Cuban-American gay activists in Miami protest Mariela Castro's visit to
San Francisco, New York
BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com
Gay Cuban Americans in Miami are furious that Fidel Castro's niece is
meeting this week and next with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender
activists in San Francisco and New York City.
"For Mariela Castro, or anybody else under the Castro dictatorship, to
say they are representing the rights of anyone is an insult to the
hundreds of thousands who have either been killed, jailed or
assassinated by their own hands, or the nearly 100,000 people who've
jumped into the ocean looking for freedom who haven't made it here,"
said Herb Sosa, executive director of Unity Coalition, Miami-Dade
County's leading Hispanic gay rights group.
Mariela Castro, whose father, Raul, succeeded his brother, Fidel, as
Cuban president, is in the United States on a visa granted about a month
An advocate for marriage and transgender equality, Mariela has been a
visible gay-rights figure in Cuba, where until several years ago LGBT
people were treated as outcasts and often sent to hard-labor camps.
U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami, known as both a staunch
anti-Castro Cuban American and one of Congress' most outspoken
Republicans for LGBT equality, is harshly critical of Mariela Castro's
"The Castro regime was particularly brutal and harsh in its treatment of
members of the Cuban gay community and as part of its revisionist push
the dictatorship wants the U.S. to believe its lies because it respects
no one's rights," Ros-Lehtinen told The Miami Herald. "The Cuban
dictatorship would round up members of the gay and AIDS community and
send them to forced labor camps where their most basic human rights came
under withering assaults. This is all a public relations ploy meant to
soften Cuba's image abroad and it will not work."
Sosa calls Castro's public support for gay equality "a dog and pony show."
"The true LGBT leaders are routinely arrested, beaten up or simply
disappear at the hands of the Castro leadership every time Mariela
marches," he says.
Pedro A. Romanach of Miami calls her visit "patently absurd."
"She may be pro-gay marriage, but the very elementary rights Cubans
don't have -- freedom of the press, freedom of assembly -- gay people
don't have those rights in Cuba," Romanach said. "Neither do straights."
Castro started her San Francisco visit attending meetings Tuesday on
transgender healthcare at the University of California, San Francisco.
She is scheduled to participate in an educational forum on the same
topic at San Francisco General Hospital on Wednesday.
Later, the San Francisco LGBT Center is planning to host Castro for a
discussion on Cuba's gay rights policies. She also is chairing a panel
on sexual politics Thursday at the annual meeting of the Latin American
"She's going to come over and be welcome as some kind of hero by gay
people and she's not. There are anti-communist gay people in Cuba who
she's argued with," Romanach said. "She doesn't represent anybody but
herself. The real heroes in Cuba are the gay people who are pro gay and
pro freedom, anti-communists who aren't getting any publicity."
On Tuesday, Castro is scheduled to speak at the New York Public Library,
along with Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian
Task Force. The forum is titled, "LGBT Rights in Cuba, the United States
and Beyond: Mariela Castro and Rea Carey in Conversation."
From the New York Public Library website:
"In 2010 the Cuban government began providing sex reassignment surgery
free of charge as part of their universal healthcare. This was the
result of several years of work by the Cuban National Center for Sex
Education under the leadership of Mariela Castro Espín, niece of Fidel
Castro and daughter of current Cuban president Raúl Castro. The current
developments in LGBT rights in Cuba are remarkable given the
discrimination suffered by gays, lesbians, and transgender people in
Cuba in the 20th century, as well as comparison with current LGBT
movements in the U.S. and abroad."
On Saturday, Romanach sent a protest email to Carey:
"I am gay, a registered Democrat, and a member of the Task Force
Foundation. (I just sent you $40 renewing my membership a few days ago.
In the past, I have also been a member of the Task Force Foundation,
sending yearly contributions of around $35.) I am also an anti-Communist
Cuban American in Miami," Romanach wrote.
"Ms. Carey, there are many anti-Communist gay Cubans both in Cuba and
outside the oppressed island. Mariela Castro represents no one but
herself. She does not represent gay Cubans. If you are to meet with her,
and I hope you don't, I hope you will vigorously question her about why
she supports a despicable dictatorship that denies basic freedoms to its
citizens," Romanach continued. "With all due respect, if this is not
done, I will not be renewing my Task Force Foundation membership as a
protest. Mariela Castro is despised by anti-Communist gay Cubans and
Cuban Americans because of her disgusting defense of the dictatorship
which oppresses the land where I was born."
This report was supplemented with material from The Associated Press.