Sunday, May 18, 2008

Raul Castro's daughter spearheads anti-homophobia drive

HAVANA (AFP) - President Raul Castro's daughter, Mariela, is organizing Cuba's second anti-homophobia festival this week to boost public awareness of the country's long-marginalized gay community, this time with the approval of her dad's government.

"There's political support for this educational strategy. It's the best thing that's happened to us," Mariela Castro said about the backing the National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX) she heads is receiving from Cuba's Communist Party.

She said Raul Castro, 76, "is helping us a lot ... not only because I'm his daughter, but because I've earned his respect by working at my job carefully."

A teacher and mother of three children, Mariela Castro, 46, took over from her late mother, Vilma Espin, in running Cuban Womens' Federation (FMC) after she died in 2007, and has headed CENESEX for the past 14 years. Her uncle Fidel Castro, 81, relinquished presidential power to his brother Raul, 76, in February citing health reasons.

For as long as Cuba's communist revolution began nearly 50 years ago, Mariela and her mother have been busy trying to whittle away at the country's machismo tradition.
The week-long festival in Havana and six of Cuba's 14 provinces, aims to increase public awareness about gay rights through television programs, movies, theater, debates and book fairs, culminating with the International Day Against Homophobia, on May 17.

Besides the educational efforts, Mariela's group is also busy reforming Cuba's Family Code and has proposed in parliament a bill on freedom of gender -- the right to choose one's gender, and the right to "legal union" for gays. The legal union issue is an effort to sidestep the Catholic Church's determined opposition to gay marriage rights.

Sex-change is another controversial issue in Cuba, after the country's first operation in 1988 raised such an outcry that the procedure was put on indefinite hold.
"We're getting ready a team of surgeons from Belgium" to restart transgender operations, Mariela told reporters, adding that 30 such procedures have been approved by health authorities.

Mariela is hopeful the festival will be successful. "We don't know how the public will react. We suppose it'll go well because of the way we've organized it. It'll help people understand things, reflect and think."

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