May 20, 2015 at 12:04 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Cuban trans advocate: Government seeks to ‘destroy us’
Leodan Suarez Quiñones, Cuba, gay news, Washington Blade, Cuban

Leodan Suarez Quiñones, a transgender rights advocate from the town of San Juan y Martínez in Pinar del Río, sits on Havana’s Malecón on May 18, 2015. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

HAVANA — A Cuban transgender advocate this week sharply criticized government authorities for failing to respond to what she described as a hate crime.

Leodan Suárez Quiñones, who lives in the town of San Juan y Martínez in Pinar del Río, told the Washington Blade on Monday night as she sat along Havana’s oceanfront promenade known as the Malecón that local authorities have concluded the murder of Yosvani Muñoz Robaina, a trans sex worker known as La Eterna, on April 25 was a “crime of passion.” She said they reached that conclusion in spite of reports from local LGBT advocates that indicate six teenagers stoned her to death.

“Everyone thinks that it was not a crime of passion, it was a homophobic crime,” said Suárez.

Suárez told the Blade the murder underscores the pervasive discrimination and violence that she says trans Cubans continue to face.

She said that many trans Cubans are forced to prostitute themselves at night because they are unable to work and receive basic support from the government in terms of accessing education and other services. Suárez told the Blade that trans Cubans also face harassment from the police who she said are quick to accuse them of engaging in sex work.

Suárez said trans people are “able to walk freely” in Havana, but not in her home province.

“We are very discriminated against,” she said. “We do not have what you see here in Havana.”

Mariela Castro: Laws ‘not sufficient’

Suárez’s criticisms stand in direct contrast to the work that Mariela Castro Espín, daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro who directs the National Center for Sexual Education, and her supporters contend she is doing on behalf of trans Cubans.

Trans Cubans have been able to receive free sex-reassignment surgery under the country’s national health care system since 2008, but advocates who are critical of Mariela Castro and her organization maintain that fewer than 30 people have been able to access the procedure. Mariela Castro, who is also a member of the Cuban Parliament, in 2013 voted against a measure to add sexual orientation to the island’s labor code because it did not include trans-specific protections.

Mariela Castro highlighted this fact during her speech in the city of Las Tunas on Saturday to commemorate the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. Several trans advocates from Havana and other Cuban cities attended the event and others that accompanied it.

“The laws are not sufficient to guarantee in full plurality the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and transsexuals in our workplaces,” said Mariela Castro. “The processes of sensitization, education must be articulated positively for Cubans who experience discrimination.”

Mariela Castro Espín, Cuba, gay news, Washington Blade, International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, IDAHAT

Mariela Castro Espín, daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro, speaks in Las Tunas, Cuba, on May 16, 2015, during events to commemorate the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Suárez told the Blade she has a “very negative opinion” of Mariela Castro.

The advocate said she went to the National Center for Sexual Education, known by its Spanish acronym CENESEX, to obtain sex-reassignment surgery. She said she has not been able to complete the procedure — and Súarez noted other trans Cubans have found themselves in a similar situation.

“It is the only organization where one can go to change their sex in Cuba,” she said, referring to CENESEX.

Suárez added she and other independent LGBT advocates have formed what she described as a “community project” in Pinar del Río “to fight for people who are discriminated against by the world.” She told the Blade she is not optimistic that the Cuban government will advocate on their behalf.

“If we accept the hands and the kisses of the government, it will make all that is possible into all that it is impossible to destroy us,” said Suárez. “They are not obligated to help us…many of us have died, thanks to this government.”

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

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