The head of Cuba’s National Centre for Sexual Education, Mariela Castro, has revealed that 30 gender reassignment operations have been approved.

She told AFP “we’re getting ready a team of surgeons from Belgium” to perform the procedures.

Gender reassignment surgery has been effectively banned in Cuba since 1988, when the first such procedure caused an outcry.

Ms Castro, who is the daughter of President Raul Castro and niece of former leader Fidel, was speaking ahead of a week-long anti-homophobia festival to be celebrated in six provinces of Cuba and the capital, Havana.

The events, including TV programmes, public debates and other activities, will culminate on IDAHO, the International Day Against Homophobia, on May 17th.

Ms Castro, 45, has said previously that she wants to “enrich the Cuban Revolution” with her fight for equality between the sexes and gay rights.

She has been a strong supporter of legal moves to grant equal rights to all citizens, the first step towards same-sex unions and access to gender reassignment surgery.

Legislation is before the Cuban parliament.

Sexual diversity was seen by Fidel Castro as a corrupt consequence of capitalism.

Homosexual sex was partially decriminalised in Cuba in 1979 and an equal age of consent was introduced in 1992.

While social attitudes towards gay people are generally negative, the capital city Havana has a thriving gay scene. All gay rights organisations are banned.

Under Fidel Castro, who ruled from 1959 until February of this year, many gay men suffered in Cuban labour camps as the regime ‘re-educated’ homosexuals.

Gays were incarcerated in Military Units to Aid Production (UMAPs) between 1965 and 1968.

Castro believed that hard work would rid the men of their “counter-revolutionary tendencies.”

The proposed change to Cuban family law would put members of same-sex unions on a par with heterosexuals.

In January the Cuban culture minister Abel Preito gave public support to gay marriage.

“I think that marriage between lesbians, between homosexuals can be perfectly approved and that in Cuba that wouldn’t cause an earthquake or anything like that,” said Mr Prieto, who is also a member of the powerful Politburo of the Communist party and the Council of State, the nation’s supreme governing body.