International News

Havana Hosts Its First Independent Gay Pride Parade, Sort Of

It's quite a human rights paradox. Next month, the Cuban parliament will discuss a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage on the Communist isle, yet GLBT citizens are, like all Cubans, discouraged from gathering and expressing any sort of political message that doesn't toe the party line. Though, efforts to boost GLBT rights have been accepted in the Communist Party over the past decade, the government still tried to put the kibosh on what was Havana's first non-government approved gay pride parade.

The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Observatory, lead by Leannes Imbert, organized the event. Though, Mariela Castro, daughter of president Raul, champions some GLBT rights as head of the government's National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX), the small march was planned without her consent. The government tried to dissuade people from attending.

The parade was more of a spirited stroll down Prado Avenue in Havana yesterday, complete with dancing and rainbow flag waving. Because the event was not an official protest and did not interfere with traffic, the group did not need to obtain permits. The AFP reports that the march proceeded for about 1,600 feet and only attracted a few dozen participants.

According to El Nuevo Herald, however, Mariela Castro's group tried to organize several other events to distract from the march. Officials had also warned several gay-rights activists to stay away from the event.

CENESEX holds an annual "Day Against Homophobia" celebration, but an official pride parade has never been held in the country.

Though, Fidel Castro has a history of prosecution of gays and homophobic remarks, gay rights on the island have improved some over the past decade. However, Imbert and other activists don't think they've come far enough.

From El Nuevo:

"This is the time when we have to come out into the light and show everyone the LGBT community in Cuba, which is not only CENESEX,'' Imbert was quoted as saying.

The Observatory will "demand" respect for the rights of gay Cubans, she added, "which up to now have been denied. There are many violations still -- although the form has changed somewhat if we compare it to past years."

Though, not all gay rights activists in Miami think Observatory is a fully independent organization. Herb Sosa, president of the Unity Coalition, thinks the group must be part of some government propaganda effort, an assertion he bases on a hunch.

Dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez however viewed the stroll as a small sign of progress, and applauded the group for hosting the event.

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Kyle Munzenrieder