May 14, 2016 at 7:29 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Mariela Castro leads Cuba LGBT march

IDAHOT, International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, Havana, Cuba, gay news, Washington Blade

Hundreds took part in a march in Havana on May 14, 2016, to support the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

HAVANA — The daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro on Saturday led in a march in Havana that commemorated the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.

Mariela Castro, director of Cuba’s National Center for Sexual Education that is known by the Spanish acronym CENESEX, joined transgender actress Candis Cayne and hundreds of others who marched from the oceanfront promenade at the base of the Hotel Nacional to a nearby pavilion under a scorching sun. Evan Wolfson, founder of Freedom to Marry and Freedom to Work President Tico Almeida were among those who gathered along the march route that went through Havana’s Vedado neighborhood.

“The Cuban people are prepared to advance themselves,” Mariela Castro told reporters before the march began.

Mariela Castro, gay news, Washington Blade

Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro, takes part in a march to commemorate the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia in Havana on May 14, 2016. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The mother of a Havana drag queen who took part in the march held a handwritten sign that read, “My son is trans and I want him to be treated with respect.” She told the Washington Blade that she decided to take part in the march, in part, because she wanted to send a message to the Cuban people and to the LGBT community that “being a transvestite or a drag queen does not mean that the person does not have good qualities or responsibilities to their work, their family.”

“A sexual preference does not diminish a human being’s worth at all,” she said.

Tomás López, a bisexual man who lives in Havana, wore rainbow butterfly wings during the march. He also carried a sign that read, “Don’t cut my wings. I also want to be happy like anyone else.”

“[I am taking part in the march] to defend my rights to be who I am,” López told the Blade.

Many of those who took part in the march held signs that read, “I include myself. And no to the U.S. embargo (against Cuba.)” A CENESEX staffer held one of them in front of Mariela Castro as she spoke to reporters.

Same-sex marriage ‘advancing’ in Cuba

Mariela Castro’s uncle, Fidel Castro, in the years after the 1959 Cuban revolution sent thousands of gay men and others deemed unfit for military service to labor camps known as Military Units to Aid Production. The Communist country’s government also forcibly quarantined people living with HIV/AIDS in state-run sanitaria until 1993.

Fidel Castro apologized for the camps, known by the Spanish acronym UMAP, during an interview with a Mexican newspaper in 2010.

Mariela Castro’s supporters credit her with championing LGBT-specific issues in Cuba.

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 gay-inclusive workplace discrimination bill in 2013 because it did not include gender identity.

Cuba has offered free sex-reassignment surgeries under its national health care system since 2008, but independent LGBT rights advocates on the island insist that only a few dozen trans people have been able to undergo the procedure.

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

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.

López told the Blade before the march that the issue “is advancing” in Cuba.

The groups behind the same-sex marriage initiative have said that Mariela Castro and CENESEX have not done enough to spur Cuban lawmakers to address. The Blade saw at least three independent LGBT rights advocates — including one who has previously spoken out against the Communist island’s government on marriage, among other issues — in the area where the march took place.

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

1 Comment
  • INTERESTING THAT Fidel Castro SAID THAT HE WAS UNAWARE OF THE UMAP GAY/DISSIDENT CONCENTRATION CAMPS BUT AT LEAST ONE OF THE VICTIMS TESTIFIED IN THE DOCUMENTARY “Improper Conduct” THAT HE SAW HIM THERE! CHECK OUT THE VIDEO BELOW: YOUTUBE: DOCUMENTARY – “Conducta impropia/improper Cunduct” Parte #2 (@5:20minutes) – Filmed in 1987. A passionate documentary by the late Nestor Almendros about the “Cuban Revolution” going wrong, while “nobody listened.” This documentary touches my heart. For most Americans it’s not easy to understand the full dimension of Castro’s dictatorship and the constant violation of human rights in Cuba. While Hitler and Stalin have been considered cruel dictators, Castro is still called the “president” of Cuba, even though he refuses to have free elections; and those who dare to express their opinion against the Communist regime have only three options: jail, death or exile. My respect to late Nestor Almendros and to Jorge Ulla for their dedication of this testimony of the suffering of my Cuban people. (Spanish with English sub-titles)

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