March 22, 2016 at 2:34 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Obama meets with Cuban LGBT activists

Juana Mora Cedeño, Havana, Cuba, gay news, Washington Blade

Juana Mora Cedeño speaks with the Washington Blade on May 18, 2015, while visiting a friend’s home in Havana. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Two independent LGBT rights advocates are among the members of Cuban civil society with whom President Obama met on Tuesday in Havana.

Juana Mora Cedeño of Alianza Mano and Nelson Álvarez Matute, who works with her organization, attended the meeting in the Cuban capital. A pool report indicates that Secretary of State John Kerry, National Security Adviser Susan Rice, senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett and U.S. Chief of Mission Jeffrey DeLaurentis were also present.

“All of the individuals around this table have shown extraordinary courage,” said Obama, according to the pool report. “They have spoken out on behalf of the issues that they care deeply about. Some of them represent specific constituencies inside of Cuba. Some of them have broader concerns regarding democracy, the ability to speak freely, worship freely, or assemble or are advocating on behalf of democratic practices here in Cuba.”

Mora told the Washington Blade during a telephone interview after the meeting that Obama “listened to everyone.”

“He listened to each part, including the LGBT community,” said Mora.

Mora is a vocal critic Cuban President Raúl Castro and his daughter, Mariela Castro, who promotes LGBT-specific issues on the island as director of the National Center for Sexual Education.

“In Cuba there exists a word called dissident if you disagree with the government,” Mora told the Blade last May during an interview in Havana. “We really don’t consider ourselves dissidents, but we are in this category.”

Mora met with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other members of Congress in February 2015 during their trip to Havana. Mora also took part in a hearing on anti-LGBT discrimination that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights held in D.C. last October.

Tania García Hernández of the LGBTI Help Line, which is based in the province of Villa Clara and is affiliated with the Cuban Foundation for LGBTI Rights, welcomed Obama’s meeting with Mora and other Cuban human rights advocates.

“I am one of the many straight people who are very happy,” García told the Blade on Tuesday. “The voice of the LGBTI community was amplified among the 13 people representing civil society in Cuba who had access to this unforgettable meeting with President Barack Obama.”

“He listened to their sad reality, with their rights constantly violated,” she added.

Tuesday’s meeting took place shortly after Obama delivered a televised speech at Havana’s Alicia Alonso Grand Theater.

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

  • makikijoe

    Thanks, Barack. But did you extract any MEANINGFUL concessions from the leaders of the Cuban police state ? Any real democratic changes ? Free and open elections ? Changing Cuba into a multi-party democracy with greater press freedom ?
    The answer is ………. NO.
    So, I will hold off on any celebrating.
    The Cuban people will benefit from billions of dollars in American investment money.
    And eventually millions of American tourists with their tourist dollars.
    But trickle down democracy doesn’t work. It hasn’t worked in China.
    After DECADES of the U.S. trading with that country, China is still a dictatorship.

    • GayEGO

      It sounds like you expect Barack to dictate to the Cuban police and governmental organizations. That does not work with the Cuban dictatorship. It is slowly working in China as LGBT groups are pushing and pushing for equality there. It takes time in countries that have been slow to learn and have communistic governments.

  • GayEGO

    Barack is an intelligent, non-violent president who makes progress through positive actions, not by negative, violent actions. He teaches people to be loving and inclusive but it is up to these people to learn and understand the benefits of his teachings.

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