terms. They quote her statements from TV interviews, where they say she describes gays, lesbians and transgendered people as “partners in the revolution.”
14 August 2011- Euro News
Gay man marries transexual in Cuban first
A man and a transgender woman have married in what’s been seen as Cuba’s first gay wedding. Same-sex marriages are illegal in the country, but the ceremony went ahead as planned because the bride is legally a woman after undergoing Cuba’s first state-sanctioned sex change operation in 2007. “I think the Cuban government has really politicised this. I haven’t wanted to turn this into a circus, much less something political,” said bride Wendy Iriepa.
The civil ceremony was simple enough but attracted attention because her partner is Ignacio Estrada,a well known dissident and gay rights activist. The wedding was held on Fidel Castro’s 85th birthday in what the couple had called a “gift” to the former leader. Notably absent was Mariela Castro, Cuba’s biggest gay marriage supporter and daughter President Raul Castro. She said she had not been invited to the wedding but sent her congratulations to the couple. The wedding signals changing attitudes on the island, where homosexuals used to be placed in camps for being “counter-revolutionary” – part of the country’s history that prompted a mea cupla for Fidel Castro last year.
Cuban gay activist dies in police station
Havana – (Cubaencuentro)
Nelson Linares García, 34, who had been arrested on the morning of September 8 in Fraternity Park and taken to a police unit cell of the Trench, died while under arrest. From the funeral of Havana where the body is lying in Linares García, Ignacio Estrada said police had arrested this morning about a dozen of homosexuals, transvestites and transsexuals in Old Havana and denies that Mariela Castro’s speech who said that in Cuba has continued repression against the gay community.
Roberto de Jesús Guerra, also present at the funeral said that recent weeks have been tough for the gay community by successive raids at several sites in the Cuban capital.
September 20, 2011 – Havana Times
Cuba Health Promoter Sowing Life
by Dariela Aquique
Perseverance in saving human lives is one of humanity’s noblest acts, and the Cuban public health care system is distinguished for its precepts in this sense. Despite its having to negotiate shortages of resources and personnel, which on occasion have to do more with political ideology than with its social mission properly speaking, the decisions and work put into practice in this field are praiseworthy nonetheless. Among those who stand out in this are health promoters, positions created to conduct prevention work among the public mainly related to issues of sexuality.
Yoire Ferrer is one of these individuals who has been raising consciousness about responsibility among people. In this interview she shares some of the details of her work.
HT: Basically, what is a “health promoter”?
Yoire Ferrer: A health promoter is a person with capacity and judgment who receives training related to various types of illnesses, epidemics or specific events so that they’re enabled to promote, prevent and investigate the problems of health in a given community or in a certain population. In this, the promoter develops certain communication skills in terms of public health and abilities to relate to the population.
HT: This is an initiative practiced in many parts of the world. However in the case of Cuba, it must have distinctive shades. Can you speak about this?
YF: In the case of Cuba, health promoters have the peculiarity of their not receiving any wages for the work they carry out. They are people who participate voluntarily or who want to collaborate so as to share their knowledge and experience in informing the public about health care services and self-care approaches, as well as how to generally improve the quality of people’s lives…
Read entire interview
29 September 2011 – Global Voices
Cuba: A Tireless Defender of Gay Rights
by Elaine Diaz
Francisco Rodríguez Cruz is a Cuban journalist and activist who for over a year has maintained a controversial blog [es] committed to advancing the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community in Cuba. This is a community that has experienced a difficult history of discrimination on the island. Paquito, as he is commonly known on the web, does not only address issues of sexual diversity and gay rights in his blog. He has also been writing of his own personal experience, for the past five years, of battling HIV and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a type of blood cancer. “Those who have the privilege to access Internet from Cuba should aim always at improving something in the country, not only deal with external hostilities. Perhaps then we would develop much faster,” he says.
In a previous interview last year, with Tele Sur, Paquito was asked about his blog and said, “At first, some people said it was impossible for someone with my characteristics to exist in Cuba: HIV-positive, communist, gay, father, journalist.” But Paquito, with all his multiple dimensions and complexity, really does exist.
Here is the video of the Tele Sur interview [es]:
Paquito is a member of Hombres por la diversidad (Men for Diversity), a social network of the state-run program National Centre for Sex Education, but he has also supported civil society and independent associations and the recently founded Rainbow Project, which aims to participate in debate on public policies and raise awareness of institutional homophobia. They advocate changes to Cuban law that eradicate discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender.
On December 2, 2010, Paquito was received by Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, at the ministry’s headquarters, along with other representatives of civil society in Cuba [es] who questioned Cuba’s support for an amendment to remove reference to sexual orientation from a United Nations resolution condemning summary executions (executions without trial). During this meeting, the foreign minister said there would be no changes in Cuba’s policy to oppose any form of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender.
After this unusual dialogue, Paquito suggested to the authorities in March 2011 that they should support an international UN declaration to eliminate “criminal penalties and other human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity.” And they did, in June.
Meanwhile, Paquito continued denouncing irregularities committed by Cuban police, who repeatedly fined visitors to a gay spot in central Habana. Gerardo Arreola, a journalist from La Jornada in Mexico, wrote about his efforts [es]: His activism has had twists so unusual, as to make him run in with the police, first as an offender, then as a plaintiff, and finally as an equal.
Paquito is now fighting his latest battle. He has run, literally, after the Cuban Minister of Justice, María Esther Reus, to ask her what happened to the updated draft of the Family Code, a law that would approve, along with a number of important benefits for all Cubans, legal marriage for couples of the same sex. The minister replied that she has until 2013 to submit the law for parliamentary consideration. Paquito does not give up: “There will always have to be someone to ask the questions that will prevent people from forgetting,” he says.