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Posted September 07, 2004 by Dana Garrett in Castro's Cuba

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BY ANDREA RODRIGUEZ | Associated Press

A sexologist is urging Cuban police to undertake ‘gender-sensitivity’ training to deal with gays, transsexuals and transvestites.
In the four years since she became a transvestite, life wasn’t too difficult for Gillian. But this summer, she says, she was detained twice by police who threatened her with prison for the crime of peligrosidad—dangerousness.

Her ‘‘dangerousness,’’ apparently, is her dress and makeup.

Cuban transvestites say police have come to their homes lately to warn them to dress ‘‘in a corresponding manner.’’ Gillian, 19, says she is afraid to go outdoors dressed as a woman.
But help is on the way.

Mariela Castro Espin, an internationally renowned sexologist who happens to be the niece of President Fidel Castro, wants Cuba’s National Revolutionary Police to undergo gender-sensitivity training.

‘‘The police take measures—that’s what they are there for—but they interpret things with their own way of thinking,’’ she said in an interview. ``They have learned over their lifetimes that transvestites or homosexuals are intrinsically bad.’‘

Indeed, for decades, that was the general attitude toward anything nonheterosexual in communist Cuba. Homosexuality was derided as an illness of the capitalist past, and in the late 1960s some artists were sent to labor camps simply for being gay.

But with the limited economic and social liberalization of the mid-1990s came a new wave of tolerance, highlighted by the hit movie Strawberry and Chocolate, about the friendship between a naive young Communist and a highly educated Cuban gay man who is in love with his country but at odds with his government.

SEMINAR IN WORKS

Alarmed by the recent complaints, Mariela Castro is working with the Interior Ministry, which oversees the police, to hold a seminar about gender this month.

‘‘The idea is to explain sexuality and its distinct expressions,’’ she said. She hopes to help police understand ``that these people should not be excluded from society.’‘

The Health Ministry’s National Center for Sex Education, which she directs, is already running a pilot program at the Dragones police station in Central Havana with ‘‘positive’’ results, Castro said.

Other than numbers to report emergencies, the force is not listed in telephone directories, and has no known spokesman who might comment.

CENTER’s RESEARCH

Castro’s center has been busy for years organizing support groups and safe-sex seminars for transvestites and transsexuals, people who take hormones to enhance their femininity.
Through vigorous research, the center has identified 23 people in Cuba as transsexuals and another 62 cases are under study, Castro said.

No sex-change operations have been performed in Cuba because it lacks expertise. But those ruled to be transsexuals receive free psychological counseling and hormonal treatments and can even change their name and gender on ID papers.

That’s not the case for transvestites such as Gillian, who was born and is still listed on official documents as Leinier Diaz. She hasn’t assumed a false surname, but feels ‘‘Gillian’’ better expresses who she is.

Gillian said many police wrongly assume all transvestites are prostitutes, or simply people whose lifestyles are ``incompatible with socialist morals.’‘
Still living at home with her grandmother, she hopes to sign up this fall for a government program that trains young people without a trade or university degree to become student teachers and social workers.

Carla, a 19-year-old transvestite who wears a miniskirt to her job at the sex education center, said she dreams of a world where she can be herself. She declined to reveal her full legal name.

The ideal society, said Carla, would ``see the best of me as a person, without caring whether I dress as a woman or a man.’‘

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