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Cuban LGBTI activists hold impromptu Pride march in defiance of government ban

Cuban LGBTI activists hold impromptu Pride march in defiance of government ban

Cuba march

LGBTI rights supporters have held an unauthorized Pride march in Cuba, despite government warnings not to.

Over 100 people took to the streets of Havana on Saturday (11 May). Marchers carried rainbow Pride flags and chanted ‘Long live a diverse Cuba’.

Pro-LGBTI activists have promoted the idea of an impromptu Pride march on social media over the past week.

This was in response to Cuba’s National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX) abruptly canceling the country’s 12th annual conga against homophobia (Cuba’s equivalent of a Pride march) on Monday (6 May).

The march lasted for roughly half a mile, from Havana’s Central Park down to the seafront boulevard. It was then halted by security forces.

At least three of Saturday’s marchers were arrested by plainclothes police officers. Others were ordered to disperse.

‘Civil society demonstrated it has strength’

The impromptu march was unprecedented for Cuba.

Civil society is often clamped down on in the one-party communist country where the authorities often heavily restrict the use of public spaces.

The annual Pride march was an exception to this rule, and was seen as a demonstration of the progress LGBTI rights have made in the island republic in recent years.

Maykel Gonzalez Vivero, an independent journalist and LGBTI rights activist, said the unauthorized march was a milestone for both LGBTI rights activism and the civil society movement in Cuba, according to Reuters.

‘This moment marks a before and an after for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community but also for Cuban civil society more generally,’ said Vivero.

‘Social media is playing its role and civil society demonstrated it has strength, and can go out onto the streets if necessary, and from now on the government will have to take that into account.’

‘New tensions in the international and regional context’

CENESEX condemned the unauthorized march, calling it a ‘provocation’.

The center is run by Mariela Castro, the daughter of Communist Party leader Raul Castro. Castro remains one of Cuba’s most vocal and high-profile proponents for LGBTI rights.

CENESEX announced the cancellation of their annual march against homophobia and transphobia in a Facebook post earlier this week.

It claimed that some groups were planning to use the event to undermine the government. CENESEX also cited ‘new tensions in the international and regional context’.

However, some LGBTI activists said it was more likely because the authorities are under pressure from influential anti-LGBTI evangelical groups in Cuba.

A number of hardline Christian groups have gained support in response to the LGBTI rights activism in the country.

The dispute between the two sides became particularly apparent last year during a high-profile campaign over the legalization of same-sex marriage by making amendments to the country’s constitution. The pro-marriage equality movement was spearheaded by Mariela Castro.

Despite gaining notable support, the commission in charge of writing Cuba’s new constitution dropped planned references to marriage equality after pushback from religious groups.

Improving record on LGBTI rights 

While there remains pushback from religious and conservative elements in Cuban society, LGBTI rights in the island republic have markedly improved in recent years.

It is illegal for employers to discriminate against people because of their sexuality or gender. The country also offers free gender affirmation surgeries since 2008.

However, this has not always been the case. Following the Cuban Revolution in 1959, then-president Fidel Castro sent 25,000 gay men deemed unfit for military service to labor camps. Until 1993, Cuba also quarantined people with HIV and AIDS.

In 2010, the former president said he was repentant for the anti-LGBTI clampdowns under his five-decade rule.

The Spartacus Gay Travel Index 2019, which ranks countries on their LGBTI friendliness, placed Cuba at joint 47th place out of 197 countries. This was on a par with the US, Thailand, and Costa Rica.