Cuban president’s daughter leads anti-homophobia drive

Editor’s note: There are two articles in this post. The one below is from a week earlier.

Source: MSNBC/AP
Date: 17 May 2008

Cuba holds large gay rights rally
Raul Castro’s daughter presides at government-backed event

By ANDREA RODRIGUEZ
Associated Press Writer

HAVANA – Cuba’s gay community celebrated unprecedented openness — and high-ranking political alliances — with a government-backed campaign against homophobia on Saturday.

The meeting at a convention center in Havana’s Vedado district may have been the largest gathering of openly gay activists ever on the communist-run island. President Raul Castro’s daughter Mariela, who has promoted the rights of sexual minorities, presided.

“This is a very important moment for us, the men and women of Cuba, because for the first time we can gather in this way and speak profoundly and with scientific basis about these topics,” said Castro, director of Cuba’s Center for Sexual Education.

Mariela Castro joined government leaders and hundreds of activists at the one-day conference for the International Day Against Homophobia that featured shows, lectures, panel discussions and book presentations. A station also offered blood-tests for sexually transmitted diseases.

‘Brokeback Mountain’ airs
Cuban state television gave prime-time play Friday to the U.S. film “Brokeback Mountain,” which tells the story of two cowboys who conceal their homosexual affair.

Prejudice against homosexuals remains deeply rooted in Cuban society, but the government has steadily moved away from the Puritanism of the 1960s and 1970s, when homosexuals hid their sexuality for fear of being ridiculed, fired from work or even imprisoned.

Now Cuba’s parliament is studying proposals to legalize same-sex unions and give gay couples the benefits that people in traditional marriages enjoy.

Parliament head Ricardo Alarcon said the government needs to do more to promote gay rights, but said many Cubans still need to be convinced.

Things “are advancing, but must continue advancing, and I think we should do that in a coherent, appropriate and precise way because these are topics that have been taboo and continue to be for many,” Alarcon told reporters.

Careful not to ‘flood’ Cuban society
Some at the conference spoke of streaming out into the streets for a spontaneous gay-pride parade, but others urged caution.

The gay rights movement should be careful not to “flood” Cuban society with a message that many are not ready to hear, physician and gay activist Alberto Roque cautioned.

And Mariela Castro said gay activists should opt for more subtle ways to chip away at deep-seated homophobic attitudes.

Defending equal rights for Cubans, of all sexual orientations, is a key principal of the Cuban revolution led by her uncle Fidel Castro, who overthrew dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959, she said.

“The freedom of sexual choice and gender identity (are) exercises in equality and social justice,” she said.

———————————————–

Source: AFP
Date: 11 May 2008

Raul Castro’s daughter spearheads anti-homophobia drive

Mariela CastroHAVANA (AFP) — President Raul Castro’s daughter, Mariela, is organizing Cuba’s second anti-homophobia festival this week to boost public awareness of the country’s long-marginalized gay community, this time with the approval of her dad’s government.

“There’s political support for this educational strategy. It’s the best thing that’s happened to us,” Mariela Castro said about the backing the National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX) she heads is receiving from Cuba’s Communist Party.

She said Raul Castro, 76, “is helping us a lot … not only because I’m his daughter, but because I’ve earned his respect by working at my job carefully.”

A teacher and mother of three children, Mariela Castro, 46, took over from her late mother, Vilma Espin, in running Cuban Womens’ Federation (FMC) after she died in 2007, and has headed CENESEX for the past 14 years.

Her uncle Fidel Castro, 81, relinquished presidential power to his brother Raul, 76, in February citing health reasons.

For as long as Cuba’s communist revolution began nearly 50 years ago, Mariela and her mother have been busy trying to whittle away at the country’s machismo tradition.

The week-long festival in Havana and six of Cuba’s 14 provinces, aims to increase public awareness about gay rights through television programs, movies, theater, debates and book fairs, culminating with the International Day Against Homophobia, on May 17.

Besides the educational efforts, Mariela’s group is also busy reforming Cuba’s Family Code and has proposed in parliament a bill on freedom of gender — the right to choose one’s gender, and the right to “legal union” for gays.

The legal union issue is an effort to sidestep the Catholic Church’s determined opposition to gay marriage rights.

Sex-change is another controversial issue in Cuba, after the country’s first operation in 1988 raised such an outcry that the procedure was put on indefinite hold.

“We’re getting ready a team of surgeons from Belgium” to restart transgender operations, Mariela told reporters, adding that 30 such procedures have been approved by health authorities.

Mariela is hopeful the festival will be successful.

“We don’t know how the public will react. We suppose it’ll go well because of the way we’ve organized it. It’ll help people understand things, reflect and think.”

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