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Cuba’s LGBTQ community is living a week of celebrations and controversy

May 11 marked a year since an independent march took place in Havana

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(Photo by Yariel Valdés González)

Editor’s note: Tremenda Nota is the Los Angeles Blade’s media partner in Cuba. Tremenda Nota published this article on their website on May 20.

HAVANA — This past Monday the LGBTI+ community celebrated the first anniversary of the march of May 11, 2019, when several hundred people demonstrated in Havana. This protest followed the cancellation of an official event for the LGBTI+ community that had taken place every year for a decade.

The independent march was also inspired by the previous year’s debates about Article 68, a proposed revision to the Cuban Constitution that would have allowed marriage equality. Article 68 was suppressed in the new Constitution’s final revision, which was submitted to popular referendum in February 2019, creating tension between the community and the Cuban government.

The government responded to the May 11 march with violence, dispersing the crowd with dozens of policemen who arrested activists and other participants. It also discredited the event in official state-run media.

This police violence drew parallels with incidents such as Stonewall, an iconic moment for the international LGBTI+ movement, and caused May 11 to be considered by some activists as the Day of the LGBTIQ Cuban Movement.

Taking this perspective, the Miami-based influencer Alex Otaola celebrated the anniversary with an online forum on Monday morning. Otaola is known for his show “Hola Ota-Ola”, where he has promoted controversial campaigns against artists who publicly sympathize with the Cuban government.

That afternoon, independent LGBTI+ activists who work in Cuba — that is, those unaffiliated with the Cuban government — held their own virtual forum. The forum was broadcast on Facebook after a hacking attack reportedly disabled the website originally planned to host it, according to complaints the organizers shared by social media.

The activist Jancel Moreno told Tremenda Nota, “At about 9 a.m., I could no longer access my page ‘Give Me Your Hand.’ After I complained publicly about this, my mobile data connection completely disappeared.”

The forum organized from Havana began hours late because of the hacking, which Moreno denounced.

The majority of the forum’s panelists were activists who participated in the march of May 11th and analyzed the LGBTI+ community’s challenges, including the upcoming debate about revising the Cuban Family Code. This revision represents the country’s best chance to legalize marriage equality, among other rights and protections for LGBTI+ Cubans and their families.

They also related their experiences of May 11 and spoke about its historical significance.

For example, the poet and critic Norge Espinosa Mendoza described the independent march as “a turning point in the history of the relationship between political powers and diverse sexualities in Cuba, a history that’s densely packed, fragmented, and very complex.” Espinosa was among the activists who first waved a rainbow flag at a public event in Cuba more than 20 years ago.

“What happened on May 11th can definitely be understood as a phenomenon that gave voice and visibility to other needs of Cuban society beyond sexuality,” he said.

Activists disagree with the boycott of CENESEX workers

Above-mentioned influencer Alex Otaola is a South Florida-based opinion leader of the Cuban exile community. He said this Monday that the Cuban LGBTI+ movement is “divided” because many of those who drove the march of May 11, 2019, refused to participate in the special anniversary program he hosted from Miami.

“There’s a group that participated in that march but didn’t want to celebrate with us today because they think … that I’m a very politicized figure and that it won’t be the kind of homage the event deserves.”

The activist Ulises Padrón mentioned Otaola’s program in a Facebook post, where he said that “his histrionic approach to politics, his oversimplified arguments, and his incitement of hate keep him from presenting a more heterogeneous picture of Cuba.”

But Victor Manuel Dueñas, a supporter of Otaola’s virtual event, and Yosmany Mayeta Labrada, an exile activist in Washington, believe that some participants in the 2019 march represent an activism “built in the Obama era specifically with the objective of creating a vision of opening, a vision of independence for the LGBT movement.”

Durung the virtual event, Dueñas launched a petition asking the U.S. government to cancel visas and financing to employees of Cuba’s National Center of Sexual Education (CENESEX), who are referred to in the text as “ex-government officials.”

Cenesex, led by Mariela Castro, the daughter of Raúl Castro and niece of Fidel Castro, is an official state agency whose social mission includes assuming the leadership of LGBTI+ activism in Cuba.

Dueñas’ petition denounces recent statements in which Mariela Castro spoke about the forced labor camps established by the Cuban government in the 1960s. People considered a threat to Cuba’s revolutionary society were sent away to the camps, including political dissidents and homosexual men. Castro’s statements minimized the human rights violations reported to have taken place at these camps.

The petition argues that, based on these recent statements by Mariela Castro and other reasons not fully explained, the U.S. State Department should prohibit a dozen people involved with CENESEX from entering the U.S. to prevent “the financing of the National Center of Sexual Education by institutions and individuals in U.S. territory.”

At time this article was published, the petition has more than 4,000 signatories on change.org, a platform that cannot be accessed from Cuba.

Yosmany Mayeta Labrada, one of the petition’s authors, told Tremenda Nota that Mariela Castro is already prohibited from entering the U.S., but that “she can send some of those who are mentioned in the petition” in order to “raise funds for her agency.”

Mayeta was unable to confirm for Tremenda Nota whether in fact CENESEX currently receives any funds sent from the U.S.

Tremenda Nota inquired about this point with Manuel Vázquez Seijido, one of the government officials named in the petition to the State Department.

Seijido, deputy director of CENESEX, said that the agency will not issue any statements about alleged funding from the U.S. and that there was “no news” in the petition by the exile activist community.

Some independent activists who have worked with CENESEX or have accessed its services made statements on their social networks about the petition.

“Yesterday Otaola tried to draw all the attention around [May 11] to himself. During his show, apart from hosting guests who all share a single political position (it should have been more diverse), he made statements and petitions far from the program’s stated purpose,” said Ulises Padrón referring to the petition promoted on Monday.

Padrón opined that “to disallow the activities of [CENESEX] and the activism it promotes represents an infantile, dangerously ideological attitude.”

Mel Herrera, a transsexual woman who collaborates with the independent publication “Q de Cuir” (“Q as in Queer”), said on Facebook that “thanks to CENESEX, I’ve been able to realize many of the goals I had for myself, and this has helped me stay away from the possibility of suicide.”

She emphatically stated, “Don’t count on me for this boycott.”

World

Blinken says Biden raised Russia’s LGBTQ rights record with Putin

Geneva summit between two presidents took place on June 16

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken (YouTube screenshot)

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday said President Biden raised the Kremlin’s LGBTQ rights record with Russian President Vladimir Putin during their recent summit.

“The president pushed human rights — including LGBTQI rights — with President Putin,” Blinken told Washington Post columnist, “PBS NewsHour” contributor and host of MSNBC’s “The Sunday Show” Jonathan Capehart during a virtual Pride month discussion the Atlantic Council hosted.

Biden met with Putin on June 16 in Geneva. Blinken was among those who participated in the summit.

The White House did not say whether Biden specifically raised Russia’s LGBTQ rights record with Putin. Biden told reporters after the summit that he stressed to Putin “that no president of the United States could keep faith with the American people if they did not speak out to defend our democratic values, to stand up for the universal rights and fundamental freedoms that all men and women have, in our view.”

“What he told President Putin is that as an American president — where for all of our challenges, many of which are manifest in recent months and recent years — this is something that is basically stamped in to our DNA and he would be abdicating his responsibility as president, as an American president, not to raise these issues,” Blinken told Capehart.

Capehart specifically asked Blinken about the case of two Chechen brothers who were arrested in Russia in February and returned to their homeland, even though they had fled Chechnya’s anti-LGBTQ crackdown.

“We didn’t get into specific cases in that meeting, but he made very clear to President Putin that this is fundamentally who we and who he is and what we’ll do and will continue to do going forward,” said Blinken.

Blinken also did not say how Putin specifically responded to Biden’s decision to raise his country’s LGBTQ rights record with him. Blinken, however, did say “there was at least an acknowledgment” the U.S. will raise human rights in such meetings.

“This is what an American president should do,” said Blinken. “This is who we are and this is what we represent to the world.”

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Politics

The Stonewall Inn bans Anheuser-Busch during NYC Pride weekend

“We urge Anheuser-Busch and other companies doing this to publicly commit to stop donating to anti-LGBTQ politicians”

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NYC Pride 2019 passes in front of the Stonewall Inn (Photo by Andrew Nasonov)

NEW YORK – In response to news that the Anheuser-Busch InBev company had made political contributions to lawmakers behind bills targeting transgender youth, the owners of the Stonewall Inn announced its ban of AB InBev products during New York City’s Pride weekend.

The historic West Village pub, widely regarded as the location of one of the seminal defining events in the history of the LGBTQ rights movement, is sponsoring a public ‘pour-out’ of Bud Light, Michelob ULTRA, and Stella Artois in front of the bar on Wednesday, June 23, to demand that the Leuven, Belgium based AB InBev stop donating to anti-LGBTQ legislators and commit to using its lobbying efforts to advance the Equality Act.

Should the Equality Act be passed, it would afford LGBTQ people with equal nondiscrimination protections under federal law.

“You can’t turn your logo rainbow on social media, call yourself an ally, and then turn around and make donations that fuel hate. There are really no excuses, and companies like Anheuser-Busch need to own up to what they’ve done,” said Stonewall Inn co-owner Stacy Lentz. “As a business owner, it’s never easy to stop selling a product that affects your bottom line — especially during the busiest weekend of the year. But I’m an activist above all else and we at The Stonewall Inn know we bear a unique responsibility to call out hypocrisy when we see it. Anheuser-Busch and other companies must do better.”

According to data from the Keep Your Pride campaign, since 2015, Anheuser-Busch has made 48 donations totaling $35,350 to 29 anti-LGBTQ legislators behind recent bills attacking trans youth. 

Through its nonprofit arm, The Stonewall Inn Gives Back Initiative, Stonewall recently launched the Safe Spaces program, which identifies and certifies entertainment venues, food and beverage locations, stores, businesses, and other public venues as Safe Spaces for LGBTQ people. Under its criteria for certification, businesses that donate to anti-LGBTQ lawmakers would not qualify for designation as a Safe Space.

“As one of our best-selling products, Bud Light has been a longtime staple here at The Stonewall Inn. It’s deeply disappointing to learn that Anheuser-Busch has given money to lawmakers who are attacking trans kids, some of the most vulnerable people in the LGBTQ community,” said Stonewall Inn co-owner Kurt Kelly.

“We’re horrified to see so-called allies supporting lawmakers who would make life harder for anyone in our community. We urge Anheuser-Busch and other companies doing this to publicly commit to stop donating to anti-LGBTQ politicians and use their lobbying power to support the Equality Act,” Kelly added.

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National

Vigil held after Wilton Manors Pride parade accident

Fort Lauderdale mayor expressed ‘regret’ over initial terrorism claim

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A vigil in the wake of the accident at the Stonewall Pride Parade took place at the Sunshine Cathedral in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on June 20, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Yariel Valdés González)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — More than 100 people on Sunday attended a prayer vigil in the wake of an accident at a Wilton Manors Pride parade that left one person dead and another injured.

The vigil took place at the Sunshine Cathedral in Fort Lauderdale.

Clergy joined activists and local officials at a vigil at the Sunshine Cathedral in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on June 20, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Yariel Valdés González)

A 77-year-old man who was driving a pickup truck struck two men near the Stonewall Pride Parade’s staging area shortly before 7 p.m. on Saturday. One of the victims died a short time later at a Fort Lauderdale hospital.

The pickup truck narrowly missed U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), who was in a convertible participating in the parade, and Florida Congressman Ted Deutch.

The driver of the pickup truck and the two men he hit are members of the Fort Lauderdale Gay Men’s Chorus. The Fort Lauderdale Police Department on Sunday described the incident as a “fatal traffic crash” and not a terrorism incident as Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis initially claimed.

“As we were about to begin the parade, this pickup truck, this jacked up white pickup truck, dashed across, breaking through the line, hitting people, all of us that were there could not believe our eyes,” said Trantalis as he spoke at the vigil.

Trantalis noted the pickup truck nearly hit Wasserman Schultz. He also referenced the arrest of a 20-year-old supporter of former President Trump earlier in the week after he allegedly vandalized a Pride flag mural that had been painted in an intersection in Delray Beach, which is roughly 30 miles north of Fort Lauderdale.

“I immediately knew that something terrible was happening,” said Trantalis, referring to the Stonewall Pride Parade accident. “My visceral reaction was that we were being attacked. Why not? Why not feel that way?”

“I guess I should watch to make sure there are no reporters standing by when I have those feelings, but that was my first reaction and I regret the fact that I said it was a terrorist attack because we found out that it was not, but I don’t regret my feelings,” he added. “But I don’t regret that I felt terrorized by someone who plowed through the crowd inches away from the congresswoman and the congressman, myself and others.”

Trantalis also told vigil attendees that “I guess we forgive” the pickup truck driver.

“But I regret that his consequences resulted in the death of an individual who was innocent and who was there to have a good time, like the rest of us, and I regret there is a man who is in serious condition … fighting for his life and there,” added Trantalis.

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