MEXICO CITY — Critics of the Cuban government this week blasted efforts to allow the Communist country to host the International Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trans and Intersex Association’s biennial global conference in 2016.
Cuban-born U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) on Friday described any attempt to hold an LGBT rights conference in Cuba as “unconscionable.”
“In Cuba there are no rights for the LGBT community or for anyone else,” Ros-Lehtinen told the Washington Blade.
Herb Sosa, a first generation Cuban American who is president of the Unity Coalition, a Miami-based LGBT advocacy group, shared Ros-Lehtinen’s outrage.
“The irony of Cuba even uttering the word rights is both sad and outrageous,” Sosa told the Blade.
Ros-Lehtinen and Sosa spoke with the Blade a day after Cuban LGBT rights advocates who are associated with the country’s National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX) — of which Mariela Castro Espín, daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro, is director — made an elaborate presentation during the ILGA World Conference in Mexico City. It featured a slideshow with pictures of hotels in Havana, the country’s capital, and several video clips of events associated with the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia that took place throughout Cuba in May.
Activists during the presentation passed out condoms, stickers that read “we want to talk about sexuality” and a pamphlet highlighting an annual CENESEX conference on sex therapy and education that will take place next September in Havana.
Two advocates held a large Cuban flag at the front of the conference room at the Hotel Fiesta Americana Reforma as Manuel Vázquez Seijido and Yasmany Díaz Figueroa spoke from the podium. The entire delegation of more than a dozen people also wore white t-shirts highlighting Cuba’s participation in the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.
A number of people in the audience began clapping and chanting “Cuba” during the presentation.
“The support of the state and civil society organizations and the organizer of this conference call attention to their loyalty of the mechanisms that will be put into place,” said Vázquez.
The advocates noted during their presentation that Cuba hosted an ILGA conference in May that drew hundreds of people from across Latin America and the Caribbean.
Mariela Castro chaired the local committee that organized it.
“It would be a good thing for all sectors,” he said, referring to the ILGA conference.
Díaz also noted that Cuban doctors last month month traveled to West Africa to help combat the Ebola epidemic.
Delegates to the ILGA World Conference ultimately chose Thailand over Cuba and Botswana to host the biennial gathering in 2016.
Cuba wants to ‘go forward’
Mariela Castro attended the ILGA World conference earlier this week where she took part in a panel on how government officials can support LGBT advocacy efforts. The Blade’s attempts to interview her before she left Mexico City were unsuccessful.
Supporters of Mariela Castro are quick to note she has spearheaded a number of efforts over the last decade to promote acceptance of LGBT Cubans and to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS on the island. These include a condom distribution campaign and prompting the country’s national health care system to offer free sex-assignment surgery to trans Cubans.
Cuban lawmakers late last year added sexual orientation to the country’s labor law.
Mariela Castro has also spoken out in support of marriage rights for same-sex couples.
Equality Forum, a Philadelphia-based LGBT advocacy group, in May 2013 honored her during its annual awards dinner.
Ros-Lehtinen said Cuba hosting a global LGBT conference “is just another example of this regime’s pathetic attempt to look like a tolerant country, when in fact they are one of the most repressive regimes in the world.”
“I for one will not fall for the lies that this desperate dictatorship continues to spread,” said Sosa. “[I] really hope our LGBT community around the globe does their homework and sees the Castros for what they are, and not what they tell us they are.”
“When Cubans have true freedom to vote, speak, travel and love — then we can talk about planning conferences and celebrating the successes of the island’s leadership,” he added. “For now we simply mourn its victims and pray for actual rights — not blood-stained press releases and staged pictures.”
ILGA Co-Secretary General Gloria Careaga Pérez told the Blade earlier this week it would have been “great” for Cuba to host the biennial conference in 2016.
“Cuba is making very important changes,” said Careaga. “They want to go forward.”