A delegation of American LGBTQ advocates met Saturday in Havana with “leaders of Cuban civil society” who are demanding that the government there recognize marriage for same-sex couples and create legal protections for transgender Cubans.
The group from the U.S., organized by Cuban-American civil-rights attorney Tico Almeida, includes Brad Sears, executive director of the Williams Institute think tank at UCLA Law School; trans activist Dana Beyer, executive director of Gender Rights Maryland; and Nadine Smith, CEO of Equality Florida.
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“I began my activism helping to found the International Gay and Lesbian Youth Organization in the ’80s and I’m pleased to have an opportunity to return to those roots by connecting with activists in Cuba,” Smith told the Miami Herald just before she traveled to Havana.
“Florida has a special connection to the people of Cuba. Our state has been a destination of hope and a beacon of light in the midst of a brutal regime,” Smith said. “Now, as a new, more open day dawns we must maintain that relationship as the LGBT community worldwide continues the fight for basic equality, justice and dignity under the law.”
A year ago, Almeida and Freedom to Marry founder Evan Wolfson were in Cuba for International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia events. In Havana, they met with Mariela Castro, director of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education and daughter of Cuban leader Raúl Castro.
Before this week’s trip to Havana, Almeida said he wants to “create stronger connections” between LGBTQ people in Cuba and the United States, and also hopes that Congress lifts all travel restrictions to the island.
“Business leaders at our top companies like American Airlines, Google, and Facebook have helped build bridges between Americans and the Cuban people, and it’s also important for the LGBT movement in the United States to create stronger connections with the brave gay and lesbian Cubans who are petitioning their government for the freedom to marry the person they love,” Almeida told the Herald.
“While we wait for the United States Congress to repeal the absurd travel ban that still restricts Americans’ freedom to travel to Cuba, we can participate in legal ‘people to people’ travel opportunities that allow us to meet with leaders of Cuban civil society and exchange ideas about promoting fairness and equality for LGBT people in both countries.”
Some Cuban-American LGBTQ activists in Miami are skeptical about the visit.
“While it’s important to engage the Cuban people, I would be extremely concerned about creating optics that support the Cuban Regime — a regime that continues to suppress its people and the people of Venezuela,” SAVE Executive Director Tony Lima posted Saturday on Facebook.
“It is telling that Cuba’s leading LGBTQ rights activist is the straight daughter [Mariela Castro] of Raul Castro. We must not forget ONE family has controlled Cuba for nearly six decades with brutal implications for LGBTQ people during the far majority of that time,” Lima continued. “I hope the current LGBTQ delegation in Cuba will reach out to those voices outside the regime and will be sensitive to its complex and painful implications in our South Florida community. Be it Cuba, Venezuela or Syria, we must all be vigilant in promoting basic human rights.”
Herb Sosa, president of Unity Coalition, Miami's Hispanic LGBTQ-rights group, said his organization “supports any and all efforts to assist the Cuban people on the island in their path to civil liberties & freedom.”
But, he added:
“Unity Coalition has maintained communications with dozens of LGBT activists on the island — most of whom are routinely arrested, beaten, jailed and kept away from these sort of media circus opportunities orchestrated by the Castros. The real activists fighting for change in Cuba are not allowed to meet with these well-intentioned U.S. activists.”