Mariela Castro breaks tradition in fight for greater LGBT, HIV protections

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Mariela CastroFranklin Reyes, AP

Mariela Castro

The new labor code bans workplace discrimination based on gender, race and sexual orientation. But it has no mention of HIV status or gender identity.

“I could not vote in favor without the certainty that the labor rights of people with different gender identity would be explicitly recognized,” Castro said in the blog interview.

Raul Castro himself has been slowly shaking up Cuba’s system by allowing some limited private-sector activity and scrapping a much-loathed exit visa requirement. He’s made it clear, though, that the Communist Party will continue to be the only one permitted.

The vast majority of Assembly members keep their regular jobs and are not professional lawmakers. Laws are generally drafted by a handful of legislators and discussed with Cubans before being presented to parliament.

There was no response to requests for an interview with Mariela Castro, who heads Cuba’s National Center for Sex Education, an entity under the umbrella of the Health Ministry.

She has spoken in the past about wanting to legalize same-sex unions, though concrete legislation to that effect has not materialized.

That LGBT rights is even a matter of debate is a sign that much has changed since the 1960s and ’70s, when gay islanders were routinely harassed and sent to labor camps along with others considered socially suspect.

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In recent years, Fidel Castro expressed regret about past treatment of gays, and today Cuba’s free and universal health care system covers gender reassignment surgery.

But activists say old attitudes and prejudices die hard so the LGBT community needs more legal protections.

Rodriguez and about 20 others from Project Rainbow, a group that advocates for sexual diversity, recently sent a public letter urging Mariela Castro to introduce legislation to amend the labor code.

“These are not minor details,” Rodriguez said. “They are social problems we have in contemporary Cuba.”

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