Struggle against homophobia takes to the streets in Havana

Since 2004, CENESEX has been working with the Federation of Cuban Women to push for legal initiatives in favour of sexual diversity.

In 2008, a Public Health Ministry resolution established the creation of a centre that carries out free gender reassignment surgery and provides integral health care for transsexuals — a major achievement for CENESEX, which is led by President Raúl Castro's daughter.

But the government institution as well as gay rights activists and others in Cuba are still waiting for a legal reform that would guarantee equal rights to both heterosexual and same-sex couples.

The initiative — which is not calling for gay marriage, something that would require a constitutional amendment — would recognise same-sex civil unions, would require families to be responsible for their children regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and would include a specific law to guarantee the rights of transvestites and transsexuals.

"Silence on these issues is one manifestation of homophobia. It's bad for the nation that the media turn their backs on this social reality that cannot be hidden," journalist Francisco Rodríguez Cruz, who describes himself as "gay, communist and atheist," wrote in his blog, "Paquito el de Cuba".

The expanding struggle

The cultural institution "El Mejunje", which has served as a unique gay oasis in Cuba for 25 years, held a huge street party Monday in the city of Santa Clara, 275 km east of Havana.

As the site selected for the central celebrations to mark the Day Against Homophobia in Cuba, "El Mejunje" began its schedule of activities on May 8.

And next week, a cooking show starring a transsexual will be broadcast on Cuban television.

"We can't just limit our fight against homophobia to within the four walls of El Mejunje," Ramón Silverio, the founder of the centre, remarked to IPS. "That's why we are taking it outside this year, to the streets."

According to sources at CENESEX, a similar cultural centre may be opened in Havana.

The lack of gay spaces and the apparent contradiction between the need for specific gathering spots and how to avoid the emergence of "ghettoes" that instead of being inclusive end up reinforcing the exclusion of certain groups were at the centre of a debate held Friday, May 14 at the Union of Cuban Writers and Artists (UNEAC).

The possibility of establishing an LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) organisation — or a group representing any of these specific minorities — in Cuba was also discussed in the light of failed experiences in past years of some isolated associations that received support from foreign governments and ran up against resistance from the Cuban government.

Mariela Castro, who has no doubt that an organisation of this kind will emerge when "convincing proposals" are set forth, said they are working to help train activists in the LGBT community, as in the case of the more than 500 trans persons who have taken different courses organised by CENESEX around the country.

There are also three groups of lesbians and bisexuals working in cities in the western, central and eastern regions of Cuba, while thousands of activists, mainly gay men, are volunteers in a health promotion and prevention project among men who have sex with men.

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