April 29, 2013 | by Michael K. Lavers
Mariela Castro receives visa to attend gay conference
Mariela Castro, Cuba, gay news, Washington Blade

Mariela Castro (Photo by Montrealais via Wikimedia Commons)

UPDATE: Equality Forum Executive Director Malcolm Lazin on Tuesday confirmed to the Washington Blade that Mariela Castro has received a visa to travel to Philadelphia. She will arrive in the city on Friday, and leave on Sunday.

The U.S. government has granted a visa to the daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro that will allow her to attend a gay rights conference this weekend in Philadelphia, CNN reported on Monday.

Equality Forum said last week the State Department had denied Mariela Castro’s request to attend its annual event on May 4, where she had been scheduled to participate in a panel and receive an award for her efforts to advance LGBT rights in Cuba. CNN cited an unnamed official who said the agency reconsidered her case and “the restriction on her visa has been lifted, which will allow her to travel” to the event.

Mariela Castro, executive director of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX,) has spearheaded a number of campaigns over the last decade to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS on the island and promote acceptance of LGBT people.

She successfully lobbied the Cuban government to begin offering free sex-reassignment surgery under the country’s national health care system in 2010. Mariela Castro, whose uncle is former Cuban President Fidel Castro, has also spoken out in support of marriage rights for gays and lesbians in Cuba.

CENESEX has scheduled a series of events across the country between May 7-18 to commemorate the annual International Day Against Homophobia, but some Cuban LGBT advocates remain critical of the government and Mariela Castro herself. They include Leannes Imbert Acosta of the Cuban LGBT Platform, who claims authorities detained her last September as she left her Havana home to bring materials to CENESEX on a planned exhibit on forced labor camps to which the government sent more than 25,000 gay men and others deemed unfit for military services during the 1960s.

Lazin was not immediately available for comment on the CNN report, but he conceded to the Washington Blade during an interview last week that Cuba is not “a perfect nation.”

“There are those who are being critical of necessary changes within Cuba [should be] given the right to express those views of both generally and to their government,” he said. “That to me is what freedom of speech and freedom of assembly is all about. As a country that has pioneered democracy and champions democracy, the fact that we would not allow Mariela Castro to come to Philadelphia for a civil rights summit and open herself to questions from the public and the press on LGBT rights in Cuba to me is a sorry day for the country I love.”

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

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