May 11, 2016 at 5:00 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Evan Wolfson travels to Cuba

Evan Wolfson, gay news, Washington Blade

Freedom to Marry founder Evan Wolfson arrived in Cuba on May 11, 2016, to take part in International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia commemorations. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Two American LGBT rights advocates arrived in Cuba on Wednesday to take part a series of events that will commemorate the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.

Freedom to Work President Tico Almeida on Thursday is scheduled to take part in a panel on LGBT advocacy in Havana that is organized by the National Center for Sexual Education, which is directed by Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro. He and Freedom to Marry founder Evan Wolfson will also attend marches and other events commemorating the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia that are taking place in the Cuban capital and the city of Matanzas through May 21.

“Thanks to President Obama, the restoration of relations between the U.S. and Cuba allows people to travel and exchange ideas, and I am thrilled to now be one of them,” said Wolfson in a press release.

This year’s International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia commemorations in Cuba are taking place against the backdrop of a campaign in support of marriage rights for same-sex couples that independent LGBT rights advocates launched late last year.

The campaign — known as “We Also Love” or “Nosotros También Amamos” in Spanish — encourages Cubans to sign a petition in support of the issues.

The Cuban constitution currently defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

Mariela Castro, who spearheads LGBT-specific issues on the Communist island, publicly supports marriage rights for same-sex couples. The independent advocates who are behind the gay nuptials initiative have accused Mariela Castro and her organization of not doing enough to spur Cuban lawmakers to act on the issue.

“I am looking forward to meeting the brave Cubans advocating for marriage equality,” said Almeida, a Cuban American with relatives in Matanzas.

Wolfson: Human rights are universal

Then-President Fidel Castro sent more than 25,000 gay men and others deemed unfit for military service to labor camps 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. Fidel Castro apologized for sending gay men to the camps, known as Military Units to Aid Production, during a 2010 interview with a Mexican newspaper.

Supporters of Mariela Castro, who is a member of the Cuban Parliament, point out that Cuba has offered free sex-reassignment surgeries under its national health care system since 2008. They also note that she voted against a 2013 bill against discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation because it did not include trans-specific protections.

Cuba and the U.S. officially restored diplomatic relations last August.

President Obama traveled to Havana in March.

He spoke publicly about human rights during a press conference with Raúl Castro and in a televised speech at Havana’s Alicia Alonso Grand Theater. Obama also met with two independent LGBT rights advocates before leaving the country.

“Human rights are universal,” said Wolfson. “It’s time for the freedom to marry in Cuba and across the Americas.”

Wolfson has traveled to South Africa, Switzerland, Germany, Austria and other countries since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last June that same-sex couples can legally marry across the U.S.

Freedom to Marry formally shut down earlier this year.

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

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