Mariela Castro (center) in 2010 at a march for the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia
Mariela Castro Points to Progress on LGBT Rights in Cuba

By Trudy Ring

Originally published on Advocate.com May 05 2013 12:40 PM ET

Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuban president Raul Castro and niece of former president Fidel Castro, said Saturday that she’s proud of the advances she and her allies have made on LGBT rights in Cuba.

Castro spoke on a panel at the Equality Forum in Philadelphia, where she also received an award Saturday night for her activism. “We can make the best together,” she told attendees at the panel, The Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

“Castro said that she was ‘very proud’ of the work she and others had done to promote LGBT equality and that she would push for gay marriage,” the Inquirer notes. “Castro, a sexologist and director of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX), has long been an activist for LGBT equality in Cuba. She has been credited with improving conditions for gay Cubans, who faced imprisonment as recently as the 1970s.”

She also defended her country’s record on human rights, saying, “There is not any government or any country who has the right to impose or make decisions to the other ones regarding the human-rights area.”

Castro was initially denied a visa clearance to attend the Philadelphia event, but the State Department then reversed its decision and allowed her to do so. There has been some criticism of her appearance there, including by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, one of the most pro-LGBT Republicans in Congress, who fled Cuba as a child with her family after Fidel Castro came to power.

“For a person like Mariela Castro to attend a conference on civil rights for lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender people, and to receive an award, is shameful, pathetic and a ruse,” Ros-Lehtinen  said in a statement posted on her website Thursday. “The words equality and human rights don’t exist in the vocabulary of the Castro tyranny.”

Former congressman Barney Frank, who spoke at the Equality Forum dinner Saturday night, praised Mariela Castro for her work but had harsh words for her father and uncle, saying they were “among the great betrayers of liberalism and human rights,” according to the Inquirer.

“I’m glad that they’re lessening the repression of gay and lesbian people, but no, I certainly don’t think that people should say, ‘OK, well, that’s all you have to do,’” Frank said.