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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 9 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 19
Cuba hosts international LGBT conference
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Cuba hosts international LGBT conference

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer Cuba is hosting the sixth International LGBTI Association for Latin America and the Caribbean (ILGALAC) Regional Conference at the resort town of Varadero. The conference runs from May 6 through May 10.

The event will be chaired by Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuban President Raul Castro and niece of Fidel Castro. Mariela is director of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education and the country's leading LGBT rights advocate.

Cuba first applied to host the ILGA Conference in 2006.

The history of Cuba's LGBT community has been difficult. After Fidel Castro overthrew the Batista regime in 1959, and especially after the CIA-backed Bay of Pigs invasion attempt two years later, Cuba's new government began to close Gay bars and send LGBT people to 're-education' camps.

Thousands of LGBT people were interned in the camps. Later, in the 1980s, HIV-positive Cubans were forcibly quarantined.

The Cuban government gradually changed its views, however, and legalized same-sex relations in 1979. The National Center for Sex Education also pushed for reforms under Mariela Castro's leadership. Cuba's national healthcare system now provides antiretroviral medications free of charge to the country's HIV-positive residents.

In a 2010 interview with Mexican newspaper La Jornada, Castro admitted the persecution of Cuba's LGBT people, and called it 'a great injustice, great injustice!'

'If anyone is responsible, it's me,' he said in the interview. 'We had so many and such terrible problems, problems of life or death. In those moments, I was not able to deal with that matter [of homosexuals]. I found myself immersed, principally, in the Crisis of October [known in the U.S. as the Cuban Missile Crisis], in the war, in policy questions.'

In accepting Cuba's bid to hold the ILGALAC conference, the group acknowledged the progress the country has made.

'Cuba is showing clear progress towards the protection of LGBTI rights and I believe that it is important to have a detailed understanding of the work that is being done there,' ILGALAC Secretary General Gloria Carega said in an interview.

'As the host country for the sixth ILGALAC Regional Conference, Cuba is not exempt from the problems of the region's LGBTI communities,' the group said in a statement.

'The humanistic nature of the Cuban Revolution has focused on the human being in his teleological purposes since its beginning. Although the Cuban LGBTI movement does not have the organization of other international movements, the fight against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the country is now evident with more impact and achievements.'

U.S. enemies of the Castro government criticized the ILGALAC for holding its conference in Cuba. 'Hosting a conference on LGBT rights is just another farcical attempt by the Cuban regime to pretend they care about anyone's rights,' said Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL).

'The sad reality is that the Cuban people are harassed, beaten and bullied for having a point of view that differs from the regime's. This desperate move to seem tolerant does not even come close to obscuring the repressive reality on the island.'

Ros-Lehtinen is of Cuban descent, and represents a Miami Beach district that includes both a large Cuban exile community and a large LGBT community. Although she is a Republican, she has endorsed marriage equality and supports ENDA (the Employment Non-Discrimination Act).

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