Cuban Gays Find Support In Fidel’s Niece

Mariela CastroMONTREAL, CANADA – Mariela Castro preaches revolution, though not the kind her uncle Fidel has ever embraced.
As the head of Cuba’s National Center for Sexual Education, Castro is a vocal supporter of rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered rights.
That support brought her to Montreal Friday, to speak at the International Conference on LGBT Human Rights, being held in conjunction with the athletic competitions of the 1st World Outgames.
Castro, 43, is the daughter of Raúl Castro, Cuba’s defense minister and first in line to succeed 79-year-old Fidel Castro, who has ruled the country for nearly a half-century.
Her participation was a matter of controversy, with some applauding her for supporting Cuba’s sexual minorities. Others, however, were skeptical.
”When he wants to vilify an opponent, the first thing Fidel Castro will call him is [an offensive term for gay],” said Toronto film editor Ricardo Acosta, a gay man who left Cuba during the 1980 Mariel boatlift.
”Perhaps her intentions are good, but until people can express themselves freely in Cuba and have freedom to associate, I won’t believe that things have changed for gays and lesbians,” he added.
Acosta visited Cuba with his partner last winter and said that the police turned a blind eye to gay prostitution involving Cuban men and foreigners.
”They were willing to tolerate sex tourism as long as it doesn’t cross a line,” he said.
Speaking to reporters after her presentation, Castro acknowledged Cuba’s suppression of LGBT rights in the past, but insisted that the mass arrests, imprisonments in work camps, job discrimination and deportations of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s are a thing of the past.
”There is no official repression of lesbians and gays in Cuba,” she said flatly through a translator. “What remains are social and cultural reactions that must be transformed, the same as in many other countries.”
She acknowledged that gays, lesbians and transgendered people still face arrest, but that this reflects problems with bigoted police. Cuba decriminalized sodomy in 1979. The Cuban Constitution does not specifically prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual identity.
While athletes from more than 100 countries are participating in the Outgames, no Cuban has registered for the event. Mariela Castro was asked whether this reflected an unwillingness by athletes in her country to come out, or an unwillingness by the Cuban government to allow participants to attend.
”As a matter of fact, there are many homosexual athletes in Cuba. Unfortunately they are not good athletes,” she said with a smile. “The government could not afford to send a team here and risk that they would come home without any medals.”
During her presentation, Castro explained the push she is leading to have the rights of transgendered Cubans recognized. Last December she proposed a bill that would give transgendered people access to free sex-change operations. The bill is expected to be voted on later this year.
from The Miami Herald

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