Cuban first daughter Mariela Castro, long touted as her country’s premier gay-rights advocate, has been granted a U.S. visa to attend conferences in New York and California, reports the Washington Post.
The trip, which kicks off next week when Castro is due to chair a panel on sexual diversity at a conference organized by the Latin American Studies Association, is among several to the United States by prominent Cubans, some with close links to the government.
Cuban academics, scientists and economists now frequently attend seminars in the United States, and Cuban artists and entertainers are also finding it easier to visit the U.S. due to an easing of travel restrictions by President Barack Obama’s administration.
In addition to the LASA event in San Francisco, Castro will take part in a May 29 talk in Manhattan, about international LGBT rights and sexual identity in Cuba, with National Gay and Lesbian Task Force director Rea Carey.
Castro—daughter of President Raul Castro and niece of Fidel—is the head of Cuba’s National Center for Sex Education, the island’s only recognized advocacy group for sexual minorities. Though she has supported marriage equality—and claims her father does as well (privately)—there has been no traction in the government. In the past, Ms. Castro has been dismissive of criticisms about the treatment of the country’s queer community.
It’s hard to get a clear picture of the situation for LGBTs in Cuba: While labor camps are a thing of the past and the government announced in 2010 that it was including gender-reassignment surgery in the national health-care plan, gay groups are still barred from convening and raids on private clubs are frequent. In January, human-rights groups reported on a trans woman who was beaten to death in government custody. Without an independent press, it’s hard to separate fact from fiction.
Bottom line: Castro should definitely be welcome to our shores—the freedom to come and go as one pleases is a basic human right. But we can’t be sure that she’s going to give an honest accounting of gay life in her homeland. It’s easy to point at America’s shaky record on civil liberties, but at least here there are snarky bloggers that can call shenanigans on politicians.