At a gay-rights march yesterday in Havana, Mariela Castro—daughter of current Cuban President Raul Castro and niece to Fidel—said her father supported banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and underscored her hope that the island nation would soon adopt marriage equality.
Though heterosexual, Mariela has long been touted as a gay-rights advocate. In fact she’s the only voice you’ll hear speaking about the issue in Cuba, because LGBT advocacy groups are illegal there. (The Cuban Association of Gays and Lesbians was shut down in 1997, when its members were taken into custody.)
Currently Ms. Castro heads the government-sponsored National Center for Sex Education, the National Commission for Treatment of Disturbances of Gender Identity, and the Direct Action Group for Preventing, Confronting, and Combating AIDS.
She’s a one-woman band, all right. But is she a mouthpiece for the Castro government or does she truly have the best interests of LGBT Cubans at heart?
She has said Pride marches are “unnecessary” in Cuba and could be misconstrued as protests. (Heaven forbid!)
When Mariella joined Twitter last year, she dismissed
lesbian dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez, saying Sanchez’s “focus on tolerance reproduces the old mechanisms of power” and that Sanchez and her kind were just reporting the dictates of their “employers,” the U.S. government.
Honestly, it doesn’t matter whether Ms. Castro is a stooge or a saint: When there’s no room for divergent opinions or options, there can be no real substantive change. Imagine where we’d be in the U.S. if we were only allowed to have one LGBT group.
And it was government-sponsored.
And run by the president’s daughter (not that we don’t love Sasha and Malia).
Of course Mariela has been saying for years that Cuba is on the verge of passing various LGBT protections, but no major developments have been forthcoming. She now says she hopes legislators will make headway when they convene again in July. We hope her words are prophetic and Cuban gays will see great strides in the coming year.
But we’re not gonna roll out the rainbow flag just because the president’s kid said some nice words at a government-organized rally.
After Uncle Fidel took power in 1959, homosexuals were considered a suspect class that faced harassment and violence. Many were sent to labor camps (a practice that continued through the 1970s). Some, like Cuban poet Reinaldo Arenas, fled to America seeking asylum.
The situation for Cuba’s LGBT community today is improved but hardly praiseworthy: The national health-care plan has covered gender-reassignment surgery since 2010, but prior to that the procedures were outlawed. In 2004, the BBC reported that police were arresting gays and travestis (transsexuals) and shutting down meeting places. And private gay clubs and parties on the island continue to be routinely raided.
In 2010, Fidel Castro apologized for the treatment of homosexuals under his watch, calling it “a great injustice.” But he claimed it went unabated because he was too busy with other issues: “In those moments I was not able to deal with that matter [of gay harassment], I found myself immersed, principally, in the Crisis of October, in the war, in policy questions.” He also stated the mistreatment of gays and lesbians was a carry-over from the Batista regime.
In her address yesterday, Mariela praised President Obama’s support of same-sex marriage, but said he needed to back his words with actions.
Right back atcha, lady.