May 2, 2014 | by Michael K. Lavers
Cuba to host international LGBT conference

Mariela Castro, Cuba, gay news, Washington Blade

Mariela Castro speaks during a press conference in Philadelphia on May 4, 2013. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

More than 400 advocates from across the world will travel to Cuba next week to attend the first international LGBT conference that will take place in the Communist country.

The sixth International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association for Latin America and the Caribbean (ILGALAC) Regional Conference will take place in the beach resort of Varadero. A number of parties and other events are scheduled to take place in nearby Havana, the Cuban capital, during the gathering.

Mariela Castro Espín, daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro who is the director of Cuba’s National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX,) is president of the local committee that organized the ILGALAC conference.

Mariela Castro did not return the Washington Blade’s request for comment. CENESEX’s website prominently features information about the ILGALAC conference that includes a preliminary agenda.

“As the host country for the sixth ILGALAC Regional Conference, Cuba is not exempt from the problems of the region’s LGBTI communities,” states the organization. “The humanistic nature of the Cuban Revolution has focused on the human being in his teleological purposes since its beginning. Although the Cuban LGBTI movement does not have the organization of other international movements, the fight against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the country is now evident with more impact and achievements.”

Robyn Ochs, a bisexual advocate and writer who is a member of the MassEquality Board of Directors, will appear on a panel with Indian writer Vikram Seth and Víctor Hugo Robles, a Chilean LGBT rights advocate known as “El Che de los Gays” or “Che (Guevara) of the Gays.”

Mariela Castro is scheduled to moderate it.

“I’ve long been interested in transnational conversations,” Ochs told the Blade, noting the conference is the first time she will have traveled to Cuba. “I hope to learn a great deal.”

Wilfred Labiosa, who is another MassEquality board member, will also travel to Cuba and present at the ILGALAC conference.

“We can learn so much; how to organize and mobilize as a cohesive group instead of people pulling their way to the way that they want and not as a group,” he said. “The Socialist regime can teach us so much about organizing and mobilizing.”

Francisco Rodríguez Cruz, a gay Cuban blogger who writes under the pen name Paquito el de Cuba, will attend the conference alongside CENESEX and another group affiliated with it. He told the Blade in an e-mail he feels the gathering will allow Cuban advocates to gain a better understanding of international LGBT rights movements.

“It will increase visibility for the continents’ other LGBTI movements and Cuban efforts and strategies towards respect of freedom of sexual orientation and gender identity and stopping discrimination motivated by them,” said Rodríguez.

ILGA Co-Secretary General Gloria Careaga Pérez told the Blade earlier this week from México there is “a great enthusiasm” on the part of the Latin American and Caribbean advocates who plan to travel to the island.

“I think that ILGALAC 2014 will be a great experience from which there is a lot to learn,” she said. “Latin America today is considered one of the most promising regions for the LGBTI community. The movement has matured in a clear way. In the great majority of the countries there has been a respectful dialogue with the government that has made it possible for not only legal advances, but the orchestration of public policies and a greater visibility and respect for the LGBTI condition.”

Anti-LGBT discrimination, violence persist amid legal gains

Same-sex couples are currently able to legally marry in Mexico City, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, the Dutch Caribbean the French islands of Saint Martin, Saint Barthélemy, Guadeloupe and Martinique and French Guiana. Marriage, civil unions and other forms of relationship recognition for same-sex couples have begun to gain traction in Colombia, Perú, Chile and a number of other Mexican states in recent months.

Two women in Puerto Rico in March filed a federal lawsuit seeking recognition of their Massachusetts marriage in the U.S. commonwealth. Mariela Castro has previously stated she supports marriage rights for same-sex couples.

Many Latin American countries include sexual orientation and/or gender identity and expression in their anti-discrimination and hate crimes laws, but anti-LGBT violence remains a serious problem.

A report that Global Rights, D.C.-based international human rights group, published late last year noted trans Brazilians accounted for slightly more than half of the 300 reported LGBT murder victims in the country in 2012 — and an estimated 52 percent of them were people of color. The murder of a cross-dressing teenager near the Jamaican resort city of Montego Bay last summer further underscored the rampant anti-LGBT violence and discrimination that exists in the country.

Jamaica and Belize are among the 11 English-speaking countries in Central America and the Caribbean in which homosexuality remains criminalized, although their sodomy laws have been challenged in court.

“We’re very keen as a Caribbean regional network to participate in the conference, to be well-represented and to bring Cuba into the regional network,” said Colin Robinson of CAISO, an LGBT advocacy group in Trinidad and Tobago. “We’re eager to partner with relevant partners on the ground in Cuba.”

Kenita Placide of United and Strong, Inc., a St. Lucian LGBT advocacy group, will attend the ILGALAC conference.

Both she and Robinson have applauded Cuba on its LGBT rights record that includes the passage of a proposal late last year that seeks to amend the country’s labor law to ban anti-gay employment discrimination.

The Communist Party of Cuba in 2012 approved a resolution against anti-LGBT discrimination.

Mariela Castro’s supporters note she successfully lobbied the Cuban government to begin offering free sex-reassignment surgery under the country’s national health care system in 2008. They also credit Cuba’s condom distribution campaign and sexual education curriculum with producing one of the world’s lowest HIV rates.

“We have been following the success of Cuba and how they are open to work with and recognize LGBT persons,” Placide told the Blade on Friday. “CENESEX, although not involved in a lot of the Caribbean work directly, is looked to as a leader in activism on gay rights, thanks to the guidance of Mariela Castro.”

“Mariela Castro Espín, daughter of the current Cuban president, has been able to influence that,” added José Ramón, a Venezuelan LGBT rights advocate who has lived in Spain since violent clashes between supporters of President Nicolás Maduro and the opposition broke out in February. “It is also positive because a good part of the movements that will take part in the conference are sympathetic to the Cuban government.”

Robles described the ILGALAC conference as a “unique, significant and historic opportunity.”

“At the same time, Cuba and its diverse organizations and public institutions have become open and shown solidarity with ILGALAC activists in an example of valiant social, political, community and institutional integration,” he told the Blade.

Critics of Cuban government criticize conference organizers

ILGALAC has come under criticism from those who feel the conference should not take place in Cuba because of the country’s human rights record.

“Hosting a conference on LGBT rights is just another farcical attempt by the Cuban regime to pretend they care about anyone’s rights,” U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) told the Blade in a statement. “The sad reality is that the Cuban people are harassed, beaten and bullied for having a point of view that differs from the regime’s. This desperate move to seem tolerant does not even come close to obscuring the repressive reality on the island.”

The Florida Republican who was born in Cuba last May blasted Equality Forum, a Philadelphia-based LGBT advocacy group, over its decision to honor Mariela Castro.

Ignacio Estrada Cepera, who founded the Cuban League Against AIDS in 2005, was also critical of ILGALAC’s decision to hold its conference in Cuba.

His wife, Wendy Iriepa Díaz, a trans woman who used to work for CENESEX, told the Blade last summer while in D.C. they feel Mariela Castro “totally manipulates the (Cuban) LGBT community.”

Estrada repeatedly noted during the trip the Cuban government forcibly quarantined people with HIV/AIDS in state-run sanitaria until 1993.

Leannes Imbert Acosta of the Cuban LGBT Platform claimed authorities in 2012 detained her as she tried 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 service during the 1960s. Former Cuban President Fidel Castro in 2010 apologized for sending gay men to the camps known as Military Units to Aid Production or by their Spanish acronym UMAPs.

Estrada, Iriepa and other Cuban LGBT rights advocates who work independently from Mariela Castro and CENESEX say they continue to face harassment from the authorities.

“This event is the worst response to what is happening on the island and a mockery to the true Cuban LGBT community,” Estrada told the Blade from Miami.

Two staffers from Caribe Afirmativo, a Colombian LGBT advocacy group, who are already in Havana are meeting with members of the Free Rainbow Alliance of Cuba who are not affiliated with CENESEX. The group on Friday issued a press release that criticized Mariela Castro and ILGALAC for not inviting them to the conference.

“The Cuban authorities, through the National Center of Sexual Education (CENESEX,) through its director’s political use of family ties and personal aura, try to control, manipulate and win international legitimacy as promoters and guaranters of rights for the LGBTI community.”

Hernando Muñoz of Colombia Diversa, another Colombian LGBT advocacy group, told the Blade during a telephone interview from Bogotá, the country’s capital, before traveling to Cuba for the ILGALAC conference that he is aware of criticisms over the island’s human rights record. He and Mariela Castro attended a 2010 conference in Madrid during which he said she tried to say Cuba was “perfect” and “everything was going great for homosexuals.”

“I don’t think so,” he said.

Other conference attendees criticized the U.S. over its policy towards Cuba that includes a decades’ long economic and travel embargo.

“Cuba is more than what some group of (Miami) Cubans say it is,” said Labiosa. “It is a country full of rich culture, friendly people and a government that wants to bring change under these horrible conditions perpetuated by this relic U.S. embargo.”

“It is a 55-year-old dinosaur that should never have been implemented, was never effective and should long ago have been lifted,” added Ochs. “It is arbitrary: Why Cuba and why not countries such as Iran, Nigeria, Russia, Uganda or all of the other countries with abysmal human rights records, specifically toward LGBT people.”

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

10 Comments
  • Maybe Fidel Castro can appear and personally apologize for the crimes against humanity he admitted to with respect to the treatment of homosexuals in his UMAP concentration camps. He has taken personal responsibility for that but has never accepted to stand trial for his crimes.
    Safely hidden in Cuba he will escape his punishment.
    He should stand trial in The Hague.

    More on the UMAP and the problems of homosexuals in Cuba:
    "Las UMAP: Los campos de concentración de Castro"
    http://umap.impela.net/
    "Cuba Gay: información sobre la vida de gays en Cuba"
    http://cuba-gay.blogspot.ca/

  • “El Che de los Gays”? What a joke.
    Che Guevara was homophobic.

    Escritora asegura que el Che era homofobico
    Publicado el jueves 10 de enero del 2008
    EFE, MADRID

    "La escritora cubana Zoé Valdés lamentó ayer el poco conocimiento que hay en el mundo sobre la figura del ''Che'' y de su obra, en la que lejos de
    la imagen que se difunde de él, “plantea modelos de perfección viril que niegan la homosexualidad, la bisexualidad y la transexualidad''."

    http://che-guevara.awardspace.com/che_homofobico.htm

  • Conferences, resolutions, and the like butter no parsnips if they do not lead to changes in the laws.

    Read the article "LGTB rights in Cuba" in Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia" and see for yourself how next to nothing has so far been accomplished — and that's with someone no less than Fidel Castro's daughter at the helm. Not that she is to blame. She is doing what she can, but the net result of her efforts is close to zero.

  • THE WASHINGTON DC BLADE: Cuban LGBT rights advocates arrive in D.C. – By Michael K. Lavers on July 29, 2013
    Two Cuban LGBT rights advocates who are visiting the United States for three months on Monday arrived in D.C. Ignacio Estrada Cepero and Wendy Iriepa Díaz on Monday met with staffers of Us Helping Us, an HIV/AIDS service organization, and Casa Ruby, a multicultural LGBT community center. Estrada and Iriepa are also scheduled to meet with Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen on Capitol hill on Wednesday before they return to Miami.

    Estrada, who founded the Cuban League Against AIDS in 2005, told the Blade while at Casa Ruby that he and Iriepa, a transgender woman who used to work for Cuba’s National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX) — which is directed by Mariela Castro Espín, daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro — want to “show how we live, how we work” in Cuba while they are in the U.S.

    The couple, who married in a high-profile wedding in Havana, the Cuban capital, in 2011, said Mariela Castro presents what they described as a distorted reality of the island’s LGBT community to the world.

    “Mariela totally manipulates the LGBT community,” Iriepa said.

    Estrada and Iriepa arrived in D.C. less than three months after Mariela Castro traveled to the U.S. to accept an award from Equality Forum, a Philadelphia-based LGBT advocacy group.

    Mariela Castro’s supporters note she successfully lobbied the Cuban government to begin offering free sex-reassignment surgery under the country’s national health care system in 2010. Iriepa herself had SRS in 2007 while she worked at CENESEX.

    Observers have credited Cuba’s condom distribution campaign and sexual education curriculum with producing one of the world’s lowest HIV infection rates. Cubans with the virus also have access to free anti-retroviral drugs.

    CLICK LINK FOR ENTIRE ARTICLE!
    http://www.washingtonblade.com/2013/07/29/cuban-lgbt-rights-advocates-arrive-in-d-c/

  • YOUTUBE : CUBA DOCUMENTARY – "Conducta Impropria" – (Improper Conduct) – Part 1 of 12 -
    Mauvaise Conduite or Improper Conduct is a 1984 documentary film directed by Néstor Almendros and Orlando Jiménez Leal. The documentary interviews Cuban refugees to explore the Cuban government's imprisonment of homosexuals, political dissidents, and Jehovah's Witnesses into concentration camps under its policy of Military Units to Aid Protection. The documentary was produced with the support of French television Antenne 2 and won the Best Documentary Audience Award at the 1984 San Francisco International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wcF5ubWiy5k

  • YOUTUBE: CUBA DOCUMENTARY – "Nadie Escuchaba" (Nobody Listened) 1 of 12
    Filmed in 1987. A passionate documentary by the late Nestor Almendros about the "Cuban Revolution" going wrong, while "nobody listened." This documentary touches my heart. For most Americans it's not easy to understand the full dimension of Castro's dictatorship and the constant violation of human rights in Cuba. While Hitler and Stalin have been considered cruel dictators, Castro is still called the "president" of Cuba, even though he refuses to have free elections; and those who dare to express their opinion against the Communist regime have only three options: jail, death or exile. My respect to late Nestor Almendros and to Jorge Ulla for their dedication of this testimony of the suffering of my Cuban people. (Spanish with English sub-titles)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pmnh9VgenJU

  • Kursad Kahramanoglu

    Thanks to ILGA, Cuban LGBTI is taking its rightful place amongst the World LGBTI community. As usual USA LGBTI organizations are first Americans, then LGBTI activists. Their absence and lukewarm support to this event neither will reduce the importance of this ILGALAC Conference, nor dampen the enthusiasm at this wonderful event. Viva LGBTI Rights, viva Cuba.

    Kursad Kahramanoglu
    Turkey

  • SO MARIELA CASTRO! WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO ADDRESS THE GAY CONCENTRATION CAMPS UMAPS DEAR? IF YOU DO, SHOULD YOU BE PART OF THAT GIVEN YOU HAVE A CASTRO NAME?
    YOUTUBE : CUBA DOCUMENTARY – "Conducta Impropria" – (Improper Conduct) – Part 1 of 12 – Mauvaise Conduite or Improper Conduct is a 1984 documentary film directed by Néstor Almendros and Orlando Jiménez Leal. The documentary interviews Cuban refugees to explore the Cuban government's imprisonment of homosexuals, political dissidents, and Jehovah's Witnesses into concentration camps under its policy of Military Units to Aid Protection. The documentary was produced with the support of French television Antenne 2 and won the Best Documentary Audience Award at the 1984 San Francisco International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wcF5ubWiy5k

  • YOUTUBE: CUBA DOCUMENTARY – "Nadie Escuchaba" (Nobody Listened) 1 of 12
    Filmed in 1987. A passionate documentary by the late Nestor Almendros about the "Cuban Revolution" going wrong, while "nobody listened." This documentary touches my heart. For most Americans it's not easy to understand the full dimension of Castro's dictatorship and the constant violation of human rights in Cuba. While Hitler and Stalin have been considered cruel dictators, Castro is still called the "president" of Cuba, even though he refuses to have free elections; and those who dare to express their opinion against the Communist regime have only three options: jail, death or exile. My respect to late Nestor Almendros and to Jorge Ulla for their dedication of this testimony of the suffering of my Cuban people. (Spanish with English sub-titles)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pmnh9VgenJU

  • AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL: Cuba urged to revoke repressive laws and release prisoners of conscience
    Amnesty International on Wednesday called on the Cuban authorities to revoke laws that restrict freedom of expression, assembly and association and to release all dissidents unfairly detained by the authorities. The organization also urged President Raúl Castro to allow independent monitoring of the human rights situation in Cuba by inviting UN experts to visit the country and by facilitating monitoring by other human rights groups.

    The call came ahead of the 7th anniversary of the arrest of 75 Cuban dissidents around 18 March 2003. Fifty-three of those arrested continue to be detained. One of those arrested in March 2003, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, died on 22 February 2010, having spent several weeks on hunger strike in protest at prison conditions.

    "Cuban laws impose unacceptable limits on the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly," said Kerrie Howard, Americas Deputy Director at Amnesty International. "Cuba desperately needs political and legal reform to bring the country in line with basic international human rights standards.

    "The long imprisonment of individuals solely for the peaceful exercise of their rights is not only a tragedy in itself but also constitutes a stumbling block to other reforms, including the beginning of the dialogue needed for the lifting of the US unilateral embargo against Cuba."

    Several articles of the Cuban Constitution and Criminal Code are so vague that they are currently being interpreted in a way that infringes fundamental freedoms.

    Article 91 of Cuba's Criminal Code provides for sentences of ten to 20 years or death for anyone "who in the interest of a foreign state, commits an act with the objective of damaging the independence or territorial integrity of the Cuban state".

    According to article 72 "any person shall be deemed dangerous if he or she has shown a proclivity to commit crimes demonstrated by conduct that is in manifest contradiction with the norms of socialist morality" and article 75.1 states that any police officer can issue a warning for such "dangerousness". The declaration of a dangerous pre-criminal state can be decided summarily. A warning may also be issued for associating with a "dangerous person".

    Law 88 provides for seven to 15 years' imprisonment for passing information to the United States that could be used to bolster anti-Cuban measures, such as the US economic blockade. The legislation also bans the ownership, distribution or reproduction of "subversive materials" from the US government, and proposes terms of imprisonment of up to five years for collaborating with radio, TV stations or publications deemed to be assisting US policy.

    Local non-governmental organizations have great difficulty in reporting on human rights violations due to restrictions on their rights to freedom of expression, association and movement. International independent human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, are not allowed to visit the island.

    http://www.amnesty.org/en/news-and-updates/cuba-urged-revoke-repressive-laws-and-release-prisoners-conscience-2010-03-17

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