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Mariela Castro, Daughter of Cuban President, Helps Lead Struggle for LGBTQ Rights in Changing Cuba

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In a Democracy Now! special, we begin our hour on Cuba with a rare interview with Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro. Mariela Castro is best known in Cuba for her ardent support of gay, lesbian and transgender rights and as the director of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education in Havana. During a rare visit to the U.S., Castro discusses her work in Cuba battling anti-LGBTQ discrimination. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: In a Democracy Now! special, we begin our show today with a rare U.S. interview with the daughter of the Cuban president, Raúl Castro, and First Lady Vilma Espín. Her name is Mariela Castro. She’s best known in Cuba for her ardent support of gay, lesbian and transgender rights and as the director of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education in Havana.

Mariela Castro was recently granted a visa for a rare trip to the United States. Democracy Now! had a chance to sit down with her last week at the Cuban consulate here in New York City. We talked not only about her work combating homophobia, but also her thoughts on the Cuban Five and what’s happening in Cuba 50 years after the start of the U.S. embargo. She called on the United States to release five Cubans jailed for spying on violent anti-Cuban militants in exchange for U.S. citizen Alan Gross, who was arrested in Cuba in 2009 and sentenced to 15 years on charges of subversion. She says, “Free the six.”

We turn now to my interview with Mariela Castro. I began by asking her about what brought her to the United States. Mariela Castro was translated by Elizabeth Coll.

MARIELA CASTRO: [translated] I presented my work at the Congress of the Latin American Studies Association, which was held last week in San Francisco. I was also invited by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the work that you’re doing in Cuba.

MARIELA CASTRO: [translated] I am the director of the National Center of Sexual Education. This is an academic center that is part of the Ministry of Public Health. Its mission is to coordinate the national program of sexual education with a multidisciplinary focus which coordinates different sectors.

AMY GOODMAN: Why have you chosen to make sexuality and the politics of sexuality your issue? You, yourself, are heterosexual. You’re married to a man. You have three children.

MARIELA CASTRO: [translated] This is work that my mother began with the Federation of Cuban Women. She was the one who created CENESEX. Though professionally I worked with preschool children and adolescents, as I heard about the difficulties of LGBT people, I began to sympathize with their needs and problems. Many LGBT couples chose to come to counseling sessions with me, and as I listened to them, I started to study, to find tools to be able to help them.

AMY GOODMAN: You’ve come to the United States at an interesting time. The president, President Obama, has just endorsed same-sex marriage, marriage equality. What are your thoughts about that?

MARIELA CASTRO: [translated] I think it’s very valuable that the president of the United States speaks out publicly in favor of the rights of same-sex couples. Being the most powerful country in the world, what the president says has great influence on the rest of the world.

AMY GOODMAN: Yet we do not have across-the-board law that says that same-sex marriage is accepted. And in Cuba, you don’t, either. What are you doing in Cuba to change the laws?

MARIELA CASTRO: [translated] In Cuba, CENESEX is leading an educational strategy, with the support of the media, to promote respect for free and responsible sexual orientation and gender identity. We are also doing some advocacy with state institutions and civil society organizations, so that they support this educational strategy. Beyond the educational strategy and our media strategy, we are also promoting legislative initiatives that support the same rights for homosexuals and transgender people, so that, for example, the family code recognizes the rights of these people and also their possibilities as couples, the legalization of their union as a couple.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you pushing for same-sex marriage in Cuba?

MARIELA CASTRO: [translated] I am promoting marriage, but it was not accepted by many groups of people. And so, what we are negotiating is the legalization of consensual unions and that the legalization of these unions would guarantee, more than anything, their property rights, inheritance rights.

AMY GOODMAN: So, do same-sex couples have the same economic rights as heterosexual couples?

MARIELA CASTRO: [translated] All rights are guaranteed for all people. There is no exclusion for LGBT people. But where there is still not respect for their rights is around the guarantee that if one member of a same-sex couple dies, the survivor be recognized as the person who should receive the inheritance, or even just be allowed to enjoy the goods that they had enjoyed as a couple.

AMY GOODMAN: Presumably, you have your father’s ear, the president of Cuba. How does he feel about making it fully equal between same-sex couples and heterosexual couples?

MARIELA CASTRO: [translated] He is convinced that it is necessary, that it is part of the project of full justice the Cuban Revolution proposes.

AMY GOODMAN: Is he supportive like you are?

MARIELA CASTRO: [translated] He has been supportive since before, from when my mother was working on these issues.

AMY GOODMAN: And what about gay men and lesbians in the military?

MARIELA CASTRO: [translated] In all of Cuban society, there are all kinds of people. In the army, as well, there are homosexuals and lesbians. They don’t manifest it publicly, but they are there.

AMY GOODMAN: If it is known, if they are open, would they be kicked out of the military?

MARIELA CASTRO: [translated] I see that the rules have become more flexible. Of course, before, they were more rigid. I think that in all Cuban society, the policy and laws are becoming more flexible. And the same will happen in the army.

AMY GOODMAN: Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro. She’s a prominent gay rights activist. We’ll continue our conversation. She’ll talk about Cuban Five, President Obama and more after break.

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