also see: Caribbean Anti Violence Project
1 Cuban law may recognise same-sex partners, say officials 1/08
2 Gay marriage? Unrestricted travel? 2/08
3 Castro’s departure brings hope for gay Cubans 2/08
4 Castro champions gay rights in Cuba 3/08
5 It begins Saturday the 17th with a broad public program: Cenesex 5/08
6 Raul Castro’s daughter spearheads anti-homophobia drive 5/08
7 Belgian surgeons to perform Cuba’s gender reassignment operations 5/08
8 Cuban TV shows Brokeback Mountain as part of anti-homophobia drive 5/08
9 Cuban government backs calls to combat homophobia 5/08
10 Video interview with Mariela Castro Espin 1/09
11 Anti-Homophobia Campaign in Cuba 3/09
12 Cuban gays dance conga against homophobia 5/09
13 Homophobia Is the Problem, Not Gays 5/09
14 Homophobia Is Not Incurable 5/09
15 Cuba to reinstate sex changes 5/09
16 U.S. grants asylum to gay Cuban: HIV immigrant ban stalled approval 6/09
17 Big Strides in Gay and Transgender Rights in Cuba 7/09
18 AIDS on the rise in Cuban youth 8/09
20 Trans in Cuba Festival in Havana, Cuba, November 27-29 9/09
21 New Castro, Same Cuba 11/09
22 Gay Life in Cuba Today: Not much has changed since Reinaldo Arenas’ time 12/09
21 January 2008 – PinkNews
Cuban law may recognise same-sex partners, say officials
by Gemma Pritchard
The Cuban Communist Party is considering granting legal recognition to same-sex unions, as health officials prepare to authorise sex-change operations, the director of the Cenesex sex education centre in Cuba has said. The proposed change to Cuban family law would put members of same-sex unions on a par with heterosexual couples, psychologist Mariela Castro, who is the daughter of acting President Raul Castro and niece of Fidel, told EFE.
Cenesex, which was founded in 1989 as a department of the Public Health Ministry, approached Cuba’s parliament two years ago with a proposal to overhaul the 1975 Family Code to recognise the rights of gays, lesbians and transsexuals. But it is the Communist Party that will decide whether the proposal becomes law. "We are receiving suggestions and debating adjusting the proposal so it is more flexible and has more chance of being approved," Mariela Castro told EFE.
The principal needs of Cuban homosexuals "are related to the right to their recognition as consensual couples, as non-matrimonial couples, but that authorities recognise their property and inheritance rights in those non-legalized unions," she said. "That is their principal interest. They are not interested in marriage, they are not interested in adoption, because in Cuba there are hardly any children to adopt." She added that besides legal recognition, gays, lesbians and transsexuals in Cuba want respect: "Let no one feel the right to humiliate them, nor harm them, nor exclude or reject them, that we strengthen within the family this ethic of accepting everyone and of not being discriminated against for sexual orientation."
The Public Health Ministry in Cuba is currently in the process of approving regulations that would allow sex-change operations. Mariela Castro said that a team of Cuban physicians is already in training to perform such procedures. In an interview with EFE last August, the 45-year-old psychologist said her struggle for the equality of the sexes and gay rights would "enrich the Cuban Revolution." But she added that the task is not an easy one in a "patriarchal" society where many remember the UMAP labour camps where homosexuals and the ideologically suspect were interned in the late 1960s.
February 6, 2008 – International Herald Tribune
Gay marriage? Unrestricted travel? Cubans are increasingly speaking their minds
Havana (AP) – Taking up Raul Castro’s invitation to speak their minds without fear of reprisal, more Cubans have begun publicly complaining and challenging government policies on everything from limits on Internet access to travel restrictions. This week some leading figures called for change: Culture Minister Abel Prieto said that he supports gay marriage, and famed folk singer Silvio Rodriguez said he believes all Cubans should be free to travel abroad and stay in the hotels reserved for foreign tourists. Open challenges of government authority remain rare in Cuba, where the Communist Party dominates all levels of power. But since replacing his older brother Fidel as acting president, Raul Castro has urged Cuban citizens to help shape their country’s economic future.
Tentatively at first, then more audaciously, Cubans have responded.
University students, for example, were outspoken in a town-hall style meeting on Jan. 19 with Ricardo Alarcon, the president of Cuba’s legislature. A video of the meeting posted on the Internet shows student leaders challenging him to explain why government policies fail to live up to Cuba’s egalitarian ideals. They asked Alarcon why many basic goods including toiletries and clothes are sold in convertible currency meant for tourists and foreigners, making some necessities virtually inaccessible to state employees paid in Cuban pesos worth much less. They complained about laws prohibiting citizens from entering state-run hotels without official permission. They complained about limits on Internet access, and on rules that make getting a travel visa nearly impossible for most Cubans.
Alarcon ducked questions about the Internet and called travel a privilege, not a right. When he was their age, before the revolution, he told the students, he wasn’t able to enter Cuba’s luxury nightclubs or exclusive beaches. "I never set foot in the Tropicana, nor Varadero," he said. "You know why? "Because my father didn’t have the money to pay for it!"
However, other powerful Cuban figures joined the calls for societal change.
"I think that marriage between lesbians, between homosexuals can be perfectly approved and that in Cuba that wouldn’t cause an earthquake or anything like that," Prieto, a member of the party’s powerful Politburo, told reporters following a screening of a documentary on Rodriguez’s career. Cuban lawmakers are considering a proposal to allow gay marriages, though its progress in the legislature’s closed-door sessions remains unclear. A 57-year-old writer turned political leader, Prieto is the only top Cuban government official who sports shoulder-length hair. But he is also a member of the island’s supreme governing body, the Council of State. And he said he supports what Raul Castro has termed a "debate" on Cuba’s future.
The "immense majority of intellectuals" want to "confront problems, to battle all expressions of bureaucracy in culture and in society and at the same time defend this revolution and socialism," Prieto said. Rodriguez, whose songs have made him a leading voice of the Cuban revolution, described what Cuba is going through now as "a moment of change, of transition … not the only one I have lived to see within the revolution." The internationally renowned folk singer is a member of parliament who has long defended the Cuban government in the face of criticism over alleged human rights violations. Nonetheless, Rodriguez said Tuesday that authorities should ease restrictions that prevent many Cubans from entering state-run hotels, traveling overseas and even within their own country. "Permission to leave and enter should be completely open," Rodriguez said.
For decades, Cuba has restricted travel to keep citizens from flooding large cities in search of jobs. It also limits visas abroad, citing national security concerns. Since Cuba first began accepting foreign tourists en masse in the early 1990s, most Cubans have been barred from hotels, even if they can pay for rooms. Cubans also are complaining about a law requiring citizens to register their full salaries for taxation if they have been paid illegally in dollars or euros for working for foreign firms or embassies.
Oscar Espinosa Chepe, a state-trained economist who became an independent journalist and an anti-communist, documented a Jan. 12 public meeting at state-run employment agency Acroex in which employees criticized the new measure. "Nobody can disagree with Cuban workers paying taxes on their earnings, something which happens in the whole world," Espinosa Chepe wrote in an article released Tuesday. But he blasted government requirements that Cubans who work for foreigners arrange their jobs through state employment agencies, which collect hefty fees in convertible currency and then pay the employees in less valuable regular pesos. In the article, he said the meeting caused such an uproar that officials suspended plans for similar forums at other state-run firms.
19th February 2008 – PinkNews
Castro’s departure brings hope for gay Cubans
by Tony Grew
Fidel Castro today announced his resignation as the political and military leader of Cuba, 49 years after he seized power and installed a Communist regime in the Caribbean island nation. The 81-year-old’s poor health in recent years has sparked a renewed national debate about the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans Cubans. The country’s parliament will meet on Sunday to elect a new President. The US has called for free elections to be held.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown said: "We can only hope that a new path will open up after this withdrawal and that there will be more democracy in that country." Sexual diversity was seen by Fidel Castro as a corrupt consequence of capitalism. Cuban poet Jose Mario, an important artistic figure in the country, suffered in Cuban labour camps as Castro’s regime ‘re-educated’ homosexuals.
Gays were incarcerated in Military Units to Aid Production (UMAPs) between 1965 and 1968. Castro believed that hard work would rid the men of their "counter-revolutionary tendencies." At the entrance of the camp there was a sign which said "work shall make you men", similar to the motto of the Nazi concentration camps, "work shall set you free." Homosexual sex was partially decriminalised 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 but all gay rights organisations are banned. The former leader’s brother Raul Castro, who is acting President, has recently invited his countrymen to speak out without fear, and among complains about taxes and restrictions on foreign travel and internet access the issue of gay rights has come to the fore.
Today Fidel Castro announced: "I neither will aspire to nor will I accept, the position of president of the council of state and commander-in-chief. My only desire is to fight as a soldier for my ideas." Last month Mariela Castro, who is the daughter of acting President Raul Castro and niece of Fidel, revealed that the Cuban Communist party is considering granting legal recognition to same-sex unions, as health officials prepare to authorise sex-change operations. The proposed change to Cuban family law would put members of same-sex unions on a par with heterosexual couples.
The principal needs of Cuban homosexuals "are related to the right to their recognition as consensual couples, as non-matrimonial couples, but that authorities recognise their property and inheritance rights in those non-legalised unions," she said. "That is their principal interest. They are not interested in marriage, they are not interested in adoption, because in Cuba there are hardly any children to adopt." She added that besides legal recognition, gays, lesbians and transsexuals in Cuba want respect. "Let no one feel the right to humiliate them, nor harm them, nor exclude or reject them, that we strengthen within the family this ethic of accepting everyone and of not being discriminated against for sexual orientation."
The Public Health Ministry in Cuba is currently in the process of approving regulations that would allow gender reassignment operations. Mariela Castro said that a team of Cuban physicians is already in training to perform such procedures. In an interview with EFE last August, the 45-year-old psychologist said her struggle for the equality of the sexes and gay rights would "enrich the Cuban Revolution."
Last week the Cuban culture minister Abel Preito gave public support to gay marriage. "I think that marriage between lesbians, between homosexuals can be perfectly approved and that in Cuba that wouldn’t cause an earthquake or anything like that," said Mr Prieto, who is also a member of the powerful Politburo of the Communist party and the Council of State, the nation’s supreme governing body.
27 March 2008 – BBC
Castro champions gay rights in Cuba
by Michael Voss , BBC News, Havana
There is a Castro who is fighting to introduce radical changes in Cuba. Not the new president, Raul, although he has promised to push through "structural and conceptual" changes to this communist island in the Caribbean. It is Raul’s daughter, Mariela Castro. As head of the government-funded National Centre for Sex Education, she is trying to change people’s attitudes towards minority groups in the community. She is currently attempting to get the Cuban National Assembly to adopt what would be among the most liberal gay and transsexual rights law in Latin America.
The proposed legislation would recognise same-sex unions, along with inheritance rights. It would also give transsexuals the right to free sex-change operations and allow them to switch the gender on their ID cards, with or without surgery. There are limits: adoption is not included in the bill and neither is the word marriage. "A lot of homosexual couples asked me to not risk delaying getting the law passed by insisting on the word marriage," Mariela Castro said.
"In the early years of the revolution much of the world was homophobic. It was the same here in Cuba and led to acts which I consider unjust" Mariela Castro
"In Cuba marriage is not as important as the family and at least this way we can guarantee the personal and inheritance rights of homosexuals and transsexuals." She says that her father is supportive of her work, although he advises her to move slowly. "I’ve seen changes in my father since I was a child. I saw him as macho and homophobic. But as I have grown and changed as a person, so I have seen him change." Mariela’s mother, the late Vilma Espin, was an internationally recognised champion of women’s rights.
For Mariela, it is the rights of homosexuals and transsexuals that need fighting for.
Once a week, a group of transsexuals gathers for a support session at the old Havana mansion which houses Mariela’s Sex Education Centre. Their ages range from late teens to mid-40s. All are dressed as women; some have had sex-change operations. A state-funded psychiatrist offers counselling, support and health education. "Transsexuals have always faced a degree of injustice," said Libia, who trained as a hairdresser after attending sessions at the centre. "Here we get a lot of respect. This institution has helped raise our self-esteem."
Today Cuba has a vibrant but generally discreet gay scene. There is a popular gay beach in Playas del Este just a short drive from Havana. In the capital itself there are no openly gay bars, but there is a weekly nightclub complete with floor show. The venue also hosts a comedy club one night, a cabaret another. But according to the manager, who asked not to be named or for the club to be identified, it is the gay evening that is always the best attended. The event is perfectly legal but it is not advertised, relying instead on word of mouth. Given Cuba’s past treatment of homosexuals, most people here prefer to remain anonymous.
In the early days of the revolution many homosexuals were sent to forced labour camps for re-education and rehabilitation. The camps did not last long but still gays were often denied certain jobs as "ideological deviants". In the 1980s, there were orchestrated mass rallies denouncing homosexuals.
Sex between consenting adults of the same gender was legalised about 15 years ago, but police harassment and raids on gay gatherings continued until very recently. "In the early years of the revolution much of the world was homophobic. It was the same here in Cuba and led to acts which I consider unjust," said Mariela Castro. "What I see now is that both Cuban society and the government have realised that these were mistakes. There is also the desire to take initiatives which would prevent such things happening again."
But it remains an uphill struggle. Old prejudices remain deeply ingrained, particularly amongst the older generation. "It’s like an illness or perhaps a character defect," one man explained, asking not to be identified. Others though are more tolerant. Talking to people in the street, many said that they disapproved of homosexuals but felt that people should be free to live their own lives. There is still no guarantee that when the National Assembly convenes later this year, under the watchful eye of Raul Castro, it will approve Mariela’s gay rights bill.
If it does, though, this would mark a revolutionary change in Cuba’s sexual politics.
May 6, 2008 – LaJornada
It begins Saturday the 17th with a broad public program: Cenesex
Cuba will mark world day against homophobia
by Gerald Arreola/Correspondent
A CubaNews translation by Sue Greene. Edited by Walter Lippmann
Havana, May 5th. Next Saturday the 17th, Cuba will mark, world day of struggle against homophobia for the second time. This is no longer a small gathering of interested people, like last year, but a broad public program, the National Center for Sexual Education (Cenesex) reported. It could be called a public "coming out of the closet" celebration. On Monday, Cenesex put on its website ( www.cenesex.sld.cu ) a call for activities "aimed at displaying and combating all kinds of discrimination, based on sexual orientation and gender identity. " A year ago, Cenesex recalled the date with a movie-discussion session, with the showing of the film Boys Don’t Cry (Kimberly Pierce, 1999), based on the true story of a transsexual girl. But the turnout at the downtown cinema 23 y 12 was small, less than a hundred people, mostly participants in some of CENESEX sexual diversity programs. In the session, the director of the Center, Mariela Castro Espín, daughter of now-president Raúl Castro, described the crudeness of sexual intolerance with a fresh anecdote. That afternoon, along with transvestites and transsexuals who go to Cenesex, Mariela walked the two blocks from her office to the cinema, experiencing the spontaneous verbal violence towards those people.
This year, "with the support of several state institutions, the government and civil society", said the speaker, "we set out to contribute to the education of society as a whole, with emphasis on the family, on the respect for the right to free and responsible sexual orientation and gender identity, like the exercise of the fairness and social justice". Homophobia, said Cenesex, describes aversion, hatred, fear, prejudice or discrimination against homosexuals, extends to bisexuals (biphobia) or transgenders (transphobia) and leads to violent manifestations. The speaker recalled that in 1974, the American Association of Psychiatry eliminated from its Manual of Classification of Mental Illness homosexuality and bisexuality and the World Health Organization adopted the same decision on May 17, 1990.
In an interview with La Jornada last December, Mariela Castro considered it necessary to open the debate on homophobia in Cuba, which had penalized "ostensible" homosexuality and secluded homosexuals in agricultural work camps. "In the history of a human being, errors are committed and one must be willing to learn lessons from those errors. But institutions also commit errors and must be able to recognize why it was an error and what it is going to do so that the error is not repeated, what legislation must be adopted, what values it is necessary to institute," said Mariela.
The exact program is not yet determined, but it is expected to have at least forum-debates, book presentations, theater functions, transvestism, a cycle of movies and television programs relative to the date.
May 12, 2008 – afp.google.com
Raul Castro’s daughter spearheads anti-homophobia drive
Havana (AFP) — President Raul Castro’s daughter, Mariela, is organizing Cuba’s second anti-homophobia festival this week to boost public awareness of the country’s long-marginalized gay community, this time with the approval of her dad’s government.
"There’s political support for this educational strategy. It’s the best thing that’s happened to us," Mariela Castro said about the backing the National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX) she heads is receiving from Cuba’s Communist Party. She said Raul Castro, 76, "is helping us a lot … not only because I’m his daughter, but because I’ve earned his respect by working at my job carefully."
A teacher and mother of three children, Mariela Castro, 46, took over from her late mother, Vilma Espin, in running Cuban Womens’ Federation (FMC) after she died in 2007, and has headed CENESEX for the past 14 years. Her uncle Fidel Castro, 81, relinquished presidential power to his brother Raul, 76, in February citing health reasons. For as long as Cuba’s communist revolution began nearly 50 years ago, Mariela and her mother have been busy trying to whittle away at the country’s machismo tradition. The week-long festival in Havana and six of Cuba’s 14 provinces, aims to increase public awareness about gay rights through television programs, movies, theater, debates and book fairs, culminating with the International Day Against Homophobia, on May 17. Besides the educational efforts, Mariela’s group is also busy reforming Cuba’s Family Code and has proposed in parliament a bill on freedom of gender — the right to choose one’s gender, and the right to "legal union" for gays.
The legal union issue is an effort to sidestep the Catholic Church’s determined opposition to gay marriage rights. Sex-change is another controversial issue in Cuba, after the country’s first operation in 1988 raised such an outcry that the procedure was put on indefinite hold. "We’re getting ready a team of surgeons from Belgium" to restart transgender operations, Mariela told reporters, adding that 30 such procedures have been approved by health authorities. Mariela is hopeful the festival will be successful. "We don’t know how the public will react. We suppose it’ll go well because of the way we’ve organized it. It’ll help people understand things, reflect and think."
May 12, 2008 – PinkNews
Belgian surgeons to perform Cuba’s gender reassignment operations
by Staff Writer, PinkNews.co.uk
The head of Cuba’s National Centre for Sexual Education, Mariela Castro, has revealed that 30 gender reassignment operations have been approved. She told AFP "we’re getting ready a team of surgeons from Belgium" to perform the procedures. Gender reassignment surgery has been effectively banned in Cuba since 1988, when the first such procedure caused an outcry. Ms Castro, who is the daughter of President Raul Castro and niece of former leader Fidel, was speaking ahead of a week-long anti-homophobia festival to be celebrated in six provinces of Cuba and the capital, Havana.
The events, including TV programmes, public debates and other activities, will culminate on IDAHO, the International Day Against Homophobia, on May 17th. Ms Castro, 45, has said previously that she wants to "enrich the Cuban Revolution" with her fight for equality between the sexes and gay rights. She has been a strong supporter of legal moves to grant equal rights to all citizens, the first step towards same-sex unions and access to gender reassignment surgery.
Legislation is before the Cuban parliament.
Sexual diversity was seen by Fidel Castro as a corrupt consequence of capitalism. 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. All gay rights organisations are banned. Under Fidel Castro, who ruled from 1959 until February of this year, many gay men suffered in Cuban labour camps as the regime ‘re-educated’ homosexuals. Gays were incarcerated in Military Units to Aid Production (UMAPs) between 1965 and 1968. Castro believed that hard work would rid the men of their "counter-revolutionary tendencies."
The proposed change to Cuban family law would put members of same-sex unions on a par with heterosexuals. In January the Cuban culture minister Abel Preito gave public support to gay marriage. "I think that marriage between lesbians, between homosexuals can be perfectly approved and that in Cuba that wouldn’t cause an earthquake or anything like that," said Mr Prieto, who is also a member of the powerful Politburo of the Communist party and the Council of State, the nation’s supreme governing body.
May 19, 2008 – PinkNews
Cuban TV shows Brokeback Mountain as part of anti-homophobia drive
by Tony Grew
Governments local and national marked the International Day Against Homophobia on Saturday. Cuba took the lead, with the largest meeting of gay activists in the island’s history. In attendance was a leading member of the Castro dynasty, the daughter of the current President, Mariela. "This is a very important moment for us, the men and women of Cuba, because for the first time we can gather in this way and speak profoundly and with scientific basis about these topics," said Ms Castro.
The director of Cuba’s Centre for Sexual Education, she has been a champion for gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans people in the Communist state. Despite the rhetoric, gays in Cuba face serious discrimination, and the meeting was dominated by discussions of how to change society’s attitudes. "We should do that in a coherent, appropriate and precise way because these are topics that have been taboo and continue to be for many," a leading parliamentarian told the meeting.
Gay activists also cautioned a subtle approach. Cuban state television did its part, screening the 2005 film Brokeback Mountain. The Oscar-nominated tale of two American cowboys who fall in love, it has touched straight audiences across the world. Other TV programmes, public debates and activities marked IDAHO, the International Day Against Homophobia, on Saturday. Ms Castro, 45, has said previously that she wants to "enrich the Cuban Revolution" with her fight for equality between the sexes and gay rights. She has been a strong supporter of legal moves to grant equal rights to all citizens, the first step towards same-sex unions and access to gender reassignment surgery.
Legislation is before the Cuban parliament.
Sexual diversity was seen by Fidel Castro as a corrupt consequence of capitalism. 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. All gay rights organisations are banned.
Under Fidel Castro, who ruled from 1959 until February of this year, many gay men suffered in Cuban labour camps as the regime ‘re-educated’ homosexuals. Gays were incarcerated in Military Units to Aid Production (UMAPs) between 1965 and 1968. Castro believed that hard work would rid the men of their "counter-revolutionary tendencies." The proposed change to Cuban family law would put members of same-sex unions on a par with heterosexuals.
May, 2008 – The Miami Herald
Cuban government backs calls to combat homophobia
by Andrea Rodriguez, Associated Press
Havana – Cuba’s gay community celebrated unprecedented openness – and high-ranking political alliances – with a government-backed campaign against homophobia on Saturday. The meeting at a convention center in Havana’s Vedado district may have been the largest gathering of openly gay activists ever on the communist-run island. President Raul Castro’s daughter Mariela, who has promoted the rights of sexual minorities, presided. "This is a very important moment for us, the men and women of Cuba, because for the first time we can gather in this way and speak profoundly and with scientific basis about these topics," said Castro, director of Cuba’s Center for Sexual Education.
Mariela Castro joined government leaders and hundreds of activists at the one-day conference for the International Day Against Homophobia that featured shows, lectures, panel discussions and book presentations. A station also offered blood-tests for sexually transmitted diseases. Cuban state television gave prime-time play Friday to the U.S. film "Brokeback Mountain," which tells the story of two cowboys who conceal their homosexual affair. Prejudice against homosexuals remains deeply rooted in Cuban society, but the government has steadily moved away from the Puritanism of the 1960s and 1970s, when homosexuals hid their sexuality for fear of being ridiculed, fired from work or even imprisoned.
Now Cuba’s parliament is studying proposals to legalize same-sex unions and give gay couples the benefits that people in traditional marriages enjoy. Parliament head Ricardo Alarcon said the government needs to do more to promote gay rights, but said many Cubans still need to be convinced. Things "are advancing, but must continue advancing, and I think we should do that in a coherent, appropriate and precise way because these are topics that have been taboo and continue to be for many," Alarcon told reporters.
Some at the conference spoke of streaming out into the streets for a spontaneous gay-pride parade, but others urged caution. The gay rights movement should be careful not to "flood" Cuban society with a message that many are not ready to hear, physician and gay activist Alberto Roque cautioned. And Mariela Castro said gay activists should opt for more subtle ways to chip away at deep-seated homophobic attitudes. Defending equal rights for Cubans, of all sexual orientations, is a key principal of the Cuban revolution led by her uncle Fidel Castro, who overthrew dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959, she said.
"The freedom of sexual choice and gender identity (are) exercises in equality and social justice," she said.
Cuba is pleased to feature a fascinating January 1, 2009 video interview with Mariela Castro Espin by Anastasia Haydulina of Russia Today Television in Havana Cuba.
Mariela Castro Espin is Director of CENESEX (National Center for Sexual Education) and a leading authority and proponent of LGBT freedoms in Cuba and globally.
She addresses issues of how Cuban society is dealing with changing perceptions of sexuality and concrete measures benefiting LGBTs. Mariela also reflects on pending legislation, transsexualism, same-sex unions, gay rights, AIDS, her father, President Raul Castro, her mother, Vilma Espin, founder and President of the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC), woes caused by the US economic blockade of Cuba, and her views on Barack Obama, as well as the history of the Revolution.
Check it out at http://GayCuba.ca/mariela_interview/
If you find it interesting, please share it with your friends.
Your suggestions and contributions to help build the LGBT CUBA website are welcomed. Photos, stories, reports, news, letters and travel accounts are encouraged!
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March 30, 2009- The Havana Times
Anti-Homophobia Campaign in Cuba
by Patricia Grogg
Havana Times (IPS) – The awkward silence and ambivalent looks that followed the moderator’s invitation to participate in the debate on homophobia slowly gave way after a law student spoke. Perhaps without meaning to, student Barbara Garcia broke the ice. Among other suggestions, she proposed that education in Cuba be in both directions, so that people who are homosexual could “help us to accept them.”
The testimonies of men and women who defended their sexual orientation against the grain of prejudice and misunderstanding showed those present a new and different reality. For many in attendance, much of this information was probably unknown or misunderstood, or they had considered it having nothing to do with them.
“There are people who commit suicide because of their sexual orientation… and we’re not even going to talk about lesbians, who are put down by women and even other lesbians,” said Alberto Roque, who presented himself as a gay medical specialist and a member of the Cuban Communist Party. “I think you have to open yourself up to a sense of respect; I’m not talking about tolerance or acceptance, but a true respect for diversity,” urged Roque.
Shortly after, a student named Ema admitted that, being a devout Protestant, she had tried to take her own life when she discovered she was lesbian – something she now accepts and no longer hides. This was the kickoff to the 2009 “Campaign for the Respect of People’s Sexual Orientation.” Under the theme of “Diversity Is Natural,” the crusade aims to “contribute to the education of the entire society, with an emphasis on university youth, in respecting free and responsible sexual orientation and gender identity as exercises in equality and social justice.”
“The National Center for Sexual Education (Cenesex) cannot do this work alone, which is why we have called on the youth, who will be future professionals and leaders of Cuban society,” said Mariela Castro, the director of this institution that has established a broad program in support of sexual diversity in Cuba since 2004. The activities began last Thursday with a debate forum carried out in a filled-to-capacity conference hall at the headquarters of the Federation of University Students (FEU) at the University of Havana. Participating were students, several professors, Cenesex staff and representatives of the gay community.
Biology professor Maria Fuentes said it was an excellent forum because she sees the youth as the agents of change. “It’s a future strategy,” emphasized the academic, whose only regret was that more students from her department did not attend. As explained in the conference organized by Cenesex’ Sexual Diversity Project, the campaign will include educational activities, group discussions, workshops, and video-debates,” as well as talks and exchanges intended to “stimulate and promote reflection among university students.”
“This year we want to center ourselves among groups of people that are growing, groups that in turn can do more, like university students,” said Castro. With that objective, Cenesex has begun working with members of the Young Communist League and FEU in Havana, an action that they will subsequently extend to the provinces. In statements to IPS, the Cenesex director said that this year’s celebration of International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia will be held in Havana on Saturday, May 16. It will be dedicated not only to youth, but also to the family, “so that fathers and mothers can better understand their homosexual or transsexual children.”
Castro added that though the date is still not officially recognized, the National Assembly (Cuba’s parliament) will include in its work agenda an initiative to reform the national Family Code, which has been effective in Cuba since 1975 and contains proposals on gender identity and rights of “sexual minorities.” “Our work will help us to slowly change prejudices behind those processes,” she said. Castro also indicated that although the Catholic Church presented its negative views on the issue, “they have been entering into dialog (…) they were worried about same-sex marriages, but were informed that this is not what was being proposed.” Nor has there been the intention to propose the adoption of children by homosexual couples, she affirmed.
The initiative contemplates the legal recognition of the union of couples of the same sex, whereby they will enjoy the same rights as consensually united heterosexual couples. As for the performing of sex change operations on transsexual persons -which was approved this past June in a resolution of the Ministry of Public Health- this is another of the concerns of the Catholic Church and other religious denominations. Castro pointed out, however, that the decision remains in effect.
Resolution 126, signed by Public Health Minister Jose Ramon Balaguer, establishes the creation of a center for integral healthcare for people who are transsexual, which will be the sole institution in the country authorized to carry out total or partial medical sex change treatments.
May 16, 2009 – SFGate.com
Cuban gays dance conga against homophobia
by Andrea Rodriguez, Associated Press Writer
Cuban gays and lesbians take part in a rally against homo…
Havana, Cuba (AP) – President Raul Castro’s daughter led hundreds of Cuban gays in a street dance Saturday to draw attention to gay rights on the island. Participants formed a carnival-style conga line around two city blocks to beat the of drums, accompanied by costumed stilt-walkers. Events also included educational panels and presentations for books, magazines and CDs about gay rights and sexual diversity.
"We’re calling on the Cuban people to participate … so that the revolution can be deeper and include all the needs of the human being," said Mariela Castro, an outspoken gay rights advocate who directs Cuba’s officially sanctioned Sex Education Center. Attending the program’s opening, Parliament speaker President Ricardo Alarcon said that Cuba has advanced in recent years in the area of gay rights.
The communist government discriminated against homosexuals — even sending some to work camps — in the early years of the 1959 revolution led by Mariela Castro’s uncle Fidel. But tolerance of homosexuality on the island has grown in recent years. Duan Mena, 29, said was great to celebrate his homosexuality in public without fear of censure.
May 19, 2009 – Havana Times
Homophobia Is the Problem, Not Gays
by Irina Echarry
Havana Times – Havana’s 23rd Street was a grand fiesta on Saturday as people of all ages and sexual orientations formed a winding conga line that extended to Pavilion Cuba, the place where Sexual Diversity Day was formally initiated. Havana Times was on the scene to listen to speakers, capture photos, and talk with several participants. In her opening words, Sexual Education Center (CENESEX) director Mariela Castro Espin noted, “This it is not a gay pride march, that’s not our intention at this time. In reality, we’re identifying with a proposal made by a French activist to designate a World Day against Homophobia. Gays are not a problem, the problem is homophobia!”
CENESEX-supported by other institutions across the country-encouraged discussion and reflection within families about sexual diversity on Saturday the day before the World Day on May 17, said Mariela.
*  Homophobia Is Not Incurable
The aim was not to question the family structure that predominates in Cuban society, but to consider other forms, which people are less accustomed to, but are part of the country’s reality. Lesbians, gays, transsexuals and their families all had their chance to speak and exchange experiences-some bitter, others buoyant. Thanks to educational campaigns such as this, the issue of homophobia is being addressed at some levels, though generally Cuban society continues to be homophobic. During the first years of the Cuban Revolution, homosexuality was harshly repressed. There are countless stories about incidents occurring in forced internment centers. Felix Luis Sierra’s book, El ciervo herido (The Wounded Deer), is only one example of the ordeal of someone who was in the Military Production Support Units: forced labor camps set up in the 1960s in Camagüey Province, where homosexuals and believers of different religions were taken, along with other “anti-social elements.” A harrowing book, the work reveals testimonies of intolerance and hatred.
That’s homophobia: a feeling that repels people from gays, who are viewed as a threat. Typically, Cuban society does not recognize homosexuals, and when it does, it is through usually negative stereotypes. Little tolerance is shown for erotic homosexual relationships, jokes are made in bad taste, and they are pointed out and accused of anything. The cost of this disparity remains high in this 21st century era of post-modernity. It continues to be paid when some intellectuals and artists undertake work aimed at introducing us to themes of sexual diversity, or as current fashions favor the influence of one sex over another in terms of styles of dress or hairstyles. Discrimination continues to reign supreme.
Day-to-day anecdotes are abundant, from people recounting stories about a group of women harassed by policemen at the beach, or nighttime soap operas that caricature gays, putting them on public display to be judged for their “immoral behavior.” These shows imply that HIV is a punishment for being gay, as their poorly focused characters become recorded in the public’s minds. Homophobia is not limited to one strata of society. There are professionals who hate homosexuals because they “go against nature.” These individuals recognize that gays are the same as other human beings, but also that they are “misguided.” So what’s to expect from people who are less educated?
Prisoners of Fear
Where does a female teen go who begins to feel something strange for her female math teacher, despite knowing that this is “not normal”? What does a young gay or lesbian person do who hates military life and is surrounded by people who constantly humiliate them? Where does a person go who is kicked out of their house by their own family? There are many questions and few answers. Many times people who feel attraction for their same sex repress their feelings so as not to be mistreated. Prisoners of fear, they are denied the right to love and be loved freely.
Jackeline is lesbian, though few people know it. She has not been very lucky in her love life, she is afraid of being ostracized. “My position is quite healthy with respect to others. I’ve tried to follow the canons that society imposes, to not complicate my life. Seeing the situations of my friends, I believe that it’s better like that way. I believe discrimination continues. It’s contradictory, but the more people learn that homosexuals are asking for social recognition, the more they reject them; it should be the other way around, but that’s how it is. “I don’t want that to happen to me. Despite these campaigns, there’s no change taking place. I come here and see people applauding. I recognize myself in those who speak and say with pride that they’re gay or lesbian, but then I think it through, and I realize that this isn’t going to work. It’s going to be a long time before we see any progress.”
The lesbian group Fenix from Cienfuegos Province doesn’t think the same way. They have a place at what’s called the Health Palace in their city where they meet to give and receive seminars on the inclusion of homosexuals in the active life of society as they work to seek greater acceptance. Vivian and Miyita told HT: “We’re doing a study on lesbophobia, which consists of socializing lesbians with the family, and vice versa. The objective of the initiative is to ensure that society understands that the woman has always been the matriarch of the family, whether or not she has children or is married or divorced.
“We see the woman as a primordial link in society, from the creative point of view, as a creator, incorporating society,independent of her sexual orientation. Our families have come all the way from Cienfuegos to give support today. In a past we had problems with heterosexuals, now there’s a bit more understanding. We are advancing little by little, step by step.”
Twenty-five years in an undesirable marriage
A moving testimony was given by Amparo, a resident from a town in Pinar del Río Province who was obligated to marry a man she didn’t love. She was a member of the Catholic Church, almost the right hand of the town’s parish priest. She had had “that feeling” for a long time, but it was repressed by her parents, who were much older and did not understand anything. “They forced me to marry when they saw something different in me. In a rural community, everything is more complicated. I was married for 25 years, and I suffered a great deal. The only good thing from that time are my two children. Then came a person who made me realize my sexual orientation; we fell in love and I decided to break with everything.
“My parents had already died. I understood that this was the moment to give myself a chance. At what other time was I going to do it? I had waited long enough. I thought about myself for the first time in my life, and I acted. I was ostracized by the church, but I knew that would happen. I dropped out on my own, I stopped going to communion. I believe in God; God is love, and I think that if I feel love for a person, even though they are of my same sex, then God is still “But that goes against the commandments of the church, and people put us down a lot. They say it’s not right if a woman loves another woman, and she feels sexual desire for her. I advise all people who have that type of feeling in their heart that they not hesitate for anybody. Life is yours and there’s only one. There’s no reason to waste it for the sake of being accepted, people will always talk. I worried about my children a great deal, but they are wonderful, they’re mine.
“No one can take away my being a mother, on the contrary. My older child is now 24, and he is very loving with my current partner, he very respectful. My daughter is 13 and is my best friend. They accept me because I’m their mom. Like I say, when there’s love everything flows. They love me as a mother, as a woman, as Amparo. The sexual relationship is something that’s yours; you don’t have to share it with anybody. It’s like when somebody prefers a certain flavor of ice cream; why would you take the flavor that somebody else wants? I suffered a lot when I made my decision; I broke a lot of chains, but my children supported me, as did my partner back then. I finally overcame it all, and today I’m a happy woman. At my job I’ve been accepted as a human being, and that’s the fundamental thing.”
Many Homosexuals Face Cruelness
The life of homosexual people in Cuba is not rose-colored; they have to face prejudices, dogma, labels, hate and machismo. Raydel, a 40-year-old professional, talked about his experience as a person who is gay: “I went to eat with my partner and we were stopped up by the police more than five times in less than 15 minutes, each asking us for our IDs. They dealt with us badly, even though we were not in a gay place or dressed in women’s clothes. They looked at us as if we were robbers or murder suspects.
“Bad behavior exists among all social groups. Once I was held an entire night for riding on a bike with my partner. And then when you’re in jail they’ll accuse you of anything; they can say that you were in a park naked having sex openly with another person, or they’ll say that there is a law against you, against male prostitution. It’s your word against theirs. The police of the Ministry of the Interior do not wear badges, so you can’t identify them or accuse them. Without proof, you can’t do anything. When they want to, they can destroy you and screw up your life.”
Injustice Goes Unanswered
This information doesn’t come out in the press; there is no coverage about the injustices committed. It is difficult to sensitize a population that doesn’t know that these persons suffer or what they must endure. Gays are often rounded up; the truck arrives and takes them away even though they have not done anything. These are only stories that circulate by word of mouth and don’t make it to higher-ups, to people who could do something to improve the situation. Homophobia among police, soldiers and officials is a thorny issue. Groups like Cenesex have been trying to sensitize them but it’s a difficult slow process. There is no stipulation in Cuban law against someone dressing in the clothes of another sex, nor is it illegal to express one’s homosexual orientation openly, the 1997 criminal code modified a previous article. What the police do stems from their own prejudices, from their macho perceptions that have failed to change.
In the ongoing campaign “Diversity is Natural,” focus is being placed on university students, those who will one day be able to change the thinking of society. The drive is also appealing to the family as the fundamental base for the creation of values, feelings, and principles among the next generation. According to Mariela Castro, “An effort is being made from the grassroots. You cannot go directly to the army and impose measures on those who are not prepared. If through educational campaigns it is possible to influence the family, subsequently soldiers, officials, and police officers who are a part of Cuban life will also change, and they themselves will introduce transformations in military institutions.”
To affect change we must continue working for people’s mutual respect in all spaces. We must work for harmony between people, and especially not forget that there are human beings who discriminate and are discriminated against, those that humiliate and those humiliated. There are people who accept or don’t accept their neighbor. Homophobia is a wrong that can be eradicated, although it will take time, tenacity and persistence. It is a complicated matter, but not impossible.
May 22, 2009 – Havana Times
Homophobia Is Not Incurable – Lesbians often go unseen in the broad movement against homophobia and transphobia in most countries of Latin America.
by Dalia AcostaHavana Times – With this past Sunday’s celebration of International Struggle against Homophobia and Transphobia Day, a new campaign was launched in support of sexual diversity, counseling homophobes to be diagnosed and seek treatment for their “dysfunction.” “Homophobia is an illness, and it has a cure” was the title of the call presented by Colegas (the Spanish Confederation of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transsexuals), which opposes theories, prejudices and stereotypes that insist on equating all non-heterosexual qualities with dysfunctions, illnesses or abnormalities.
Similarly, a few weeks ago Cuba’s National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX) began its campaign titled “Diversity is the Norm,” an effort that will extend throughout this entire year but which had its highpoint on Saturday. A conga – led by gays, lesbians, transsexuals and people sensitized in the sexual diversity struggle – extended some 200 yards along 23rd Street in the very heart of Havana, and without any interference by the police or anyone else. “We didn’t organize a gay march, because gays are not the problem; the problem is homophobia,” said CENESEX director Mariela Castro when inaugurating the main event of the nation-wide celebration, which included panels, debates, book presentations, concerts, exhibits and activities in other Cuban provinces.
Added to the activities at the Cuba Pavilion exhibition center, held for the first time last year, was an intense program at the headquarters of the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC), which involved some of the most important intellectuals in the country in a gesture of clear support of the position taken by CENESEX.
Call for greater government support
However, contrary to last year, when the celebrations had a significant coverage, the Cuban mass media hardly reported the events this time, an omission that was criticized by participants at the Pavilion. The inadequate work of the press, underhanded discrimination behind administrative decisions that violate the nation’s laws, the absence of opportunities for sharing experiences and police prejudice were only a few of the problems that were raised during the panel discussion on “Sexual Diversity and the Family.”
“The general tone was not one of despair but of dissent, with an understanding of the need and the demand for greater government support,” said Gustavo Alvarado, a research center worker from Matanzas Province. He traveled to the capital to attend the day’s main activity. While gays, lesbians and transsexuals in Cuba spoke up for their rights in a peaceful and rather festival way, news arrived from Russia about a police crackdown on a gay pride march in which some 25 people were arrested.
Marches, critiques and the presentation of sensitization campaigns also occurred in other countries of Latin America for this annual celebration, which evokes the memory of May 17, 1990, the date when the World Health Organization struck homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses. A crowd also marched on the Honduran seat of government protesting several acts of violence and the death of members of that country’s “lesbian, gay, trans and bisexual community.”
Likewise, the Bolivian press reported that acting Ombudsman Patricia Flores called on the people of that country to “break with religious taboos and cultural prejudices, because people of different sexual orientations and identities have the same rights as anyone else.” A report by the International Association of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexual, Trans and Intersexuals disclosed last week that 80 countries have homophobic laws sponsored by their respective governments. In fact, homosexuality is punished by death in Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Yemen and areas of Nigeria and Somalia.
Meanwhile, the Joint Program of the United Nations on HIV/AIDS (ONUSIDA), in a statement issued Friday, acknowledged that homophobia impedes the struggle against this pandemic. Research carried out in Cuba has revealed that zero-positive gays have experienced more discrimination and stigma because of their sexual orientation than for being HIV carriers. Around 80 percent of Cubans infected with HIV are men, and most of them continue to have sex with other men.
Lesbians demand visibility
Another disclosure was that the demands of lesbians usually go unseen in the broad movement against homophobia and transphobia in most countries of Latin America. “We did everything ourselves. We printed as many stickers and leaflets as we could,” said Monica Collazo. She is a member of Oremi, a CENESEX forum for reflection among lesbians and female bisexuals, an organized effort that has begun to expand to other Cuban provinces.
Collazo believes that information on lesbians should have the same priority in public campaigns as that of male homosexuality and transexuality, which also receive favored treatment in efforts to sensitize people to populations classified as most vulnerable to HIV/AIDS. “Who knows about the services that CENESEX provides? How do we find out where to go when our rights are violated? How many lesbians in Havana know that there are places for them? When will we have access to assisted fertilization?” asked several women interviewed by IPS.
Assisted (in vitro) fertilization for lesbians is part of a package of proposals promoted by CENESEX and the Federation of Cuban Women. Also included is the reform of the country’s Family Code, which –if approved– will recognize equal rights for heterosexual and homosexual couples.
May 28, 2009 – South Florida Blade
Cuba to reinstate sex changes – Return of procedures announced on state television
Havana (AP) – Cuba will reinstate sex-change operations previously banned on the island, President Raul Castro’s daughter Mariela said Wednesday. The Health Ministry authorized the operations last year, but none has been performed since. It was unclear when the surgeries would begin. Mariela Castro, a sexologist and gay-rights advocate, announced the return of sex-change procedures in comments aired on state television. She runs the Center for Sex Education, which prepares transsexuals for sex-change operations and has identified 19 transsexuals it deems ready to undergo the procedure.
Castro also said she backs efforts to allow lesbians to be artificially inseminated, a procedure currently barred. The first successful sex-change operation was performed on the island in 1988, but subsequent procedures were prohibited, Mariela Castro told an international congress on assisted reproduction meeting in Havana. Some Cubans protested the decision last year to allow the operations, either because of general opposition to the procedure or for its high costs for a developing country with economic problems. The government would bear the cost of the operations because Cuba has a universal health care system.
June 1 2009 – Southern Voice
U.S. grants asylum to gay Cuban: HIV immigrant ban stalled approval
by Lou Chibbaro Jr, Washington Blade
U.S. immigration officials have granted political asylum to a gay man from Cuba who said he would face anti-gay persecution and internment in an AIDS sanatorium because of his HIV-positive status if forced to return to his homeland. "It has been determined that you are eligible for asylum in the United States," the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services informed D.C. resident Raul Hernandez in a May 26 letter. "We’re just elated and relieved that justice was finally done in this case," said Christopher Nugent, Hernandez’s attorney.
Nugent, who disclosed the news about the asylum approval on Friday, said the favorable decision by the immigration agency marked the end of nearly a decade-long odyssey for the 40-year-old gay man, who first arrived in the U.S. in 2000. At that time, Hernandez intended to defect to the U.S. under a law passed by Congress in 1966 that provides an expedited process for admitting Cubans seeking to flee the Communist regime of Fidel Castro. But after a lengthy application and appeal process, Hernandez, who initially settled in Arlington, Va., was turned down in 2005 for admission under the Cuban Adjustment Act because he’s HIV positive.
U.S. immigration authorities informed him that the longstanding U.S. ban on HIV-positive visitors and immigrants would take precedent over the Cuban Adjustment Act, which normally provides an almost automatic approval process for Cuban immigrants. The Blade first reported on Hernandez’s plight last month. Last year, Congress repealed the law that put in place the HIV visitor and immigrant ban. However, the ban remains a part of a regulation carried out by the Department of Health and Human Services governing the admissibility of immigrants with potentially communicable diseases.
The Obama administration is currently taking steps to repeal the regulation, but the administrative process for removing it is not expected to be completed until late this year or early next year. AIDS activists this week criticized the Obama administration for not moving fast enough to repeal the regulation after as many as 60 Canadians complained that they were subjected to burdensome and "humiliating" hurdles in their effort to enter the U.S. to attend an AIDS conference in Washington because of their HIV status.
U.S. officials said the Canadians were eligible to apply for a waiver that would allow them to enter the country. The AIDS advocacy group Housing Works said the Canadians claim the waiver application process involved overcoming a number of unnecessary hurdles, including traveling to a U.S. consular office in Ottawa and being forced to reveal details about their personal medical condition on a form and in an interview.
Nugent said because Hernandez couldn’t benefit from the Cuban Adjustment Act, he had to assemble specific evidence to show that gay people and people with HIV are routinely subjected to discrimination, persecution and often are forced against their will to live in isolation centers created for people found to be HIV positive. "Mr. Hernandez…established that there exists a pattern and practice of state-sponsored and condoned persecution of political dissidents, openly gay men, and people with HIV," Nugent wrote in a legal brief filed with the Citizenship and Immigrant Services office. "These people are commonly quarantined in sanatoria, obviously in violation of their human rights, and/or sent to military prisons when considered dissidents," he said in the brief.
Spokespersons with the Cuban Interests Section office in Washington, which serves as an informal Cuban embassy, and with Cuban Mission to the United Nations in New York, did not respond to requests by the Blade for comment on the Hernandez case. "This will bring real peace to his life," Nugent said Friday, in discussing Hernandez’s reaction to the asylum status. As someone approved for U.S. political asylum, Hernandez is eligible to apply for permanent U.S. residency status in one year. He currently works as a caseworker assisting HIV patients at Washington’s La Clinica Del Pueblo. He could not be immediately reached for comment.
July 6, 2009 – UKGaynews.org
Big Strides in Gay and Transgender Rights in Cuba Mariela Castro Tells London Audience
London – Cuba has made big strides on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights in recent years, Mariela Castro told an audience at the Barbican Centre cinema on Saturday evening. Ms. Castro, the daughter of Cuban President Raul Castro and niece of Fidel Castro, was speaking during a ‘question and answer’ session following a screening of the pioneering Cuban gay film Strawberry and Chocolate, made in 1993, and being show as part of the Pride London Festival. She emphasised that despite the progress on LGBT rights, more progress was needed.
Describing LGBT rights as an on-going, evolving process, she admitted that a major obstacle was Cuba’s long-standing, historical tradition of male machismo. With Peter Tatchell chairing the session, Ms. Castro was joined by the film’s co-director Juan Carlos Tabio and Cuban LGBT activist, Alberto Roque. Mr Roque said that Cuba’s celebration of IDAHO Day in May this year was another important step towards raising the visibility of LGBT people and issues
Ms. Castro is the director of the Cuban Centre for Sex Education in Havana which campaigns for effective HIV/Aids prevention as well as LGBT human rights. Four years ago she proposed a scheme that would allow to allow transgender people to receive reassignment surgery – and to legally change their gender. According to former Castro family confidante Norberto Fuentes, Ms. Castro is considered the rebel in the family, Wikipedia states.
August 18, 2009 – The Edge Los Angeles
AIDS on the rise in Cuban youth
Havana (AP) – Cuban health authorities have warned of a dramatic rise in AIDS cases among the young on the island, where there over 1,300 new HIV infections in 2008 and another 1,400 are estimated for this year. Cubans aged 19 to 24 are at the greatest risk of infection, said Jorge Perez, deputy director of the Tropical Medicine Institute in Havana, warning of the dangers of unprotected sex.
"This is something that tends to happen more to young people because of the dynamism of youth, not thinking about the future and only about the present… Having a no-fear attitude and doing things that are risky," he told local television in this communist country of 11 million people. "We must tell you beware, because there is danger in trust."
Of the total of 11,469 cases of HIV infections recorded in Cuba since 1986, 4,602 people developed aids and 1,864 died, according to official figures. The national anti-AIDS program offers free medical care and antiretroviral therapy, out of six Cuban-manufactured generic drugs.
September 10, 2009 – Advocate.com
Out in Cuba
Join photographer Byron Motley on a photo tour of Havana — a journey few Americans get to take — and get up close and personal with Cuba’s gay and transgender community.
Also, read our interview with gay and transgender rights activist Mariela Castro Espín, the niece of Fidel Castro.
September 10, 2009 – From: mdgswaen
Trans in Cuba Festival in Havana, Cuba, November 27-29
Trans in Cuba is an LGBT community festival that will take place in Havana from November 27-29, 2009. The festival marks a new step towards full acceptance and equal rights for homosexuals and transsexuals in Cuba . The Cuban Centre for Sexual Education has approved of the festival as is sees openness as an effective means of aids-prevention. For gays, lesbians and transsexuals the festival will be an historic opportunity to present themselves intentionally and openly as a community to the general public in Cuba .
The central theme of the festival is sexual diversity and AIDS prevention. During the day, workshops, debates, exhibitions, and a literary cafe will be held. Each night their will be the Espectaculo, a show featuring well-known artists like Rosita Formes and Lourdes Torres. The main event in the Espectaculo is the ‘concurso de transformistas’, a contest for trans-artists in which everyone invited and encouraged to participate.
We invite you to come visit our festival and get to know Cuba ‘s LGBT community and as such support our fight for equal rights. We would also be very happy if foreign guests would compete in the concurso de transformistas.
If you are interested please contact email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org ASAP. Free transport will be available during the festival, and festival organizers will also assist in finding appropriate accommodation. Any additional information can also be received by contacting the festival organizers at the above email addresses. Also send e-mail copies to email@example.com because internet communication with Cuba is not totally reliable. This will ensure the organizers receive the message.
Version in Spanish:
Trans en Habana
Al final de noviembre (27, 28 y 29) habra un evento gay en Habana. El evento marca un nuevo paso a la acceptacion y la igualdad para los homosexuales y transexuales en la isla. El centro nacional de Educacion sexual autorizara el evento considerando mas franqueza como un instrumento importante en la prevencion del SIDA. Para los homo- y transsexuales el evento sera una oportunidad historica de presentarse orgullosamente como una comunidad al publico general.
El tema central del evento es diversidad sexual y la prevencion del VIH. Por el dia hay talleres, exposiciones, debates y un café literario. Por la noche hay el espectaculo con shows de artistas conocidas de nuestra cultura cubana . El centro del espectaculo sera un concurso de transformistas abierto a todos. Te invitan de participar en el evento, para un encuentro con la comunidad gay de Cuba, y por su presencia apoyar nuestra lucha para derechos iguales. Ademas seramos muy felices de recibir a participantes del extranjero en el concurso de transformistas.
Si sientes interes de visitar este evento gay inolvidable contactate lo mas pronto posibe por firstname.lastname@example.org o email@example.com. Te ofrecemos transporte mientras el evento, te ayudaramos en el alojamiento y te daramos toda la informacion necesaria.
November 18, 2009 – Human Rights Watch
New Castro, Same Cuba – Political Prisoners in the Post-Fidel Era
This 123-page report shows how the Raúl Castro government has relied in particular on the Criminal Code offense of "dangerousness," which allows authorities to imprison individuals before they have committed any crime, on the suspicion that they are likely to commit an offense in the future. This "dangerousness" provision is overtly political, defining as "dangerous" any behavior that contradicts Cuba’s socialist norms.
Read the Press Release
Read the Report
December 7, 2009 – In These Times
Inside Cuba: Gay Life in Cuba Today: Not much has changed since Reinaldo Arenas’ time
Editors’ Note: The following posts are from the blog LGBT Cuba News Today. In These Times offers this selection in lieu of the article that was to have been written by Mario José Delgado Gonzáles, who was jailed in August for trying to organize a Mr. Gay Havana contest. Delgado is the vice president of the Reinaldo Arenas LGBT Memorial Foundation, a group named for the Cuban poet and author of ‘Before Night Falls‘.
by LGBT Cuba News Today
June 3, 2009
Several young gay people, arrested on May 15 on the Island hours before the official celebrations of the Day Against Homophobia, were sentenced to two to four years of prison, according to a press release from the Reinaldo Arenas LGBT Memorial Foundation and the Cuban LGBT Committee for Human Rights.
The organizations didn’t specify the exact number of those sentenced. The young people were part of a group of 58 homosexuals detained in a raid called "Operacion Pio" (Operation Tweet), who were forced to sign off on charges against them, fined and sent back to their provinces of origin.
June 4, 2009
"I don’t want faggots walking around Havana–sooner or later I’m going to throw you all in jail after I exhaust all the warnings I’m going to give you," said Police Capt. Ángel of the Reina district, between San Nicolás and Rayo Streets, after he arrested 58 young people for homosexuality, according to José Luis, an HIV+ transvestite who was arrested four blocks from his home for being homosexual.
When I got to the station and asked why I’d been detained, an officer tried to hit me–I’m not sure how I avoided it. During the day, I have no complaints, but at night it’s impossible for a transvestite to walk the streets. We live in a great state of fear on the streets. They come and detain you, just like that. And if you complain or defend yourself, it’s worse because they beat you.
I was on the P7 bus when suddenly it was stopped. The police blocked the transit bus and one of the officers came on the bus looking for homosexuals. He made me and two others get off. I was dressed as a woman. In the Reina district, the police are very violent and aggressive; it’s directed by Capt. Ángel. He hurled insults, told us to shut up and hit us. The Captain said that if we wanted to walk around on the streets, Mariela Castro [Raúl Castro’s daughter, who runs the CENESEX, Cuba’s National Sex Education Center, and has started an anti-homophobia campaign] would have to buy us our own island.
June 23, 2009
Thirty homosexuals were arrested Saturday, June 13, when the National Police from the Dragones station parked two Hyundai vans downstairs at the Capitol Building, according to Amaury Cabodevilla Torriente, a blogger and member of the Center for Human and Sexual Rights (formerly Cuban Committee for LGBT Human Rights), an organization focused on monitoring police activities against gays.
July 7, 2009
Seven gay youths were arrested this Sunday in Playa del Chivo, outside Havana, for gathering in a public bathing area.
Ignoring the the petition filed with the Ministry of Justice by the board of directors of the Reinaldo Arenas LGBT Memorial Foundation asking for a stop to the police persecution and arrests currently going on in the capital’s homosexual community, seven young gays were arrested at Playa del Chivo for insisting on swimming in the public beach, said Rene Alonso, 18, who was fined 30 pesos after the raid.
"We resisted being displaced; we didn’t want to be forced out of the beach. They don’t have a right to kick us out just because we’re homosexuals. It’s sad but true. The rest of the boys ran when they saw the squad cars."
September 1, 2009
After suffering persecution, arrest of its members and confiscation of computers, the board of directors of the Reinaldo Arenas LGBT Memorial Foundation asked for support from international LGBT organizations to produce Havana’s first Mr. Gay contest. Recently, the members of the organizing committee of the contest were seized, beaten, arrested, and had their equipment confiscated by members of state security and the National Revolutionary Police. It happened as organizers met to go over the final details of the contest at the home of Mario José Delgado Gonzáles, a sociology student and the foundation’s vice president.
The repressive actions resulted in the arrest of Delgado Gonzáles and Belkis, also a university student and committee member, with the goal of having the contest canceled. Mrs. Gonzáles, mother of Mario José, did not know of her son’s whereabouts for 12 days. In fact, he had been detained by state security and was imprisoned at Villa Marista.
September 2, 2009
After a 50 year wait, the Cuban queer community finally celebrated Mr. Gay Havana even though Cuban government security forces and police tried to shut down the cultural event. The repressive state forces beat organizers, arrested activists, confiscated materials and, finally, banned the foundation’s vice president, Mario Jose Delgado Gonzalez, from continuing his university studies in sociology. Delgado Gonzales had been jailed for more than a week without charges after a raid on his home during an organizing meeting. [He has since been released from jail, but is still banned from the university.]
In the days prior to the Mr. Gay Havana event, the leadership, members and supporters of the foundation underwent state persecution, interrogations and intimidation with the explicit purpose of terrorizing them and breaking up the organization. In spite of these repressive actions, the contest took place August 29, at 2 p.m., on Chivo Beach, on the other side of the Havana tunnel, usually one of the places of greatest police persecution and hounding of queers in the capital.
The winners of the Mr. Gay Havana contest are:
3rd place: Rafael Chávez González, 21 years old, medical student.
2nd place: Roger de Cruz Caballero, 19 years old, library science student.
1st place: Asley Sarriá Arrondo, 21 years old, dancer and culinary student.
Next year, the foundation and the Mr. Gay organizing committee seek support to bring this cultural event to the interior of the country and in this way conduct a nationwide Mr. Gay Cuba contest.
September 10, 2009
Rafael Chávez González, third place winner of the Mr. Gay Havana contest, was detained last Thursday and interrogated by members of State Security for participating in the illegal beauty contest, Mr. Gay Havana, which took place August 29, in Playa del Chivo.
González said, "they told me the Cuban LGBT Foundation was an organization seeking to destroy the revolution, that the Mr. Gay contest was a distraction, one of the many fallacies of capitalism, that it was not a serious contest in any part of the world, and that they didn’t understand how a medical student, educated by the revolution, could take part in an event against the revolution.
"They told me the best thing I could do was to make a public statement saying everything was fraudulent, that what happened in Playa del Chivo was an event organized by homosexual anti-revolutionaries in Florida, and that they could prove that Efren Martinez, the homosexual counter-revolutionary monkey, was behind it all so as to draw attention to alleged human rights violations in Havana.
"They barely let me talk. It was impossible to make them see that the event was a completely cultural thing, that we weren’t being used by anybody, that we’d been told many times by the organizers that it was possible that there would be repercussions because of the event … we heard about what had happened at the home of the foundation’s vice president, how the police beat them and confiscated the electronic equipment in the home, which made some of those who were there flee in fear.
"They insulted me when I told them the contest had been open and held with transparency, that it was the spectators who chose the winners, and how I saw for myself how the foundation formatted the only memory stick they had so they could offer it as a prize–a memory stick the government sells for 30 to 40 CUCs [Cuban convertible currency, roughly equivalent to the U.S. dollar], which would have been impossible for a student from a typical family to buy.
"That’s when they asked me if I was interested in continuing my medical studies. They said all Cuban doctors have to be committed to the revolution and they need to have an unbreakable revolutionary conscience. They said they’d never allow a Cuban medical student to support the counter-revolution being orchestrated in Florida.
"I just hope they don’t ban me from studying medicine just because I took part in a beauty contest."