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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, January 9, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 02
Normalization will help LGBT Cubans, activist says
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Normalization will help LGBT Cubans, activist says

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Normalization of U.S. relations with Cuba will make it easier for Cuban LGBT activists to work with, and get help from, their counterparts in the United States, a Cuban activist told the New York Times.

Yasmin Portales Machado said most LGBT activists in Cuba have not accepted support from Americans because U.S. government policy toward Cuba was based on removing the socialist government there.

'While the United States is the enemy of our state, we can't work with them,' she said in an interview in Havana. 'Any support you receive makes you a traitor.'

Portales founded the LGBT rights group Proyecto Arco Iris (Project Rainbow) in 2011 to give Cuba's LGBT community a voice that was independent of the country's government.

Until Project Rainbow came along, the only group pushing for greater freedom for LGBT Cubans was Mariela Castro's National Center for Sexual Education. As the daughter of Cuban President Raul Castro and the niece of revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, she has used her connections with the government to push for greater recognition of LGBT rights.

Norway and Belgium give Castro's organization financial support, and normalization of relations with the U.S. could open new avenues of assistance to Cuba's LGBT community. According to the New York Times, the Obama administration has spent millions of dollars assisting LGBT groups around the world, but none in Cuba because of the lack of formal relations between the two countries.

Norway's openly Gay ambassador to Cuba, John Petter Opdahl, acknowledged that Castro's organization has been criticized for its ties to the Cuban government, but defended the $230,000 his government has given her.

'It's fine to criticize, but you also have to acknowledge that they've done good,' Opdahl said in a recent interview.

'She has taken off a lot of the stigma for most people in the country, and she has made life so much better for so many gay people, not only in Havana but in the provinces.'

In 2010 Fidel Castro apologized for Cuba's treatment of its LGBT citizens in an interview with the Mexican newspaper La Jornada.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Gay Cubans were ostracized and many were sent to so-called 'reeducation camps,' but by 1979 Gay sex had been legalized in Cuba. Later on, the Cuban government also forcibly quarantined HIV/AIDS patients, although the AIDS epidemic in Cuba mainly affected heterosexuals.

In 2014, the government passed a new law that bans discrimination against Gay and HIV-positive Cubans. Transgender Cubans are still unprotected under the law, but the national healthcare system does provide free transition services, including surgery, to Trans Cubans.

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