By Michael Voss BBC News,
Havana There is a Castro who is fighting to introduce radical changes in Cuba.
Transsexuals have a chance to meet at support group sessions>>>
Not the new president, Raul, although he has promised to push through “structural and conceptual” changes to this communist island in the Caribbean. It is Raul’s daughter, Mariela Castro. As head of the government-funded National Centre for Sex Education, she is trying to change people’s attitudes towards minority groups in the community. She is currently attempting to get the Cuban National Assembly to adopt what would be among the most liberal gay and transsexual rights law in Latin America. The proposed legislation would recognise same-sex unions, along with inheritance rights. It would also give transsexuals the right to free sex-change operations and allow them to switch the gender on their ID cards, with or without surgery. There are limits: adoption is not included in the bill and neither is the word marriage. “A lot of homosexual couples asked me to not risk delaying getting the law passed by insisting on the word marriage,” Mariela Castro said.
But according to the manager, who asked not to be named or for the club to be identified, it is the gay evening that is always the best attended. The event is perfectly legal but it is not advertised, relying instead on word of mouth. Given Cuba’s past treatment of homosexuals, most people here prefer to remain anonymous. In the early days of the revolution many homosexuals were sent to forced labour camps for re-education and rehabilitation. The camps did not last long but still gays were often denied certain jobs as “ideological deviants”. In the 1980s, there were orchestrated mass rallies denouncing homosexuals. Ingrained prejudices Sex between consenting adults of the same gender was legalised about 15 years ago, but police harassment and raids on gay gatherings continued until very recently. “In the early years of the revolution much of the world was homophobic.
It was the same here in Cuba and led to acts which I consider unjust,” said Mariela Castro. “What I see now is that both Cuban society and the government have realised that these were mistakes. There is also the desire to take initiatives which would prevent such things happening again.” But it remains an uphill struggle. Old prejudices remain deeply ingrained, particularly amongst the older generation. “It’s like an illness or perhaps a character defect,” one man explained, asking not to be identified. Others though are more tolerant. Talking to people in the street, many said that they disapproved of homosexuals but felt that people should be free to live their own lives. There is still no guarantee that when the National Assembly convenes later this year, under the watchful eye of Raul Castro, it will approve Mariela’s gay rights bill. If it does, though, this would mark a revolutionary change in Cuba’s sexual politics.