Mariela Castro, director of Cuba’s National Center for Sexual Education that is known by the Spanish acronym CENESEX, joined transgender actress Candis Cayne and hundreds of others who marched from the oceanfront promenade at the base of the Hotel Nacional to a nearby pavilion under a scorching sun. Evan Wolfson, founder of Freedom to Marry and Freedom to Work President Tico Almeida were among those who gathered along the march route that went through Havana’s Vedado neighborhood.
“The Cuban people are prepared to advance themselves,” Mariela Castro told reporters before the march began.
“A sexual preference does not diminish a human being’s worth at all,” she said.
Tomás López, a bisexual man who lives in Havana, wore rainbow butterfly wings during the march. He also carried a sign that read, “Don’t cut my wings. I also want to be happy like anyone else.”
“[I am taking part in the march] to defend my rights to be who I am,” López told the Blade.
Many of those who took part in the march held signs that read, “I include myself. And no to the U.S. embargo (against Cuba.)” A CENESEX staffer held one of them in front of Mariela Castro as she spoke to reporters.
Same-sex marriage ‘advancing’ in Cuba
Mariela Castro’s uncle, Fidel Castro, in the years after the 1959 Cuban revolution sent thousands of gay men and others deemed unfit for military service to labor camps known as Military Units to Aid Production. The Communist country’s government also forcibly quarantined people living with HIV/AIDS in state-run sanitaria until 1993.
Fidel Castro apologized for the camps, known by the Spanish acronym UMAP, during an interview with a Mexican newspaper in 2010.
Mariela Castro’s supporters credit her with championing LGBT-specific issues in Cuba.
Mariela Castro, who is a member of the Cuban Parliament, has publicly spoken in support of marriage rights for same-sex couples. She voted against a gay-inclusive workplace discrimination bill in 2013 because it did not include gender identity.
Cuba has offered free sex-reassignment surgeries under its national health care system since 2008, but independent LGBT rights advocates on the island insist that only a few dozen trans people have been able to undergo the procedure.
The Cuban constitution defines marriage as between a man and a woman.
The Cuban Foundation for LGBTI Rights and other independent advocacy groups launched a campaign late last year that encourages Cubans to sign a petition in support of marriage rights for same-sex couples.
López told the Blade before the march that the issue “is advancing” in Cuba.
The groups behind the same-sex marriage initiative have said that Mariela Castro and CENESEX have not done enough to spur Cuban lawmakers to address. The Blade saw at least three independent LGBT rights advocates — including one who has previously spoken out against the Communist island’s government on marriage, among other issues — in the area where the march took place.