Until as recently as the late 1980s, a Cuban male walking the streets of Havana who exhibited effeminate traits could be arrested and sentenced to a year in prison. But times have changed. Last week, the Cuban government declared that it will allow citizens to undergo sex change operations, even stipulating that it will cover the cost in certain circumstances. So far 28 transsexuals in the country have requested the procedure. The move follows a wave of reforms that have come under President Raúl Castro’s leadership. Just last month, in what was heralded as one of the largest gatherings of openly gay activists ever assembled on the Communist-run island, a government-backed campaign against homophobia took place in the capital’s Vedado district. Cuban state television even showcased the film Brokeback Mountain that evening as a sign of the times.
Spearheading this new sexual revolution is Castro’s daughter, Marida. As head of the government-fúnded National Centre for Sex Education, she has made it her personal mission to remove the stigma associated with homosexuality, and is pushing the government to adopt some of the most liberal gay and transsexual rights laws in Latin America. Her wish list includes legislation that would recognize same-sex marriages, along with inheritance rights. And she’s confident that her papá is on her side. “I’ve seen changes in my father since I was child. I saw him as macho and homophobic. But as I have grown and changed as a person, so I have seen him change,” she has noted.
Marida didn’t have to look very far for inspiration. Her mother, Vilma Espin, was an internationally recognized champion of women’s rights, serving as president of the Federation of Cuban Women for nearly 50 years until her death last June. Nl
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