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Castro's niece
leading LGBT revolution in Cuba

Castro's niece
leading LGBT revolution in Cuba

Mariela Castro is leading a Cuban revolution less well-known than her Uncle Fidel's--one in favor of the acceptance of LGBT people within the island's macho society. Castro, 43, is leading the charge from her government-funded National Center for Sex Education, based in an old Havana mansion, the Reuters news agency reports.

As director of the group, she promoted a soap opera that scandalized many Cubans in March by sympathetically depicting bisexuality. The controversial show depicted, among other story lines, the life of a construction worker who leaves his wife and children for the man next door.

Now President Castro's niece is pushing for passage of a law that would give transsexuals free sex-change operations and hormonal therapy in addition to granting them new identification documents. A draft bill was presented to parliament last year and was well-received, she said. It is expected to come up for a vote in December. If approved, it could make Cuba the most liberal nation in Latin America on gender issues.

Castro says her goal is to bring the revolution her uncle and her father, defense minister Raul Castro, fought 47 years ago to the terrain of sexuality. Her group has also campaigned for better AIDS prevention as well as acceptance of homosexuality, bisexuality, and transvestites. "I want to bring the revolution's humanity to those aspects of life that it hasn't reached because of old prejudices," she told Reuters.

Much has changed, she says, since the 1960s, when gays and lesbians were sent to work camps, or the 1970s, when they were denied certain jobs as "ideological deviants." "None of that exists anymore," Castro said. "But that is not to say the same for homophobic attitudes."

Cuba eliminated the crime of sodomy in 1979. Cuba is also a country where abortion is a constitutional right and divorce a simple procedure.

Mariela Castro says she isn't a leader but simply part of a movement for greater tolerance. Nevertheless, she admits her access to the two most powerful figures in the country has helped her cause. Castro says she has the support of her 75-year-old father, who is second in charge of the all-powerful Communist Party and as first vice president in line to succeed Fidel. "Of course, I talk with my father whenever I have the chance. He is one of those in the party that supports our work. He thinks it is useful, good, just," she said.

Castro sees her uncle less often. "Fidel is very sensitive to these issues," she said. "He is a pensive man, and when the subject is one of justice it gets his attention. He asks for more information, more elements to consider."

Castro sees herself as continuing the work of her mother, Vilma Espin, head of the Cuban Women's Federation for the last 45 years. Eighty-seven percent of the island's women are members. Espin, considered one of the most influential personalities of the Cuban revolution, is the originator of the Cuban family code, adopted in 1975, which calls on men to share household chores and child care.

Castro said many people ask her if she plans to push legalization of same-sex marriage. "We do not know what we will propose. It depends on what we identify as homosexuals' and lesbians' main needs," Castro said. "Marriage is not as important in Cuba as in other more Catholic countries. Here consensual pairing is more important," she said. "What matters is love." (Reuters)

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