Mariela Castro

Gender identity, sexuality and the Cuban revolution: Mariela Castro discusses challenges, solutions

Nicolle Wahl

Mariela Castro, director of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX) and an outspoken activist for LBGTQ rights in Cuba, spoke last night at U of T Mississauga to help launch this year’s Transgender Day of Remembrance.

The daughter of current Cuban president Raúl Castro and feminist and revolutionary Vilma Espín, as well as the niece of former president Fidel Castro, Castro is also a sitting member of Cuba’s National Assembly of People's Power.

Initially, her group campaigned for effective AIDS prevention as well as recognition and acceptance of LGBT human rights. But their focus broadened on hearing from transgendered people, who had three main demands: a stop to police harassment; gender reassignment surgery; and legal recognition of their new identities.

“I always say…when you come to decision makers about a problem, come with a solution—and offer to do it,” she told the crowd through an interpreter.

In 2005 she proposed a project to allow transgender people to receive sex reassignment surgery and change their legal gender. The measure became law in June 2008, which allows sex change surgery for Cubans without charge.

Still, she says, she felt that meeting the transgender community’s three demands wasn’t enough. “There needed to be a deeper cultural transformation—we needed to move from a medical model to a socio-cultural model.” As an example, she pointed out that in Cuba, discussions about gender identity and healthy sexuality are a part of the school curriculum.

When the National Assembly voted in 2014 to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in employment, Castro opposed the legislation because it did not also include protection on the basis of gender identity. It was the first time anyone had voted “no” in the assembly.

Members of the UTM Trans Emergency Caucus gave a 20-minute presentation prior to Castro’s talk, which was hosted by the Offices of Student Affairs, and Equity and Diversity.