Cuba: landmark gay rights march planned despite reported threats

Plan follows cancellation of state-backed Pride-style event, after officials claimed it could be used for anti-government activity

Cuban gay rights activists were planning an unprecedented independent march against homophobia on Saturday, despite several reporting they had received warnings not to attend and the government saying it was an attempt at subversion.

A successful march could be a sign of Cubans’ growing ability to mobilize for causes even in the face of resistance from the one-party state that has for decades held public spaces under tight control.

Earlier this week, the state-run National Center for Sex Education (Cenesex), led by Mariela Castro, daughter of communist party leader Raúl Castro, abruptly canceled its 12th annual conga, Cuba’s equivalent of gay pride.

Cenesex said certain groups were planning to use the event to undermine the government, emboldened by the escalation of aggression by the Trump administration against Cuba and its leftist ally Venezuela.

The US has for decades financed often covert programs to promote democracy in Cuba and undermine the communist government.

Activists who say the conga is an important and rare space to advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBTQ) rights quickly organized an alternative event and spread the word on social media.

Cenesex denounced this as a “provocation” and several activists said they received threats either anonymously on social media or from state security.

The expansion of internet availability in Cuba has seen increasing numbers mobilize online, sometimes managing to influence policy. The government postponed the full implementation of a decree clamping down on the arts and stepped back on regulations governing the private sector.

But so far the government has retained tight control over public spaces, mostly restricting marches to expressions of support for the government.

The conga in Havana was an exception that became a reminder that the government, which sent gay people to work camps after Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution, had made considerable advances.

In a region where some countries still have anti-sodomy laws, Cuba guarantees rights such as free sex-change operations and forbids discrimination on the basis of sexuality.

Some activists feel the cancellation of the conga was a sign such rights are being eroded, possibly because a recent public consultation over a new constitution revealed more opposition to LGBTQ rights than previously thought.

Many Cubans expressed opposition to a change that would have explicitly opened the door to gay marriage. Evangelical churches ran unprecedented campaigns against the change, which was eventually watered down.

by Reuters in Havana
Source – The Guardian