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