48-year-old Adela Hernandez won election as a delegate to the municipal government of Caibarien in the central province of Villa Clara earlier this month, making history as Cuba’s first known transgender person to hold a public office.
Born Jose Augustin Hernandez, Adela has lived as a female since childhood, but as she has not undergone a sex-change operation, she is still legally recognized as a man in Cuba.
Hernandez was disowned by her family and subsequently reported to the authorities by her father, leading to two years imprisonment in the 1980s. Despite having to change towns and physically defend herself from attacks, Hernandez managed to work her way up from a hospital janitor, to a nurse and eventually an electrocardiogram technician.
She also established herself in her community, joining the neighborhood watch committee, which helped her win acceptance and laid the groundwork for her election.
“My neighbors know me as Adela, the nurse,” Hernandez told ABC News. “Sexual preference does not determine whether you are a revolutionary or not. That comes from within.”
In the past, Adela Hernandez’s election would have seemed unthinkable in Cuba, where for decades homosexuals were regularly persecuted and sent to hard labor camps in the countryside. Fidel Castro has gone on to express regret over the treatment of those perceived to be different and said several years ago that “discrimination against homosexuals is a problem that is being overcome.”
Since 2007, Cuba has covered gender reassignment surgery under its free healthcare system and the country’s leading LGBT rights advocate is none other than Fidel’s niece (and current president Raul Castro’s daughter) Mariela.
“As time evolves, homophobic people — although they will always exist — are the minority,” Hernandez said. She hailed her election as a “great triumph” and promised to advocate not only for her constituents’ interests, but the rights of LGBT people as well. “I represent a community but I will always keep in mind the defense of gays.”
Photo: Ramon Espinosa/AP