Cuban First Daughter Mariela Castro Says Father Supports Gay Rights. Is She Rewriting History?

mariela castroAt 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.

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  • nick

    yoanni sanchez is married to a man… you call her a lesbian?

  • Midlife crisis

    Well, in some respects things in Cuba are better than in the U.S. For the past decade, 100% of Cuban HIV patients have access to free HAART therapy. Yes! Universal access. Compare this with the U.S. where because of lack of access, a third of HIV patients are untreated, and the Southern states half of HIV patients are untreated. Lower-income people in the U.S. are only eligible to be treated under Medicaid once they progress to AIDS. Also, Cuba has a much lower HIV infection rate than the U.S. because of very effective prevention and treatment campaigns. There is effective and explicit sex and HIV prevention instruction in Cuban schools, something that is unthinkable in the large parts of the U.S. still preferring to live in the bronze age. And

    Also, consider that in 2003 the U.S. joined Cuba in opposing a U.N resolution against violations of human rights based on sexual orientation. However, in 2008, Cuba joined most of the West in voting in favor a new U.N. resolution against violations of human rights of gays.

  • Elian

    Fidel can’t evolve too?

  • Raymond

    Read “Before Night Falls.” Do not forget the brutality gay and bisexual men went through due to the homophobia of Fidel Castro’s regime. I know it is natural for most to defend their parents but she is full of it. Her father did horrible things and the LGBTQI community should not salute or glamorize Fidel Castro.

  • Clockwork


    Right on dude!

  • Dave

    I agree with Raymond. “Before Night Falls” is an excellent book about bisexual and gay men in Cuba. I did find the ped0 and beastie stuff to be nasty though. :(

    Castro was a dictator, he put lots of his OWN people to death even heterosexuals.

  • Daez

    @Raymond: It might be important to vies this in context. At the same time that Castro was sending gays to labor camps, gays in America were sent to mental treatment facilities where they received ECT, castration and even labadomies to “cure” their homosexuality.

    Perhaps the biggest difference is that Mitt Romney and his friends miss the “good ole days.”

  • Art

    @Raymond: So, That’s mean we shouldn’t support the American government too, because they did the same thing here too. I don’t see a true concern for LGTB rights in your post, I see it as another way of expressing anti communist views. How you might asked? You are not stating that our government did the same things too, Also The Cuban government apologized for their crimes, but The US government have not. Which make me think that the so called “progressives” of the Democratic party is just using the community. If they do care then they should admit their wrongs before critizing another country on the issue.

  • Mark Snyder

    Cuba offers sexual reassignment surgery and all health care for FREE. So yeah, there is progress there.

Comments are closed.