Cuban President Raul Castro’s daughter led hundreds of LGBT people and their allies in a street parade last month to raise queer visibility in Havana, the capital of the communist country. Participants formed a conga line around two city blocks, complete with stilt-walkers, colorful costumes and rhythmic drumming.
“We’re calling on the Cuban people to participate…so that the revolution can be deeper and include all the needs of human beings,” said Mariela Castro, the niece of former president Fidel Castro and the director of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX). In addition to leading the parade, Castro and CENESEX developed an array of programs, which included educational panels and presentations of books, CDs and magazines about sexual diversity.
CENESEX is an official, state-sanctioned organization which seeks to educate people and advocate for LGBT rights. Cuba’s communist government has a tradition of discrimination against gay people, having even sent some to work camps during Fidel Castro’s revolution. Acceptance of sexual diversity has grown in recent years, thanks in part to the work CENESEX has done.
As part of their political work, Mariela Castro and her colleagues recently presented parliament with a bill to legalize same-sex unions throughout the country. In an interview with Russia Today, Castro said she is optimistic that this initiative will receive a positive response, mainly because it is well researched and thought-out.
“I presented an educational strategy strongly based on the mass media to bring the attention of the Cuban society to various expressions of sexuality within it,” Castro told the interviewer.
Castro’s efforts have already yielded results in the public health arena. Cuba will soon begin performing gender reassignment surgeries, a year after the Ministry of Public Health lifted a ban on such procedures, according to a May 28th Associated Press report. The ban had been in place since 1988, when the first successful operation caused a major scandal in the Cuban public.
Opposition to gender reassignment surgeries still exists, with some Cubans protesting the lifting of the ban, while others are worried about the financial aspects of the procedures. Castro announced that the government is going to pay for these surgeries for at least
19 transgender people whom she has already identified.
Cuba still has a ban on the artificial insemination of lesbians, which Castro has publicly opposed.