Today, Cuba’s gays are planning some reform of their own. Working with Florida’s Unity Coalition, activists in Cuba have organized the island’s first gay pride parade.
Members of the Foundation LGTB Reinaldo Arenas in Memoriam and other groups will participate in the march, according to Unity. They will meet in Havana’s Don Quixote park at 10am and march to the Ministry of Justice to deliver a series of demands.
Marchers seek an apology from the government for its past repression and, in some cases, incarceration of openly gay citizens and the inhumane treatment of prisoners with AIDS, according to Unity.
In Havana, gay activist Aliomar Janjaque said that despite some progress on gay rights, discrimination against homosexuals continues in Cuba. He said people are still passed over for jobs, prevented from gathering in certain places and, in some cases, jailed because of their sexual orientation.
“Mariela Castro’s work is good and valid and we’re not criticizing it,” said Janjaque, 31, a psychology student who is president of the Foundation LGTB Reinaldo Arenas in Memoriam. “But we believe they should do more.”
Mariela Castro, Raul Castro’s daughter, heads the island’s National Center for Sex Education. In May, she led a public rally against homophobia that briefly brought gay activists out of the shadows. Earlier this month, Cuban officials announced they were allowing free sex-change operations for transsexuals.
In South Florida, Cuban natives like Arturo Alvarez, who co-owns Club Azucar, said the government’s recent measures don’t go far enough.
“We’ll see with this parade if openness has really been achieved,” said Alvarez, 44, an internist by training who deserted 20 years ago while on a medical mission in Namibia.
Alvarez traveled to Cuba in May to attend Mariela Castro’s rally and is cautiously hopeful about signs of change on the island. As a gay teenager in Havana, he was barred from Communist youth groups and experienced withering rejection.
“You couldn’t have the slightest gay mannerisms. You could show no trace of who you really were,” said Alvarez, who has organised gay pride parades in several Latin American cities, including the first in Montevideo, Uruguay, last year.
For decades under Fidel Castro, Cuban gays were subject to widespread antipathy and government crackdowns, Alvarez and others said. But the community has seen a growing level of tolerance since the 1990s and a lively gay social scene has for years thrived in Havana.
Janjaque said organizers hope an orderly, peaceful march would draw attention to their concerns.
“We want to raise awareness but we don’t want to provoke a wave of repression against the gay community,” he said. “If there is a hostile reaction from the government, we will stage a much larger demonstration. We will take to the streets.”