Rev. Troy Perry and his husband, Phillip De Blieck, and other leading MCC clergy are scheduled to arrive in Havana on April 28.
Perry told the Washington Blade last week during a telephone interview from his Los Angeles home that he is scheduled to meet with Mariela Castro Espín, daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro who directs the country’s National Center for Sexual Education that spearheads LGBT-specific causes.
Perry noted the 14-day trip coincides with the annual series of events that CENESEX organizes across the Communist country to commemorate the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. He is scheduled to take part in a roundtable with Mariela Castro’s group and will bless Cuban same-sex couples during a Pride march in Havana on May 9.
“I’m really thrilled to be able to be there to be part of the march,” Perry told the Blade.
The Federation of Cuban Baptist Churches, which operates independently of the government, but largely support the ideals of the 1959 Cuban Revolution, has invited Rev. Mona West to speak about LGBT-specific issues at a seminary in the city of Matanzas on April 29. Members of Abriendo Brechas de Colores, a Cuban LGBT Baptist group, will also attend the event.
Perry told the Blade that members of the delegation will discuss the U.S. LGBT rights movement at the Havana’s Martin Luther King Center, which describes itself on its website as a “macro ecumenical organization of Christian inspiration that the Cuban people and its churches prophetically contribute to solidarity and popular, conscious, organized and critical participation based on a Socialist model.” Members of his delegation are also scheduled to meet with what he described as a “closed” group of Cuban Christians “who are afraid to reveal their sexual orientation.”
The trip coincides with the ongoing process to normalize relations between the U.S. and Cuba that President Obama announced late last year. It will also take place against the backdrop of the growing visibility of LGBT rights advocates on the island — especially among those who are affiliated with CENESEX and support the Cuban government.
Perry applauded Mariela Castro for her efforts to organize the events around the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia and other initiatives that she and her supporters maintain have expanded rights to LGBT Cubans. These include free sex reassignment surgery under the country’s health care system, although critics contend only a few dozen people have been able to access the procedure since the policy took effect in 2008.
Mariela Castro, who is a member of the Cuban Parliament, in late 2013 voted against a proposal to add sexual orientation to the country’s labor law because it did not include gender identity.
“She has done things that have amazed me,” Perry told the Blade.
Perry acknowledges concerns over Cuba’s human rights record
Critics of Mariela Castro and her group maintain that CENESEX is not representative of what they insist is the country’s actual LGBT rights movement.
Perry told the Blade that members of his delegation plan to meet with Mario José Delgado González of the Divine Hope LGBTI Christian Group, which seeks to promote acceptance of LGBT Cubans within the country’s churches. Delgado said in February that he was unable to attend a meeting with members of a Code Pink delegation in Havana because the police prevented him from attending.
Delgado on Sunday did not immediately return the Blade’s request for comment.
“We will see once I get there what transpires and what happens,” Perry told the Blade. “I have never backed away from things.”
“I do understand though and I know Mariela Castro is the key to a lot of things there,” he added. “I believe with all my heart that having someone who’s a member of the National Assembly taking our issues to the Cuban government is very, very important. Throughout my life I’ve tried to meet with people on both sides of the issue.”
Perry added he plans to raise Cuba’s human rights record with members of the government with whom he may meet while on the island.
“[I will] make sure as I talk to the government officers there to say to them that locking up people’s not the issue,” he said, noting three presidents have invited him to the White House in spite of his arrest outside the Executive Mansion in the 1980s during the Reagan administration. “That doesn’t help.”
Perry and members of the MCC delegation will travel to Cuba roughly three months before members of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington will perform at five concerts on the Communist island.