May 14, 2015 at 2:49 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Cuban drag queen fights HIV/AIDS

Gala, Humboldt 52, Havana, Cuba, gay news, Washington Blade

Gala, a drag queen and HIV/AIDS educator, performs at Humboldt 52 in Havana on May 13, 2015. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

HAVANA — Humboldt 52, a cozy gay bar near the Hotel Nacional, was packed with Cubans and foreigners from the U.S. and other countries at midnight on Thursday as Gala, a drag queen and HIV/AIDS educator took the stage wearing a long black dress and matching acrylic fingernails.

She sang a Spanish ballad before proceeding to highlight a campaign promoting safer sex among men who have sex with men. A cartoon featuring colorful balloon animals engaging in sexual activity played on a large screen directly behind the small stage on which she was standing before a bartender brought her a poster and condoms.

“Safe and diverse,” Gala told the crowd while holding up the poster that featured the slogan along with information about the prevention of HIV and sexually transmitted infections.

Gala told the Washington Blade after leaving the stage that she began working as a drag queen (transformista in Spanish) in 1997.

She appears at Humboldt 52 on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturday. Gala, whose mother is also an HIV/AIDS advocate, is a member of a group of drag queens who appear at other venues in Havana and Matanzas, a provincial city about 55 miles east of the Cuban capital.

Cuban LGBT rights movement like an ‘elephant’

Gala compared her country and efforts to highlight LGBT-specific issues to “an elephant” that “sticks its trunk out before moving forward,” but remains cautious. She was quick to applaud Mariela Castro, the daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro who directs the National Center for Sexual Education, and her mother, Vilma Espín, who championed women’s issues as president of the Cuban Federation of Women, for what she described as their efforts in support of these issues.

“Thanks to Mariela Castro and CENESEX (the Spanish acronym by which the National Center for Sexual Education is known) we are seeing advances,” Gala told the Blade. “They give us a chance.”

Gala spoke with the Blade less than a week after CENESEX held a series of events in Havana to mark the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. These include nearly two dozen same-sex couples who had their relationships blessed by pastors from the U.S. and Canada.

Additional events are scheduled to take place this weekend in Las Tunas, a provincial city roughly 400 miles southeast of Havana.

Gala told the Blade that she feels the events provide her and other HIV/AIDS advocates with a “chance to highlight our work.” She was far more ambiguous in her thoughts about how the normalization of relations between her country and the U.S. will directly impact her.

“It doesn’t affect me at all,” Gala told the Blade. “I tell you that I live in Cuba and without opportunities one is able to make it with their own belief because you only have one life. We are entering a beautiful moment that can amplify my passion for culture and will allow more people to be able to visit (Cuba.)”

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

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