September 11, 2017 at 12:23 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Hurricane Irma damages LGBT community center in Cuba

Victor Manuel Dueñas, a Cuban LGBT rights advocate, gives a presentation at the Centro Comunitario de Cultura, an LGBT community center in Santo Domingo, Cuba, on May 16, 2017. Hurricane Irma damaged the center, which is also his family’s home, as it skirted the north central coast of Cuba over the weekend. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Hurricane Irma on Saturday damaged an LGBT community center in central Cuba.

Victor Manuel Dueñas and his family live in the house in the town of Santo Domingo in which the Centro Comunitario de Cultura is located.

Dueñas told the Washington Blade early Monday in an email that Irma damaged the roof and walls. He said Irma also caused damage to the front of his house in which he and other local advocates were planning to open a press center and events space.

Dueñas told the Blade the town has been without electricity for three days. He said Irma has also cut Internet access, which was limited before the hurricane.

“We hope to receive help from abroad,” Dueñas told the Blade. “But the most important thing is life and this has been preserved. Our project will continue despite these difficulties and shortcomings.”

Dueñas and other advocates who support the community center work independently of Mariela Castro, the daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro who directs Cuba’s National Center for Sexual Education and spearheads LGBT-specific issues on the Communist island.

The Blade in May attended an discussion group at the Centro Comunitario de Cultura that took place on the eve of the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. Dueñas is also among those who are behind a campaign that urges Cuban lawmakers to discuss whether to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples.

Santo Domingo is roughly 45 minutes west of the city of Santa Clara on Cuba’s Carretera Nacional. The area is roughly three hours southeast of Havana.

Irma made landfall in the province of Camagüey on Friday night with winds of 160 mph. It caused widespread damage and flooding along Cuba’s north central coast and in low-lying areas near Havana’s oceanfront before it made additional landfalls in the Florida Keys and in Southwest Florida on Sunday.

The once-Category 5 storm caused widespread destruction in Barbuda, St. Barts, St. Martin, Anguilla and the U.S. and British Virgin Islands last week.

Cuban authorities on Sept. 6 detained two gay journalists — Carlos Alejandro Rodríguez and Maykel González — for several hours in a bayfront neighborhood in the city of Sagua la Grande after they tried to interview the vice president of the local Cuban Communist Party about hurricane preparations. Rodríguez on Sunday posted pictures to his Facebook page that showed collapsed buildings and widespread tree damage in the city.

“Buildings came down because they were not able to sustain the force of the hurricane,” he told the Blade on Sunday.

Hurricane Irma caused widespread damage in Sierra de Cubitas, Cuba, on Sept. 8, 2017, when it made landfall on the country’s north central coast. (Photo courtesy of Keyler Matos Moreira/Radio Cubitas)

Rodríguez said a little bit of water entered the Sagua la Grande apartment in which he and González live, but Irma did not cause any significant damage.

“It’s good, just as bad as it was before the hurricane,” he joked.

Maykel González Vivero, Cuba, gay news, Washington Blade

Maykel González, an independent journalist and LGBT rights advocate, speaks with the Washington Blade in his apartment in Sagua la Grande, Cuba, on May 17, 2015. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Rodríguez told the Blade there are no reported deaths in Sagua la Grande because of Irma. The Cuban government on Monday announced the hurricane killed at least 10 people across the country.

Victor Manuel Dueñas speaks (in Spanish) at the Centro Comunitario de Cultura in Santo Domingo, Cuba, on May 16, 2017. (Washington Blade video by Michael K. Lavers)

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

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