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Transgender? You May Want to Move to Cuba or Brazil

Transgender? You May Want to Move to Cuba or Brazil


By pledging to pay for sex change operations, Brazil and Cuba make bold statements of support toward their transgender citizens.

Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, president of Brazil

Like June 27, 1969, the date of the Stonewall riots, June 6, 2008 will be remembered as a turning point in LGBT history. That was the day the governments of Cuba and Brazil announced that they would be performing gender-reassignment surgery free of charge to qualified citizens.

Brazilian Heath Minister Jose Gomes Temporao made the announcement standing next to President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva at Brazil's first National Conference of Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals, Transvestites, and Transsexuals in Brasilia.

The Brazilian measure stemmed from a lawsuit in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, where prosecutors argued that gender-reassignment surgery is covered by a constitutional clause that guarantees medical procedures as a basic right for all Brazilians.

Lula told reporters that the decision to approve the procedures was based in equality for all.

"Why discriminate when you freely choose what to do with your body?" Lula said.

Brazil has been known for its progressive social policies and liberal attitudes regarding sexuality, but in Cuba the government's announcement that free sex-change operations would be available represents a radical shift.

Historically, transgender Cubans would risk being arrested if they were openly expressing themselves in public. Clandestine drag parties were known to be raided by government officials. Even today, Cuba's gay scene continues to thrive mostly underground.

However, this year the country's National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX), led by Mariela Castro Espin, daughter of ruler Raul Castro, began a government-supported campaign for LGBT tolerance that included a national day against homophobia in May and a government-sponsored Gay Pride beach party on June 14.

Above: Mariela Castro Espin

"We see transsexualism as a special reality that requires a special response from society," Castro told reporters soon after the June 6 announcement.

In 1988 the first and only Cuban sex change operation was performed. Today, 28 Cubans have been diagnosed by the government as transsexual, and 19 of them want to have gender-reassignment surgery. Now it looks as if they'll get their wish.

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