Mariela Castro

Who’s Helping Cuba’s Transgender Community Get the Government to Pay for Surgery? The President’s Own Daughter

Cuba’s Mariela Castro, daughter of President Raul Castro, is the most visible gay rights advocate on the island. Whether that means Cuba will see a gay pride parade anytime soon is one question, but for now how about settling for state-sponsored gender reassignment surgeries?

After Cuba lifted the ban, in 2007, on the government paying for transgender medical procedures, Ms. Castro, who runs the Center for Sex Education, told reporters that surgeries began in 2008. But “less than half” of Cuba’s 30 candidates for surgery have been serviced, she says.

Cuba identified 122 people who wanted to have sex changes in 1979 and performed the first successful operation nine years later, but subsequent sex-change procedures were prohibited, Castro added.

The operations are covered by Cuba’s universal health care system, even though some have protested the decision to allow them – either because of general opposition to the procedure or due to its high costs for a developing country with economic problems.

But don’t think just anyone can just show up on Cuba’s shores and expect the government to foot the bill.

“We schedule a certain number per year based on economic circumstances,” Castro said, adding that, because of budget constraints, sex changes are not offered to foreigners who travel to Cuba for medical care.

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