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Havana gay rights march cancelled after arrests

Adrian McBreen June 27, 2008

Cuba’s first ever gay pride parade was cancelled just moments before it was due to begin.

Organisers of the event, together with Florida’s Unity Coalition, are claiming police brutality, reports The Miami Herald.

The unofficial march, planned to start in Havana’s Don Quixote park on Wednesday, was not sanctioned by Cuba’s National Centre for Sex Education, which is headed by Mariela Castro, the daughter of President Raul Castro.

Activist Mario Jose Delgado said two organisers who were to deliver a set of demands to the Justice Ministry were detained on Tuesday, but had no details of the arrests.

He said:

“The president of the Cuban League Against AIDS and the president of the Foundation LGTB Reinaldo Arenas in Memoriam have been arrested.”

Marchers were seeking 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.

But a passer-by, Felix Lopez, 40, a personal trainer who said he was gay, dismissed the gay pride march as unnecessary, referring to educational campaigns on LGBT issues currently implemented by Mariela Castro’s Centre.

“Important strides have been made,” he told the Herald.

“We don’t need to be instructed by people in Miami or any other part of the world. We’re slowly gaining a space in our society and that’s important.”

For the first time the International Day Against Homophobia was marked in Cuba this year, with the largest meeting of gay activists in the island’s history.

Gays in Cuba face serious discrimination, and the meeting was dominated by discussions of how to change society’s attitudes.

“We should do that in a coherent, appropriate and precise way because these are topics that have been taboo and continue to be for many,” a leading parliamentarian told the meeting.

Gay activists also cautioned a subtle approach. Cuban state television did its part, screening the 2005 film Brokeback Mountain.

The Oscar-nominated tale of two American cowboys who fall in love, it has touched straight audiences across the world.

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.

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

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