December 21, 2013 | by Michael K. Lavers
Cuban lawmakers ban anti-gay employment discrimination

Mariela Castro, Cuba, gay news, Washington Blade

Mariela Castro spoke during a press conference in Philadelphia on May 4. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Cuban lawmakers on Friday approved a proposal that would amend the country’s labor law to ban employment discrimination based on sexual orientation.

“Experienced a countless number of emotions today in Parliament,” said Cuban blogger Francisco Rodríguez who blogs under the pen name Paquito El De Cuba on his Twitter page as Andrés Duque of Blabbeando reported. “We now have the first law that protects gays, in this case in employment.”

Rodríguez tweeted there was also what he described as an “intense debate” about amending the island’s labor law to also ban discrimination based on gender identity and expression.

He said Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro and executive director of the country’s National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX), proposed the trans-specific amendment. Rodríguez said she also obtained support for it from Christian and intellectual leaders in Parliament.

The Cuban newspaper Granma on Saturday reported Mariela Castro, who is the niece of former Cuban President Fidel Castro, sought to amend the employment law that broadly referenced “the equality of the worker,” but did not specifically ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and other factors in the workplace. The publication further noted Mariela Castro also sought to ban employment discrimination based on gender identity, disability and HIV status.

Ignacio Estrada Cepero, founder of the Cuban League Against AIDS, told the Blade on Saturday from Miami that he had previously predicted the Cuban Parliament would have approved something along the lines of banning anti-gay discrimination in the workplace during their most recent meeting.

Estrada and his transgender wife, former CENESEX employee Wendy Iriepa Díaz, remain critical of Mariela Castro and her father’s government. The two met with Cuban-born U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) in July on Capitol Hill while they were in the U.S. on a three month trip.

“You would have to ask if any of us taking a seat inside the Cuban Parliament would have been able to achieve this” Estrada told the Blade. “It surely would have been impossible to achieve it.”

Estrada added Cuban parliamentarians only approved the proposal to ban anti-gay discrimination in the workplace because Mariela Castro introduced it and she is the Cuban president’s daughter.

Equality Forum in May honored Mariela Castro for her efforts on behalf of LGBT Cubans. The executive director of the Philadelphia-based gay advocacy group refused to allow this reporter to ask the Cuban president’s daughter about her country’s human rights record during a press conference before she accepted an award from the organization.

Ros-Lehtinen is among those who blasted Equality Forum for honoring Mariela Castro. The U.S. government also faced criticism for granting her a visa that allowed her to travel to Philadelphia to accept the award.

“The tyrannical regime in Cuba likes to fool those who are easily fooled but, unless there are human rights for all, there can be no true rights just for gays,” Ros-Lehtinen told the Blade in a statement on Saturday. “One would have to be quite gullible to give any credence to reports that the non-freely elected sham of a parliament has passed a non-discrimination law regarding individuals who are LGBT. The Castro regime allows no freedom but it knows how to sugar coat its horrid human rights record by promoting a law that will never mean a thing. The Cuban people deserve freedom, whether they are gay or straight. Liberty knows no gender identity.”

CENESEX and the Cuban government did not return the Blade’s request for comment.

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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