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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, August 29 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 35
Mariela Castro defied party line and voted against exclusion of HIV-positive and Trans workers
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Mariela Castro defied party line and voted against exclusion of HIV-positive and Trans workers

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuban President Raul Castro and niece of Fidel, cast an unprecedented No vote last December, when Cuba's parliament adopted a new labor code establishing protections for sexual orientation and other characteristics.

Hers was not only the sole No vote on the bill, but reportedly the only No vote ever cast in the one-party Cuban parliament since Fidel Castro ousted the previous U.S.-backed regime in 1959. Since then, the Cuban government has been dominated by the Castro brothers' Communist Party, and party discipline led lawmakers to approve all legislation proposed by the leadership.

Mariela Castro's complaint about the new law was that it did not offer protections to HIV-positive or Transgender workers, even though it did cover sexual orientation for the first time in Cuba's history.

'I really wanted to vote for it, because I think the law is advanced and reflects major elements that reflect the feelings of our people, especially in the way we consulted the people,' Mariela Castro told the Spanish-language Paquito el de Cuba blog.

'But I cannot be part of passing a law which contradicts the fundamental principles of law that I am defending. 'I could not vote in favor without the certainty that the labor rights of people with different gender identity would be explicitly recognized.'

She also wanted the employment rights of people with HIV to be included in the bill, but that too was excluded. Although she identifies as straight and is married to a man, Mariela Castro is President of Cuba's National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX), and has long been an advocate for LGBT rights and for integration of HIV-positive people into Cuban society.

News of her unusual No vote only broke last week in English-language media, although Spanish-language news sources had reported it earlier this year.

Although the Cuban government was initially hostile to the country's LGBT population after the 1959 revolution, restrictions have eased substantially in the past 30 years.

Same-sex sexual relations were legalized in 1979, and in 1981 the Ministry of Culture issued a statement saying that homosexuality was a natural variant of human sexuality. Fidel Castro publicly apologized for his government's previous criminalization of Gay sex in a 2010 newspaper interview.

HIV-positive people were also subject to repression, and were forcibly quarantined in 'treatment centers' isolated from HIV-negative friends and relatives. That system was discontinued in 1993, although treatment centers are still available for patients who are unable to live in their homes.

Cuba currently manufactures generic versions of the most common antiretroviral medications, and all HIV-positive Cubans have access to free treatment as part of their national healthcare.

Trans Cubans have been able to get free sex reassignment surgery since 2008.

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