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    Cuban gays find support in Fidel’s niece

    Posted on Sat, Jul. 29, 2006

    Cuban gays find support in Fidel’s niece
    Raúl Castro’s daughter is fighting traditional Cuban cultural views and
    her own uncle’s apparent scorn of gays as she labors for greater rights
    for the island’s sexual minorities.
    The Gazette

    MONTREAL – Mariela Castro preaches revolution, though not the kind her
    uncle Fidel has ever embraced.

    As the head of Cuba’s National Center for Sexual Education, Castro is a
    vocal supporter of rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered

    That support brought her to Montreal Friday, to speak at the
    International Conference on LGBT Human Rights, being held in conjunction
    with the athletic competitions of the 1st World Outgames.

    Castro, 43, is the daughter of Raúl Castro, Cuba’s defense minister and
    first in line to succeed 79-year-old Fidel Castro, who has ruled the
    country for nearly a half-century.

    Her participation was a matter of controversy, with some applauding her
    for supporting Cuba’s sexual minorities. Others, however, were skeptical.

    ”When he wants to vilify an opponent, the first thing Fidel Castro will
    call him is [an offensive term for gay],” said Toronto film editor
    Ricardo Acosta, a gay man who left Cuba during the 1980 Mariel boatlift.

    ”Perhaps her intentions are good, but until people can express
    themselves freely in Cuba and have freedom to associate, I won’t believe
    that things have changed for gays and lesbians,” he added.

    Acosta visited Cuba with his partner last winter and said that the
    police turned a blind eye to gay prostitution involving Cuban men and

    ”They were willing to tolerate sex tourism as long as it doesn’t cross
    a line,” he said.

    Speaking to reporters after her presentation, Castro acknowledged Cuba’s
    suppression of LGBT rights in the past, but insisted that the mass
    arrests, imprisonments in work camps, job discrimination and
    deportations of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s are a thing of the past.

    ”There is no official repression of lesbians and gays in Cuba,” she
    said flatly through a translator. “What remains are social and cultural
    reactions that must be transformed, the same as in many other countries.”

    She acknowledged that gays, lesbians and transgendered people still face
    arrest, but that this reflects problems with bigoted police. Cuba
    decriminalized sodomy in 1979. The Cuban Constitution does not
    specifically prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual identity.

    While athletes from more than 100 countries are participating in the
    Outgames, no Cuban has registered for the event. Mariela Castro was
    asked whether this reflected an unwillingness by athletes in her country
    to come out, or an unwillingness by the Cuban government to allow
    participants to attend.

    ”As a matter of fact, there are many homosexual athletes in Cuba.
    Unfortunately they are not good athletes,” she said with a smile. “The
    government could not afford to send a team here and risk that they would
    come home without any medals.”

    During her presentation, Castro explained the push she is leading to
    have the rights of transgendered Cubans recognized. Last December she
    proposed a bill that would give transgendered people access to free
    sex-change operations. The bill is expected to be voted on later this year.

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