Members of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington will travel to Cuba on Saturday where they are scheduled to perform with their Cuban counterparts.
The 20 members of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington who are traveling to the Communist island will perform in a series of nine concerts in and around Havana with Mano a Mano, a gay chorus, before returning to the U.S. on July 18. They will also raise money for Cuban HIV/AIDS prevention efforts during a performance at Miami’s Trinity Episcopal Cathedral on Friday.
Mariela Castro Espín, daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro who directs the country’s National Center for Sexual Education, in April formally invited the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington to travel to Cuba.
“I would very much like — as suggested in the formal invitation — that these two choruses can meet each other and can do something together during the days that they are going to be here,” Mariela Castro told Francisco Rodríguez Cruz, a gay Cuban blogger and LGBT rights advocate, in May.
Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington Executive Director Chase Maggiano told the Washington Blade that he hopes the trip will “raise awareness of LGBT rights in Cuba.” He further noted that members will hold what he described as “open” forums with “no rules” after each performance.
“We’re going to have a lot of person-to-person interactions,” said Maggiano. “We just want to experience people and experience what their attitudes are like to the LGBT environment.”
Members of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington are scheduled to leave the island two days before the U.S. and Cuba will reopen embassies in Havana and D.C. They are slated to arrive on the Communist island 15 days after the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling that extended marriage rights to same-sex couples throughout the country.
“This concert tour has taken on a new level of relevance that is beyond what we expected,” Maggiano told the Blade, referring to the full restoration of relations between Havana and Washington and the decision in the Obergefell case. “As an organization we are all working that much harder to make sure we honor our purpose for being down there.”
Concerns over Cuba’s human rights record remain
Cuban LGBT rights advocates with whom the Blade spoke on the Communist island in May were largely critical of Mariela Castro and her father’s government. They noted, among other things, they feel the National Center for Sexual Education, which is known by the Spanish acronym CENESEX, does not represent the interests of the country’s LGBT rights movement.
Navid Fernández Cabrera, an independent LGBT rights advocate, on June 28 claimed he was prevented from attending a Pride march in Havana that he organized. He posted to Facebook a picture of one of the two security agents he said would not allow him and his partner to leave the area around their home in the Cuban capital’s 10 de Octubre neighborhood.
Maggiano told the Blade that he and members of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington who are traveling to Cuba have taken the country’s human rights record into account.
“I totally expect that we will hear many different sides of the issue,” he said.
Maggiano nevertheless told the Blade he feels Cuba has made progress on a number of LGBT-specific issues in recent decades. He specifically applauded Mariela Castro and CENESEX for “embracing trans people more quickly than the U.S.”
“They have been doing a lot of great work,” said Maggiano. “We don’t want to lose sight of any of that.”