May 11, 2015 at 6:00 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Same-sex couples blessed during Cuban Pride march

ILGA World Conference, Mexico City, Cuba, gay news, Washington Blade

Cuban LGBT rights advocates last October made a formal presentation in Mexico City to host the 2016 ILGA World Conference in their country. Twenty same-sex couples had their relationships blessed on May 9, 2015, during a Pride march in Havana. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Clergy from the U.S. and Canada on Saturday blessed nearly two dozen Cuban same-sex couples during an LGBT Pride march in Havana.

Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro, was among the more than 1,000 people who took part in the event as part of the annual commemoration of the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia on the Communist island. The National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX), which she directs, is slated to hold additional events this weekend in Las Tunas, a provincial capital that is roughly 410 miles southeast of Havana.

Same-sex marriage remains illegal in Cuba, but the 20 couples who had their relationships blessed during the Pride march welcomed the recognition.

“It’s a unique event and surprising for gays who can show their faces without having to hide from anyone,” Raiza Marmol, whose relationship with Yatiana García, her partner of two years, was blessed, told the Guardian newspaper.

Mariela Castro during a speech at the march noted the country’s lawmakers in late 2013 added sexual orientation to the island’s labor law.

Mariela Castro — who is a member of the Cuban Parliament — voted against the proposal because it did not include gender identity. She noted during her speech on Saturday that it was not transgender inclusive.

“Laws are not sufficient to guarantee the fully enjoyment of rights of LGBT people in workplaces,” said Mariela Castro, according to a copy of her speech that a CENESEX staffer posted on his Facebook page. “The processes of sensitizing (the population) to counter stereotypes and prejudices that cause harm to the rights of all people are necessary.”

Mariela Castro did not specifically reference the process to normalize relations between the U.S. and Cuba that began last December. She did, however, celebrate the release of the so-called “Cuban Five” — intelligence officers from the Communist island who had been in federal prisons.

Mariela Castro also called for an end to the U.S. embargo against Cuba.

“We proclaim and demand an end to the economic, financial and commercial embargo imposed by the United States against the people of Cuba,” she said. “The embargo is the main obstacle to our development plan and for the guarantee of our rights, including the rights of LGBTI people.”

Mariela Castro in her speech made no mention of the reported murder of a trans sex worker in the city of Pinar del Rio the Fundación Reflejo de Cuba, an independent LGBT advocacy group, said took place on April 25.

The organization in a press release said that local authorities have concluded it was a “crime of passion,” even though six teenagers stoned her to death.

Granma, the official newspaper of the Cuban Communist Party, had no mention of the Pride march on its homepage as of early Monday morning. The publication on May 13 posted an article on the IDAHOT commemorations that included an interview with Mariela Castro under the headline “Mariela Castro: It’s time that society changes realities.”

Cuba’s LGBT rights movement has become more visible in recent years.

Former Cuban President Fidel Castro, who is Mariela Castro’s uncle, in 2010 during an interview with a Mexican newspaper apologized for sending gay men to labor camps in the years following the 1959 Cuban Revolution. Authorities until 1993 forcibly quarantined people living with HIV/AIDS in state-run sanitaria.

Mariela Castro’s supporters note that trans Cubans are able to receive free sex reassignment surgery under the island’s health care system. Critics contend that only a few dozen people have been able to obtain the procedure since it became available in 2008.

Rev. Troy Perry, founder of the Metropolitan Community Churches, is currently leading a delegation of LGBT clergy to Cuba. Members of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington in July are scheduled to perform with their Cuban counterparts in Havana.

Juana Mora Cedeño of Proyecto Manos, an LGBT advocacy group, was among the Cuban human rights advocates with whom House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other members of the U.S. House of Representatives met in February in Havana.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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