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LGBTQ Cubans participate in July 11 protests

Community members took to the streets to demand their rights

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Adriana Díaz and Analía Escalona (Photo courtesy of Tremenda Nota)

Editor’s note: Tremenda Nota is the Washington Blade’s media partner in Cuba. The Blade published a Spanish version of this story on July 16.

HAVANA — Thousands of people took to the streets in Cuba on July 11 to demand, among other things, the government improve people’s quality of life and guarantee citizens’ rights.

The protests took place in cities throughout the country, but violence that had not been seen before broke out in some Havana neighborhoods. Protesters for the first time in Cuba with such magnitude overturned police cars, looted stores and threw stones at police officers.

Parts of the LGBTQ community joined the marches. They had particular reasons for protesting that were in addition to the protesters’ general demands.

“I came because I am tired of the repression that the police inflict upon trans people,” a transgender woman who was marching among thousands of people through Centro Havana told Tremenda Nota. “They don’t allow us to go out on the streets, they ask us for our ID cards, they take us in for prostitution.”

Adriana Díaz Martínez walked with other trans women. They chanted, along with the rest of the protesters, “freedom,” “Díaz-Canel must go” and “homeland and life.” This last slogan, one of the most popular in the protests, is the title of a song from artists Yotuel Romero, Descember Bueno, Maykel Osorbo, El Funky and Gente de Zona. It has in recent months become an anthem for those who oppose the government.

Analía Escalona, one of Adriana’s friends, cited the shortage of basic products as one of the reasons to protest.

“The first thing that has to be in a pharmacy is condoms in order to take care of yourself and not contract any sexually-transmitted infection, and there aren’t any,” said Analía.

Analía also mentioned police harassment of trans people as another reason to march.

“They bring us to police stations for no reason, they put us in ‘danger,’ families are working, bringing sacks to a prison without any need at the end,” she added.   

When speaking of “danger,” she referred to the “dangerous state” provision of Cuban law that allows authorities to impose punishments against anyone who has not yet committed a crime.

“We are mistreated by the same police. It is bullying and abuse. Enough already,” stressed Chanel, another trans woman who participated in the march.

“I have a degree. I have a masters degree in cosmetology. There is no need to detain us, to put us in ‘danger’ without reason,” said Analía. “We are all not prostituting ourselves, damn it! Homeland and life!”

“I come in solidarity with everyone else who is here, because of hunger, necessity,” said Adriana. “There are no medications, there is no food. There is no water. There is nothing. Houses in Havana are collapsing and they are building hotels!”

The economic crisis in Cuba, which the COVID-19 pandemic and U.S. sanctions worsened, became extreme in 2020. Official sources say the economy has contracted by 11 percent.

The economic collapse is even worse for trans people. It remains difficult for these women to finish their studies or get a formal job in Cuba.

“We need workplaces for trans people, where we can go dressed as a woman,” said Adriana.

The Labor Code currently bans discrimination based on sexual orientation, but it does not afford the same protection to those who are fired because of their gender identity.

Analía Escalona, center, Chanel, right, and Maykel González Vivero. (Photo courtesy of Tremenda Nota)

Tremenda Nota journalist Maykel González Vivero was detained during last Sunday’s protests and was transported to “El Vivac,” a provisional jail outside of Havana.

The reporter was held with two trans women. Both of them live in Arroyo Naranjo, a municipality in the outskirts of Havana, and participated in the protests in La Güinera, one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. Official media described the protests that happened there were among the most violent.

González Vivero told Tremenda Nota that the police from the start treated the trans women as men by addressing them by their legal name.

Both of them told the journalist that courts had previously sanctioned them and Cuban prison regulations ignore their gender identity. They cited, for example, the masculine hair cut they forced them to get.

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Chilean House approves marriage equality bill

Vote took place two days after presidential election’s first round

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Chile, gay news, Washington Blade
(Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

VALPARAÍSO, Chile — The Chilean House of Representatives on Tuesday approved a bill that would extend marriage rights to same-sex couples.

The measure passed by a 101-30 margin roughly three months after the Chilean Senate approved by a 28-14 vote margin.

Two lawmakers abstained. The bill now goes back to the Senate for a final vote.

“After three decades of struggle, there is only one Senate vote left to achieve the so far elusive legal equality that all couples and families deserve,” said Javiera Zúñiga, a spokesperson for the Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation, a Chilean LGBTQ rights group, in a press release. “We celebrate this new step, now with the total conviction that we are at the final leg.”

Tuesday’s vote took place two days after the first round of Chile’s presidential election.

José Antonio Kast, a far-right former congressman, will face off against Congressman Gabriel Boric, who previously led a student protest movement, in a Dec. 19 runoff. Outgoing President Sebastián Piñera in June announced he supports the marriage equality bill.

Esteban Guzmán contributed to this story.

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Israeli deputy foreign minister denies country engages in ‘pinkwashing’

Idan Roll, 37, lives in Tel Aviv with husband, two children

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Deputy Israeli Foreign Minister Idan Roll in D.C. on Nov. 17, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Israel’s openly gay deputy foreign minister this week dismissed the idea that his country’s government promotes LGBTQ rights in order to divert attention away from its policies towards the Palestinians.

“I would never, ever, put myself in a position that I would be the face of ‘pinkwashing’ as part of my role because I’m confident that there’s no such thing in Israel,” Idan Roll told the Washington Blade on Wednesday during an interview at the Riggs Hotel in downtown D.C.

Roll, 37, spoke with the Blade at the end of a 4-day trip to D.C., which took place less than six months after eight political parties formed a coalition government that ousted long-time Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The Knesset earlier this month passed Israel’s first national budget in three years. Roll, who is the youngest person in the Israeli government, noted to the Blade it earmarks $30 million (NIS 90 million) to LGBTQ organizations across the country.  

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz in August announced Israel had lifted restrictions on blood donations from men who have sex with men. The Israeli Supreme Court in July ruled same-sex couples and single men must be allowed to have a child via surrogate.

A group of teenagers on Nov. 12 attacked a group of LGBTQ young people near Jerusalem’s main bus station as they were traveling to a transgender rights conference in Tel Aviv. Neil Patrick Harris is among the actors who expressed their support for the Tel Aviv International LGBT Film Festival amid calls from BDS (boycott, economic divestment and sanctions) Movement supporters to boycott it over Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians.

Roll acknowledged Israel does not extend civil marriage to same-sex couples, but he also pointed out to the Blade the country does not “have civil marriage for straight people either” because marriage in the Jewish state is a religious institution. Roll noted he is among the openly LGBTQ people in the Israeli government and they “live a full, fulfilling life.”

“Are we perfect?” he asked rhetorically. “No. Are we one of the best places for gay people to live in the world? Definitely so, and I feel safe. And I feel welcomed. And I feel empowered and I feel like the best of it is ahead.”

Roll told the Blade the idea of “pinkwashing” comes from the fact “that not everyone is as informed as others about life in Israel.”

“That’s something that’s a task this new government and our ministry has, to better convey the Israeli story, and it’s a wonderful and complex and diverse story,” he said.

Roll also stressed he “would love for people to stop pinning one thing against the other.”

“Us doing tremendous work for LGBTQ equality does not get eliminated or erased or cancelled just because we have to also manage a very intricate conflict, which is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” he said. “Promoting progressive values is still something that is worth mentioning, and we are working towards bettering the lives of the Palestinians on a humanitarian and economic level. Things are not as black and white as they are portrayed.”

The separation barrier between Israel and the West Bank as seen from a gas station in Bethlehem, West Bank, on Nov. 12, 2016. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Roll lives in Tel Aviv with his husband, Harel Skaat, an Israeli pop star who he married in Utah in March, and their two children who they had via surrogates in the U.S.

The lawyer and former model who is a member of the centrist Yesh Atid party founded Pride Front, a group that encourages LGBTQ Israelis to become involved with the country’s political process. Roll told the Blade he decided to run for office after he and his husband started their family.

“It was quite a struggle,” he said, noting their second child was born via surrogate in Oklahoma. “And then it struck me that I have to practice what I preach. I have to not only just encourage others to take political action and move forward, but also I had to take the lead.”

Roll in 2019 won a seat in the Israeli Knesset. Lapid appointed Roll as deputy foreign minister after the new government took office.

“I’m a very young member of this government … and I am an openly gay member of this government,” said Roll. “I am very grateful of the life that I have been able to create for myself in Israel.”

“That’s a story that I feel like I can portray very authentically and I think that’s a story that needs to be told outside of Israel,” he added. “I’m also very proud to be part of the new face of a new government that is doing things differently and in a way I think now allows people of all different ethnicities and colors and agendas to find someone they can relate to in this government.”

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Idan Roll (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.), U.S. Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.) and other members of the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus are among those who met with Roll when he was in D.C. Roll also sat down with Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, American Israel Public Affairs Committee members and Jewish students at George Washington University.

“We have a new government, and the new government is really different in many great ways,” Roll told the Blade. “It’s the most diverse government in our history and in a way it is the most diverse reflection of a very diverse society.”

He said one of the reasons he traveled to D.C. was “to reach out and to open a dialogue.” Roll also stressed Israel “has always been a bipartisan issue.

“It’s crucial to keep it that way and we intend to do that,” he said. “The U.S. is the most cherished and important ally we have and you need to cultivate relationships.”

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Thailand Constitutional Court rules against marriage equality

Advocacy group challenged Section 1448 of country’s Civil and Commercial Code

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(Photo public domain)

Thailand’s Constitutional Court on Wednesday ruled a law that defines marriage as between a man and a woman in the country is constitutional.

The Foundation for Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Rights and Justice, a Thai advocacy group, filed a lawsuit that challenged Section 1448 of the country’s Civil and Commercial Code, which does not extend marriage rights to same-sex couples. Bloomberg said the Constitutional Court in its ruling said Thai lawmakers “should draft laws that guarantee the rights for gender diverse people.”

Sunai Phasuk, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch who focuses on Thailand, in a tweet said the decision makes the “government’s pledges to promote gender equality meaningless.”

Taiwan in 2019 became the first country in Asia to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples.

The Thai Cabinet in 2018 approved a bill that would allow same-sex couples to enter into civil unions. The government last year backed a second version of the measure.

Tunyawaj Kamolwongwat, a Thai MP who is a member of the Move Forward Party, has introduced a marriage equality bill.

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