By Julie Bolcer
Originally published on Advocate.com May 24 2012 10:43 AM ET
Some prominent Cuban-Americans, including LGBT community leaders, object to a visit from Mariela Castro, the niece of Fidel Castro and daughter of President Raul Castro. The LGBT rights advocate is making appearances in San Francisco and New York City this week and next.
The Associated Press reports that Castro, the director of Cuba's National Center for Sex Education, or CENESEX, is on a multiday trip devoted to talks with LGBT activists and the annual meeting of the Latin American Studies Association. She is one of at least 60 Cuban scholars who were granted visas to attend the conference, taking place today.
According to the AP, Castro spoke to about 50 medical professionals and transgender advocates Wednesday at San Francisco General Hospital. She spoke in Spanish through an interpreter.
"If we don't change our patriarchal and homophobic culture ... we cannot advance as a new society, and that's what we want, the power of emancipation through socialism," she said. "We will establish relationships on the basis of social justice and social equality. ... It seems like a utopia, but we can change it."
Castro has successfully lobbied her father’s Communist government to cover gender reassignment surgery in the national health plan. She has also advocated, so far unsuccessfully, for marriage equality in her country. However, her platform has not endeared her to some influential Cuban-Americans, who cite Cuba’s record of abusing LGBT people and repressing individual rights more broadly.
Steve Rothaus reports on the reaction in the The Miami Herald.
Herb Sosa, executive director of Unity Coalition, Miami-Dade County’s leading Hispanic gay rights group, said, "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.”
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami, an opponent of the Castro regime and the sole Republican sponsor of legislation to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, also criticized the visit.
“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," she said. "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."
The AP reports that in her Wednesday talk in San Francisco, Castro said that the Communist Party in Cuba has recently done more to advance LGBT rights, including the approval of an antidiscrimination statement this year. She argued that the history of animosity between the United States and Cuba has held back the expansion of LGBT rights in her country.
The Herald reports that Castro’s other stops include a discussion at the San Francisco LGBT Center and an appearance next week at the New York Public Library.