May 22, 2015 at 5:21 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
LGBT rights factor into normalized relations between U.S., Cuba

Leodan Suarez Quiñones, Cuba, gay news, Washington Blade

Administration officials on Friday responded to the Washington Blade’s interview with Leodan Suarez Quiñones, a Cuban transgender rights advocate who says her country’s government is out to “destroy us.” Her comments coincide with the latest round of talks between U.S. and Cuban officials to re-establish relations between their two countries. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Administration officials on Friday stressed Cuba’s human rights record that includes the treatment of LGBT advocates who publicly oppose the government remains a serious concern as efforts to normalize relations with the Communist country continue.

“It is an issue we continue to raise with the Cubans,” said State Department spokesperson Marie Harf told the Washington Blade in response to a question about a Cuban transgender rights advocate who sharply criticized her country’s government earlier this week during an interview in Havana. “Even while we are working to normalize relations and open and embassy and re-establish diplomatic relations, we know we will still have very serious concerns with what is happening on the human rights front.”

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest acknowledged to the Blade in a response to a question about the same trans advocate — Leodan Suárez Quiñones — that concerns over Havana’s human rights record include the treatment of LGBT Cubans.

“You heard the president say many times that he doesn’t believe that people should be treated differently just because of who they love,” said Earnest. “That means that LGBT Cubans, or Americans, deserve the same rights and protections that everybody else gets.”

“And that means that the concerns that we have about the way the Cuban government has all too often trampled the universal human rights of the Cuban people,” he added. “There are similar concerns with the way that the Cuban government has failed to protect the basic human rights of even LGBT Cubans as well.”

Harf reiterated Earnest’s point, referring to increased contact between Americans and Cubans that could stem from normalized relations between the two countries.

“If Cuba’s more open to the world on all these issues, including LGBT issues, we think that’s a net positive,” said Harf.

Earnest further elaborated in response to the Blade’s questioning.

“The president is hopeful that through greater engagement that we can open up more economic opportunities both in Cuba and the United States, that through that greater engagement, including economic engagement, that we will be able to apply additional pressure to the Cuban government and support the Cuban people in their aspirations for a government that reflects their will and a government that is willing to respect and even protect their basic human rights,” he said. “That kind of support and that kind of effort will continue and we think will be more effective with this policy change.”

The administration’s comments came after the fourth round of talks in the process to normalize relations between the U.S. and Cuba that President Obama announced in December.

The delegations — led by Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson and Josefina Vidal of the Cuban Foreign Ministry — at the end of their two-day meeting in Washington did not announce any agreement on the opening of embassies in D.C. and Havana and allowing diplomats to travel more freely in their respective countries.

“We did make significant progress on a number of substantive issues in this round,” said Harf. “This round of talks was a productive one.”

This latest round of talks took place less than a week after Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro, led an LGBT Pride march in the Cuban city of Las Tunas. The National Center for Sexual Education, which she directs, organized a series of events in the provincial capital and Havana this month to commemorate the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.

Mariela Castro and her organization face frequent criticism from independent Cuban LGBT rights advocates, Cuban-born U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and others. Juana Mora Cedeño of Proyecto Arcoiris, an independent LGBT advocacy group, is among the Cuban human rights advocates who met with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other members of Congress in February during their trip to Havana.

Manuel Vázquez Seijido, a lawyer who works with Mariela Castro’s organization, last month dismissed advocates who continue to criticize the National Center for Sexual Organization and the Cuban government.

“Their goal is to simply criticize institutions like CENESEX and of course the Cuban government,” Vázquez told the Blade during a global LGBT rights symposium that took place at Rutgers University School of Law in Newark, New Jersey.

Mariela Castro has repeatedly not returned the Blade’s requests for comment about criticism of her organization and her father’s government.

Chris Johnson contributed to this article.

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

  • I have more concerns about the way they are treated here, suicides, attacks, opposition to gay marriage. Cuba even gives them free sexual surgery, that’s a lot from a poor communist country.

    • I completely agree with oaguilar. What kind of double-standard do we have? I initially moved away from Florida because I could lose my job due to my sexual orientation. Conversion therapy is legal in most of the country. Hate crime standards aren’t acknowledged across the country. And race relations in the south.

      Social changes have to happen at all levels of the society. Bigots are everywhere. What we need is leadership support of our communities and enforceable, true accountability for violence.

      Another thing: transgender and sexual attraction are totally different. I wish there was greater nuance in the discussion about these.

  • While I am glad to see relations improving between our Cuban neighbors south of Florida, I will be even more happy to see the treatment of gay and transgender Americans equalize at Constitutional levels. The real predators are hiding behind masks just like those the now infamous Duggar family are still trying to wear. Republican conservatives are not admitting wrong doing on the part of the Duggars or any of those that helped them conceal a serious crime against the female children of that family plus one outsider. This speaks to the fact that the Duggars and their kind have no respect for the sanctity of any woman or her body. Jim Bob Duggar has been running a puppy farm for human children. Why?

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