March 28, 2019 at 8:05 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Mariela Castro’s group to honor Cleve Jones in Cuba
Cleve Jones will be honored by Cuba’s National Center for Sexual Education in May during its annual series of events that commemorate the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. (Photo by Gil Goldstein via Wikimedia Commons)

An organization the daughter of former Cuban President Raúl Castro directs will honor LGBTI rights activist Cleve Jones in Havana in May.

The Rainbow World Fund, a San Francisco-based organization that describes itself as “the world’s first and only all-volunteer, LGBTQ-based humanitarian aid organization,” on Tuesday said in a press release that Cuba’s National Center for Sexual Education will honor Jones on May 10 during a gala at Havana’s Karl Marx Theater. The press release also notes Jones has been chosen as a grand marshal for a march that will take place in the Cuban capital the following day.

The march and gala are part of a series of CENESEX-organized events in Havana and in Camagüey that will commemorate the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia.

The Rainbow World Fund press release says CENESEX Director Mariela Castro invited Jones to Cuba. It also notes Jones will travel to the Communist island with a delegation from the Rainbow World Fund.

“This is a great honor and a wonderful opportunity to learn about and give support to the Cuban LGBTQ movement,” said Jones in the Rainbow World Fund press release. “I’m excited to visit Cuba for the first time and to learn what life is like for LGBTQ Cubans and for people living with HIV/AIDS.”

Jones founded the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt and is a co-founder of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. Jones was also the lead organizer of the 2009 National Equality March in D.C.

The Rainbow World Fund press release says sections of the AIDS Memorial Quilt will be on display in Cuba for the first time. It also notes the Rainbow World Fund has pledged to raise a total of $50,000 “to support projects” in the country.

The Rainbow World Fund notes CENESEX has asked the Rainbow World Fund “to fund” $25,000 in scholarships “to allow hundreds of LGBTQ activists from all 16 Cuban provinces to participate in several days of training and educational programs during the” IDAHOBiT events.

“For many, this will be the first time to travel outside of their home provinces, let alone attend a large LGBTQ gathering,” reads the Rainbow World Fund press release. “This will be a unique opportunity for the activists to share resources, tools and strategies to reach the next level in their movement to achieve full civil rights and recognition in Cuban society.”

The organization says it plans to use the additional $25,000 “to fund other humanitarian projects on the island.”

CENESEX’s IDAHOBiT events will take place less than three months after Cuban voters overwhelmingly approved their country’s new constitution.

A draft of the new constitution once contained an amendment that would have extended marriage rights for same-sex couples, but the Cuban government in December announced it had been removed amid criticism from evangelical churches in the country. LGBTI rights advocates who work independently of CENESEX sharply criticized the decision.

A poster nailed to the door of an apartment building in Havana’s Centro Habana neighborhood on Feb. 28, 2019, indicates support for the country’s new constitution that voters overwhelmingly approved four days earlier. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Francisco Rodríguez Cruz, a gay Cuban blogger who supports Mariela Castro, wrote after the Feb. 24 referendum the new constitution “expressly prohibits and punishes (anti-LGBTI discrimination) under law,” recognizes “the right of all people to form a family and protects all families” and defines marriage as “a social and legal institution.” Mariela Castro and her supporters have said they plan to seek changes to Cuba’s Family Code that would extend marriage rights to same-sex couples.

Cuban LGBTI activists who work independently of CENESEX have told the Washington Blade they face harassment or even arrest if they publicly criticize Mariela Castro and/or the Cuban government.

Access to the website of Tremenda Nota, the Blade’s media partner in Cuba, was blocked on the island on the eve of the referendum.

Cuban authorities in January interrogated Michael Petrelis, another San Francisco-based activist, several times after he brought 10,000 rainbow stickers and 1,200 Pride bracelets into the country that he planned to distribute. Petrelis was scheduled to fly to Havana last week, but he was not allowed to board his flight from Mexico because the Cuban government would not allow him to enter the country.

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

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