Mariela Castro, director of Cuba’s National Center for Sexual Education, told reporters and her supporters in Havana that her organization, which is known by the Spanish acronym CENESEX, will hold a series of events in the Cuban capital and the city of Matanzas from May 10-21.
Mariela Castro is expected to take part in marches in Havana and Matanzas on May 14 and 17 respectively.
Candis Cayne, a transgender actress who appears in Caitlyn Jenner’s reality show, is slated to join other LGBT rights advocates on a panel in the Cuban capital on May 10. Tico Almeida, a Cuban American who is president of Freedom to Work, an LGBT advocacy group, is scheduled to speak on a separate panel in Havana on May 12.
EFE reported Mariela Castro received an award on Tuesday from U.N. Development Program Resident Representative in Cuba Myrta Kaulard that acknowledged CENESEX’s efforts to promote “equality” and combat gender-based violence in the country. Mariela Castro also said that delegates to last month’s Cuban Communist Party congress in Havana acknowledged people suffer discrimination because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.
“We felt that support for our work within the party was more explicit, much clearer,” Mariela Castro told Cibercuba, a Cuban website.
Independent activists criticize Mariela Castro, CENESEX
Mariela Castro’s supporters credit her with championing LGBT-specific issues on the Communist island.
Mariela Castro, who is a member of the Cuban Parliament, has publicly spoken in support of marriage rights for same-sex couples. She voted against a 2013 bill against discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation because it did not trans-specific protections.
Cuba has offered free sex-reassignment surgeries under its national health care system since 2008, but independent LGBT rights advocates insist that only a few dozen trans people have been able to undergo the procedure. Adela Hernández in 2012 became the first openly trans person to hold public office on the island when she became a member of the Caibarién Municipal Council.
Then-President Fidel Castro sent more than 25,000 gay men and others deemed unfit for military service to labor camps known as Military Units to Aid Production in the years after the 1959 Cuban revolution. The Communist island’s government forcibly quarantined people living with HIV/AIDS in state-run sanitaria until 1993.
Cuban LGBT rights advocates who are not affiliated with Mariela Castro and CENESEX maintain that authorities routinely harass them.
The Cuban Foundation for LGBTI Rights and other independent advocacy groups launched a campaign late last year that encourages Cubans to sign a petition in support of marriage rights for same-sex couples.
The country’s constitution defines marriage as between a man and a woman. Those behind the gay nuptials initiative have accused Mariela Castro and CENESEX of not doing enough to spur Cuban lawmakers to act on the issue.
“When a situation presents itself and it requires something to be done to resolve it in a way that affects many people, they never have solutions or answers,” Mariano López Borell, a campaign organizer who lives in Havana’s San Miguel del Padrón neighborhood, told the Blade in a previous interview.
Cuban government unresponsive to Blade visa request
CENESEX’s International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia events are scheduled to take place roughly two months after President Obama traveled to Havana.
Two independent LGBT rights advocates — Juana Mora Cedeño and Nelson Álvarez Matute of Alianza Mano — were among the members of Cuban civil society with whom Obama met. The president also raised human rights during a televised speech at Havana’s Alicia Alonso Grand Theater and a press conference with Raúl Castro.Obama announced in 2014 that the U.S. and Cuba would restore diplomatic relations that had been cut since 1961.
The Blade has requested a press visa from the Cuban government that would allow it to travel to the Communist island and report on CENESEX’s International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia events. The Cuban Embassy in D.C. has not responded to numerous emails and phone calls over the status of the request.
Editor’s note: Washington Blade International News Editor Michael K. Lavers traveled to Cuba in May 2015 to report on the country’s LGBT rights movement.